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|Past members||Merle Haggard|
The Strangers were an American country band that formed in 1966 in Bakersfield, California. They mainly served as the backup band for singer-songwriter Merle Haggard, who named them after his first hit single "(My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers". In addition to serving as his backing band, members of the Strangers also produced many of Haggard's records, sang lead vocals on select tracks, and co-wrote many of Haggard's songs with him, including the No. 1 singles, "Okie From Muskogee" and "I Always Get Lucky with You".
From 1969 to 1973, they issued several records independent of Haggard, released on Capitol Records, and even had their own Top 10 hit single called "Street Singer" on the Billboard Hot Country Songs Chart. Three members of the Strangers would go on to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Between 1969 and 1987, the Strangers were voted Band of the Year by the Academy of Country Music eight times—more than any other group in history.
Lead guitarist Roy Nichols had previously played with the Maddox Brothers and Rose, Lefty Frizzell, Wynn Stewart, and Johnny Cash before playing with the Strangers from 1965 until 1987, when health problems forced him into retirement. Duncan, Oklahoma-born steel guitarist Ralph Mooney (September 16, 1928 - March 20, 2011) had previously played with Wynn Stewart and written the song "Crazy Arms", and after leaving the Strangers recorded a duo album with James Burton and then joined Waylon Jennings band.
Norm Hamlet joined the Strangers on steel guitar in 1967 and, shortly afterward, became its bandleader. Howard "Jerry Ward" Lowe was the Strangers original bass player and George French (March 6, 1926 - August 14, 1992) played the piano. But when Ward left, Willard "Gene" Price (February 27, 1944 - August 13, 2013) from Shamrock, Texas, replaced him on bass just in time for the Okie from Muskogee album in 1969, on which he also sang lead vocals. Tulsa, Oklahoma-born Roy "Eddie" Burris (October 27, 1931 - April 19, 2011), the drummer for the Strangers, co-wrote the title track "Okie From Muskogee" with Merle Haggard.
Clair "Biff" Adam replaced Burris as the Strangers drummer in 1970 and also served as Merle's publicist and bus driver. On the album, The Fightin' Side of Me, the Strangers added rhythm guitarist Robert "Bobby Wayne" Edrington (December 11, 1941 - September 21, 2009) from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and they got their own showcase on the instrumental "Stealin’ Corn". A second rhythm guitarist, Marcia "Nichols" Ashcraft (May 23, 1950 - October 1976), also joined the band 
After Bobby Wayne and Marcia Nichols left, Ronnie Reno of Reno and Smiley and the Osborne Brothers joined the Strangers on rhythm guitar, and he also produced Merle's duo album with Mac Wiseman as well as Merle's The Bluegrass Sessions. Ronnie would also sing lead vocals on albums like Merle Haggard Presents His 30th Album. Johnny Meeks, previously a member of Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps, the Champs, and Michael Nesmith and the Second National Band, played bass with the Strangers in the early 1970s and later got inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. After Meeks left, Jimmy Tittle played bass with the band. After leaving the Strangers, Tittle would go on to play with his father-in-law Johnny Cash. He was replaced by bassist Sherman "Wayne" Durham.
Saxophonist Don Markham, who had played with Sly & the Family Stone, the Ventures, the Bakersfield Brass, and Johnny Paycheck played with the Strangers from 1974 to 2013. In the mid-1970s, former Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys guitarist Estel "Eldon" Shamblin was invited to join the Strangers. After retiring from the Strangers, Eldon Shamblin would continue to perform with them whenever they played in Tulsa. Electric mandolinist Billie "Tiny" Moore also joined the Strangers during the 1970s. Like Eldon Shamblin, Tiny Moore had also been a member of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys.
After Gordon Terry left the band, fiddler Jimmy Belken joined. Belken had previously played with Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys as well as Mel Tillis and the Statesiders. In addition to serving as Strangers bassist, Dennis Hromek would also sing some lead vocals at Strangers shows. When Hromek left Bobby Wayne returned to the Strangers, this time playing bass.
Other noteworthy members of the band included trumpet player Gary Church and keyboardist Mark Yeary, who also served as Merle's co-producer on his records. Clint Strong, who had studied under Stan Kenton, joined the Strangers on lead guitar during the mid-1980s. Sheril Rodgers, co-wrote with Merle and singer/songwriter Freddy Powers. Sheril toured with the Strangers as backup singer from 1983 to 1984 and co-wrote "Let's Chase Each Other Around the Room Tonight".
