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A Portrait of Merle Haggard

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Feb 11, 2022

A Portrait of Merle Haggard is the tenth studio album by American recording artist Merle Haggard and The Strangers, released September 2, 1969.

1969 studio album by Merle Haggard and The Strangers
A Portrait of Merle Haggard
Studio album by

Released September 2, 1969
Recorded June, August, November, December 1968, February, April, May 1969
Studio Capitol (Hollywood)
Genre Country
Label Capitol ST-319
Producer Ken Nelson
Merle Haggard and The Strangers chronology
Same Train, a Different Time
(1969)
A Portrait of Merle Haggard
(1969)
Okie from Muskogee
(1970)
Singles from A Portrait of Merle Haggard
  1. Hungry Eyes
    Released: January 27, 1969
  2. Workin’ Man Blues
    Released: June 1969

. . . A Portrait of Merle Haggard . . .

The album contains two number-one country hits, “Hungry Eyes” (sometimes referred to as “Mama’s Hungry Eyes”) and “Workin’ Man Blues“. According to The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Country Music, Haggard wrote “Hungry Eyes” as a tribute to his mother and the sacrifices she made for her family as a single mother (Haggard’s father having died when he was 9), but it also stands as a tribute to Oklahomans and others who lived in labor camps during the Great Depression, Haggard’s way of “commemorating a whole generation of Okies who persisted through persecution and suffering to transplant their culture to California.”[1] “Hungry Eyes” is considered by many to be one of Haggard’s greatest pieces of songwriting. According to Daniel Cooper’s essay for the 1994 Haggard box set Down Every Road, Haggard had been carrying the title around in his head for two years before deciding what to do with it, and the “canvass-covered cabin” referred to in the song is a direct reference to the home of Escar and Willie, the great-uncle and great-aunt with whom he stayed after his father died. In the documentary Beyond Nashville, Haggard explains, “‘Mama’s Hungry Eyes’ was written about a period in America where there were places like labor camps, and the people in these labor camps that weren’t ignorant and they weren’t a lot of things Steinbeck thought they were.” The song would also serve as the title to the 1994 tribute album Mama’s Hungry Eyes: A Tribute to Merle Haggard.

The album’s other number-one hit is “Workin’ Man Blues”, referencing blue collar pride, an oft-used subject of Haggard’s songwriting.[2] In his 2013 book The Running Kind, David Cantwell praises the contributions of guitarists James Burton and Roy Nichols, as well as session bassist Chuck Berghofer, stating, “Burton and the Strangers had ridden a kindred rocking guitar groove on 1968’s ‘I’m Bringing Home Good News,’ but ‘Workin’ Man Blues’ sets the standard.” Lines such as “I ain’t never been on welfare, and that’s one place I won’t be” reinforced Haggard’s status as “Poet of the Common Man.”

Haggard wrote four of the LP’s ten songs himself, including the mournful “Silver Wings” which, much like his earlier composition “Today I Started Loving You Again,” was never released as a single but became immensely popular with audiences. A Portrait of Merle Haggard includes four songs penned by Haggard as well as compositions by Willie Nelson, Leon Payne and Hank Cochran.

. . . A Portrait of Merle Haggard . . .

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. . . A Portrait of Merle Haggard . . .