UPDATE: The show was canceled on Monday, January 26, due to transportation issues.
Merle Haggard's path to success as a venerable living legend of country music has been marked by periods of incarceration, drug abuse, and enough marriages to fill one hand's count. In other words, the right path for anyone embarking on a successful country music career.
Born in Oildale, California, the "Hag's" first musings on the guitar were by himself and without instruction, a detail that surely aided in the development of his distinctive style and eventual alignment with the outlaw movement. Never one to follow country's trends, Haggard has been outspoken about country music's current state.
From his first hit, "(My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers," to the third act in his career, he continues to be an influential and necessary figure in the genre's landscape. Country's pantheon of heroes has thinned out over the past couple of decades, and Haggard is one of the remaining gritty and realistic outlaw-style musicians.
His narrative skill as well as his blues-tinged take on country usually puts him in the same breath as other greats like Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams, and George Jones.
From a delinquent juvenile and institutionalized young man, Haggard is an example of reinvention and positive change. Devoting himself to music helped get him pardoned by then-California Gov. Ronald Reagan in the early '70s. Haggard's appetite for drugs was legendary, but after some blissful excess, he cleaned up his act in the '80s.
In 2008, he was diagnosed with non-small-cell lung cancer and underwent surgery; a part of his lung was removed. This did little to slow him down, and in the spring of 2010, he released I Am What I Am. He followed it with 2011's Working in Tennessee, and both albums received favorable criticism and have been praised by fans.
"Some have referred to me as America's Poet of the common man," states Haggard on his website. This is not a claim that can be challenged. Now in his late 70s, the Hag continues to be a leading commentator on the state of the land, the human condition, and the heart -- always on the sweet wave of that Bakersfield sound that has kept him true and viable.
Merle Haggard. 7:30 p.m. Monday, January 26, at Parker Playhouse, 707 NE Eighth St., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $60 to $85 plus fees. Call 954-462-0222, or visit parkerplayhouse.org.