Albums credited to the Strangers
|February 23, 1969||The Instrumental Sounds of Merle Haggard's Strangers||36||Capitol Records|
|April 6, 1970||Introducing My Friends the Strangers||34|
|October 5, 1970||Getting to Know Merle Haggard's Strangers||44|
|June 21, 1971||Honky Tonkin'||34|
|May 1, 1973||Totally Instrumental...With One Exception||23|
Singles credited to the Strangers
|US Country||CAN Country||Bubbling Under Hot 100|
|April 18, 1970||"Street Singer"||9||1||24||Introducing My Friends the Strangers|
Albums credited to Merle Haggard and the Strangers
Singles credited to Merle Haggard and the Strangers
Albums credited to Bonnie Owens and the Strangers
|1967||All of Me Belongs to You||35||Capitol Records|
|Lead Me On||-|
|1970||Mother's Favorite Hymns||-|
Singles credited to Bonnie Owens and the Strangers
|November 19, 1966||Consider the Children||69||All of Me Belongs To You|
|February 15, 1969||Lead Me On||68||Lead Me On|
Albums credited to Leona Williams and the Strangers
|1976||San Quentin’s First Lady||-||MCA Records|
The Strangers as Backing Band
|Merle Haggard||Merle Haggard's Christmas Present||1973|
|Rainbow Stew Live at Anaheim Stadium||1981|
|Songs for the Mama That Tried|
|Johnny Paycheck||Mr. Hag Told My Story|
|Merle Haggard||Going Where the Lonely Go||1982|
|Goin' Home for Christmas|
|That's the Way Love Goes||1983|
|The Epic Collection (Recorded Live)|
|Merle Haggard and Leona Williams||Heart to Heart|
|Rose Maddox||Queen of the West|
|Merle Haggard||It's All in the Game||1984|
|Amber Waves of Grain|
|A Friend in California||1986|
|Willie Nelson||The Promiseland|
|Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson||Seashores of Old Mexico||1987|
|Merle Haggard||Chill Factor|
|Live from Austin, TX ’85||2006|
|Live from Austin, TX ‘78||2008|
Contribution to Merle Haggard Albums
|Falling For You||Ralph Mooney||Strangers||1965|
|Mary's Mine||Jerry Ward||I'm a Lonesome Fugitive||1967|
|Blue Rock||Roy Nichols and Norm Hamlet||Okie from Muskogee||1969|
|In The Arms of Love (Gene Price on lead vocal)||Gene Price and Buck Owens|
|Okie From Muskogee||Eddie Burris and Merle Haggard|
|Hammin’ It Up||Norm Hamlet||The Fightin’ Side of Me||1970|
|Harold's Super Service||Bobby Wayne|
|Stealin’ Corn||Roy Nichols and Norm Hamlet|
|Champagne||Roy Nichols, Norm Hamlet, and Biff Adam||I Love Dixie Blues||1973|
|Come On Into My Arms||Marcia Nichols||If We Make It Through December||1974|
|Girl Who Made Me Laugh||Roy Nichols and Merle Haggard||Merle Haggard Presents His 30th Album|
|It Don't Bother Me||Mark Yeary|
|Travelin’ (Ronnie Reno on lead vocal)||Tiny Moore and Ronnie Reno|
|I’ve Got A Darlin’||Ronnie Reno and Merle Haggard||Keep Movin' On||1975|
|After Loving You||Ronnie Reno, Merle Haggard, and Leona Williams||It's All in the Movies||1976|
|Cotton Patch Blues||Tiny Moore, Bob Wills, and Billy Joe Moore|
|I Won't Give Up My Train||Mark Yeary||My Love Affair with Trains|
|Union Station||Ronnie Reno|
|I Always Get Lucky with You||Gary Church, Merle Haggard, Freddy Powers, and Tex Whitson||Big City||1981|
|I Think I'm Gonna Live Forever||Dennis Hromek, Merle Haggard, and Benny Binion|
|Silver Eagle||Gary Church and Freddy Powers||A Taste of Yesterday's Wine||1982|
|My Life's Been Grand||Gordon Terry and Merle Haggard||Out Among the Stars||1986|
|Roy Nichols||Goin' Home for Christmas||1982|
|Mark Yeary||5:01 Blues||1989|
|Mark Yeary||Blue Jungle||1990|
|Ronnie Reno||The Bluegrass Sessions||2007|
|Gene Price||In The Arms of Love||Okie from Muskogee||1969|
|Ronnie Reno||Travelin’||Merle Haggard Presents His 30th Album||1974|
|Liner Notes Writer||Album||Year|
|Mark Yeary||Keep Movin' On||1975|
Merle Haggard famously called out members of the Strangers by name on his records prior to their solos. He sometimes prefixed their name with “Brother,” as in the song "I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink" when he called out “Brother Don” Markham. For 20 years (1969–1989) he regularly called out 16 different members of the Strangers and 14 guest musicians on 70 songs on 31 different albums. Roy Nichols received the most call-outs (42), followed by Norm Hamlet (24), Tiny Moore (13), Mark Yeary (10), and Don Markham (9). Below is a list of all the songs and Stranger call-outs Merle made over his career. Not listed are callouts the Strangers received by others than Merle, such as when Leona Williams called out Roy Nichols during “Yes Ma’am This One Can” on her 1976 Strangers-backed album “San Quentin’s First Lady,” or when Rose Maddox called Roy Nichols out prior to his “Downtown Modesto” solo on her 1983 Strangers-backed album “Queen of the West.”
|Mule Skinner Blues||James Burton, Roy Nichols||Same Train, a Different Time||1969|
|No Hard Times||Roy Nichols|
|Silver Wings||Okie from Muskogee|
|In The Arms of Love||Gene Price|
|Brain Cloudy Blues||Eldon Shamblin, Tiny Moore, Roy Nichols, Johnny Gimble||A Tribute to the Best Damn Fiddle Player in the World (or, My Salute to Bob Wills)||1970|
|Stay a Little Longer||Biff Adam, Dennis Hromek, George French, Joe Holley, Tiny Moore, Roy Nichols, Alex Brashear|
|Misery||Johnnie Lee Wills, Eldon Shamblin, Tiny Moore, Roy Nichols|
|Roly Poly||Roy Nichols, Norm Hamlet, Alex Brashear|
|Old Fashioned Love||Tiny Moore|
|Corrine, Corrina||Johnny Gimble, George French, Joe Holley, Tiny Moore|
|Take Me Back to Tulsa||George French, Johnny Gimble, Tiny Moore, Joe Holley|
|Trouble in Mind||George French||Down Every Road 1962–1994|
|Corrine, Corrina||Roy Nichols, Norm Hamlet, Chubby Wise||The Fightin’ Side of Me|
|Every Fool Has a Rainbow||Roy Nichols|
|T.B. Blues||Norm Hamlet|
|When Did Right Become Wrong?||Norm Hamlet, Roy Nichols|
|Harold's Super Service||Bobby Wayne, Roy Nichols, Norm Hamlet|
|Stealin’ Corn||Biff Adam, Dennis Hromek, Bobby Wayne, Norm Hamlet, Roy Nichols||Introducing My Friends the Strangers|
|Blue Rock||Roy Nichols, Norm Hamlet|
|Where Could I Go But To The Lord?||Bobby Wayne||The Land of Many Churches||1971|
|I’ve Done It All||Hag|
|Stumblin||Al Bruno, Earl Poole Ball, Johnny Gimble, Roy Nichols, Norm Hamlet||Honky Tonkin’|
|Bring It on Down to My House, Honey||Billy Leibert, Roy Nichols, Norm Hamlet||Let Me Tell You About a Song||1972|
|Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now)||Roy Nichols||I Love Dixie Blues||1973|
|I Ain't Got Nobody|
|Nobody Knows I'm Hurtin’|
|The Emptiest Arms in the World||Norm Hamlet|
|Way Down Yonder in New Orleans||Gene Bowen, Dale Hampton, Biff Adam|
|Sitting on Top of the World||Roy Nichols, Marcia Nichols||Totally Instrumental...With One Exception|
|I'm an Old Man||Norm Hamlet, Roy Nichols, Johnny Gimble||If We Make It Through December||1974|
|Come On into My Arms||Roy Nichols|
|Honky Tonk Night Time Man||Roy Nichols, Norm Hamlet||Merle Haggard Presents His 30th Album|
|A Man's Gotta Give Up a Lot||Tiny Moore, Roy Nichols||Keep Movin' On||1975|
|Cotton Patch Blues||Eldon Shamblin, Tiny Moore, Roy Nichols||It's All in the Movies||1976|
|Living with The Shades Pulled Down||Tiny Moore|
|Stingaree||Roy Nichols, Glen Hardin|
|Gambling Polka Dot Blues||Roy Nichols, Norm Hamlet||The Roots of My Raising|
|Moanin' the Blues||Glen Hardin, Norm Hamlet, Roy Nichols||A Working Man Can't Get Nowhere Today||1977|
|Silver Wings||Don Markham||Live from Austin, TX ’78||1978|
|Old Fashioned Love||Mark Yeary, Roy Nichols|
|Brain Cloudy Blues|
|Cherokee Maiden||Norm Hamlet, Don Markham|
|Got Lonely Too Early||Don Markham, Jimmy Capps||Serving 190 Proof||1979|
|(Remember Me) I'm the One Who Loves You||Roy Nichols, Don Markham||The Way I Am||1980|
|I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink||Don Markham||Back to the Barrooms|
|Keep On the Sunny Side||Gordon Terry, Roy Nichols||Songs for the Mama That Tried||1981|
|I'm a Lonesome Fugitive||Roy Nichols||Rainbow Stew Live at Anaheim Stadium|
|Rainbow Stew||Mark Yeary, Don Markham|
|Fiddle Breakdown||Tiny Moore, Gordon Terry|
|Good Old American Guest||Mark Yeary, Tiny Moore||Big City|
|I Always Get Lucky with You||Don Markham, Norm Hamlet, Roy Nichols|
|I Can’t Hold Myself in Line||Roy Nichols, Don Markham, Jimmy Murphy, Norm Hamlet||Johnny Paycheck’s Mr. Hag Told My Story|
|Blue Yodel #2||Norm Hamlet, Don Markham||The Epic Collection (Recorded Live)||1983|
|Trouble in Mind||Tiny Moore|
|(My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers||Roy Nichols|
|Workin' Man Blues|
|You Can’t Break the Chains of Love||Norm Hamlet||Heart to Heart|
|Waitin’ on the Good Life to Come||Roy Nichols, Mark Yeary|
|Don't Ever Let Your Love Sleep Alone||Mark Yeary|
|Sally Let Your Bangs Hang Down||Tiny Moore, Jimmy Belken, Roy Nichols, Mark Yeary, Norm Hamlet|
|All I Want to Do Is Sing My Song||Tiny Moore||It's All in the Game||1984|
|Thank Heaven for Little Girls||Jimmy Belken|
|You Nearly Lose Your Mind||Norm Hamlet, Roy Nichols|
|The Okie from Muskogee's Comin' Home||Roy Nichols, Mark Yeary||Live from Austin, TX ‘85||1985|
|Take Me Back to Tulsa||Gary Church|
|I Knew the Moment I Lost You||Norm Hamlet|
|Ida Red||Norm Hamlet, Clint Strong, Jimmy Belken|
|The Okie from Muskogee's Comin' Home||Roy Nichols, Clint Strong, Mark Yeary||A Friend in California||1986|
|Broken Friend||Mark Yeary||5:01 Blues||1989|
Awards and recognition
Academy of Country Music Band of the Year Awards
|Year||ACM Band of the Year|
Music City News Band of the Year Awards
|Year||Music City News Band of the Year|
Academy of Country Music Awards Won With Merle Haggard
|1969||Album of the Year||Okie from Muskogee|
|Song of the Year||Okie From Muskogee|
|Single of the Year|
Country Music Association Awards Won With Merle Haggard
|1970||Album of the Year||Okie from Muskogee|
|Single of the Year||Okie From Muskogee|
|1972||Album of the Year||Let Me Tell You About a Song|
Academy of Country Music Individual Nominations
|Year||Guitarist of the Year||Steel Guitarist of the Year||Keyboardist of the Year||Bassist of the Year||Drummer of the Year||Fiddler of the Year||Specialty Instrument Player of the Year||Most Promising Vocalist||Song(writer) of the Year|
|1966||-||Ralph Mooney||George French||-||-||-||-||-||-|
|1967||-||Ralph Mooney||-||Jerry Ward||Biff Adam||-||-||-||-|
|1968||-||Ralph Mooney||-||-||Biff Adam||-||-||-||-|
|1969||Roy Nichols||Norm Hamlet||-||-||Biff Adam||Gordon Terry||-||-||-|
|1970||-||-||-||Dennis Hromek||Biff Adam||Gordon Terry||-||Bobby Wayne||-|
|1971||-||Norm Hamlet||-||Dennis Hromek||Biff Adam||Gordon Terry||-||-||-|
|1972||Roy Nichols||Norm Hamlet||-||Dennis Hromek||Biff Adam||-||-||-||-|
|1973||Roy Nichols||-||-||-||Biff Adam||-||-||-||-|
|1979||-||Ralph Mooney||-||-||-||Gordon Terry||-||-||-|
|1981||Roy Nichols||Ralph Mooney||-||-||Biff Adam||-||-||-||-|
|1982||-||-||-||-||-||Gordon Terry||Don Markham||-||-|
|1983||-||-||-||-||-||-||Tiny Moore||-||Gary Church|
|1987||-||Norm Hamlet||Mark Yeary||-||Biff Adam||-||-||-||-|
Members in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
|Stranger||Year Inducted||Band Inducted With||Inducted By|
|Tiny Moore||1999||Texas Playboys||Chris Isaak|
|Johnny Meeks||2012||Blue Caps||Smokey Robinson|
Merle Haggard’s poem for the Strangers
For the back cover of their 1973 album Totally Instrumental...With One Exception, Merle wrote the following poem for the Strangers:
- When Hag passes on
- To the great unknown
- They'll find written on the front
- Of my headstone
- “Here lies a man
- Who had a hell-of-a-band
- And who would never had made it alone.”
|Charles R. Townsend||San Antonio Rose||1976|
|Merle Haggard||Sing Me Back Home||1981|
|Tiny Moore||Tiny Moore Mandolin Method||1982|
|Jonny Whiteside||Ramblin' Rose: The Life and Career of Rose Maddox||1997|
|Merle Haggard||For The Record||1999|
|Gerald Haslam||Workin' Man Blues||1999|
|Susan VanHecke||Race With The Devil||2000|
|Ken Nelson||My First 90 Years Plus 3||2007|
|Gary Church||Autobiography of a Nobody||2012|
|Freddy Powers||The Spree of '83||2017|
|Rachel Lee Rubin||Okie from Muskogee||2018|
|Fuzzy Owen||Merle Haggard, Bonnie Owens, & Me||2019|
|Raymond H. McDonald||Merle Haggard was a Friend of Mine||2021|
|David Cantwell||The Running Kind||2022|
|Marc Eliot||The Hag: The Life, Times, and Music of Merle Haggard||2022|
- "The Life & Times of Merle Haggard". Rolling Stone. October 1, 2009.
- "Merle Haggard Obituary". The Guardian. April 6, 2016.
- "Roy Nichols; Merle Haggard's Guitarist". Los Angeles Times. July 4, 2001.
- "Country star Ralph Mooney Dies". Variety. March 22, 2011.
- "My Friends Are Gonna Be Strangers". Country Music Hall of Fame. April 11, 2012.
- "Country Music Star, Wife of Local Legends Dies". The Bakersfield Californian. April 25, 2006.
- Rubin, Rachel Lee (2018). "The Bakersfield Sound: Hag Gets Hard". Merle Haggard's Okie from Muskogee. ISBN 9781501321450.
- "Eddie Burris Helped Make 'Okie from Muskogee' a Hit". Tulsa World. April 20, 2011.
- "Merle Haggard: Under the Growl, a Crooner". The New York Times. July 29, 1993.
- "Merle Haggard". Vintage Guitar. July 2014.
- Erlewine, Michael (1997). "Merle Haggard". All Music Guide To Country. ISBN 9780879304751.
- "Ronnie Reno, Bluegrass Music's Youngest Old Timer". Bluegrass Unlimited. July 1, 2013.
- Erlewine, Michael (1997). "Merle Haggard". AllMusic Guide To Country. ISBN 9780879304751.
- "Johnny Meeks, Former Gene Vincent & His Blue Caps Guitarist, Dead at 78". Guitar World. August 2, 2015.
- Waddell, Hugh (2004). "Jimmy Tittle". I Still Miss Someone. ISBN 9781581823981.
- Streissguth, Michael (2006). "Addiction". Johnny Cash: The Biography. ISBN 9780306815911.
- "Don Markham, Longtime Merle Haggard Band Member, Dead at Age 85". Rolling Stone. February 27, 2017.
- "Eldon Shamblin, 82, Guitarist for Texas Playboys". The New York Times. August 8, 1988.
- "Obituary: Eldon Shamblin". The Independent. August 12, 1998. Archived from the original on 2022-06-18.
- "Merle Haggard Talks Music and Life". U-T San Diego. February 29, 2012.
- "Tiny Moore & Jethro Burns: Back To Back". All About Jazz. April 7, 2005.
- "Watch Merle Haggard's 'Austin City Limits' Debut". Rolling Stone. April 18, 2016.
- "Funeral Services Scheduled for Fiddler Gordon Terry". CMT. April 10, 2006.
- "Merle Haggard". The Washington Post. April 10, 1995.
- Dempsey, John Mark (2002). "I'll Die With Them, If They'll Keep Me That Long". The Light Crust Doughboys Are On The Air. ISBN 9781574411515.
- "Merle Haggard's Performance Rewards Audience's Wait". The Oklahoman. January 16, 1984.
- "Merle Haggard". Tulsa World. June 10, 1989.
- "Ornery". The New Yorker. February 12, 1990.
- "Merle Haggard's Diverse Influences". SFGate. November 25, 2015.