Check out this vintage video of Merle Haggard and the Strangers performing “Okie From Muskogee.” I had trouble pinpointing a date for the show, but after doing some research, it looks to be from the late ‘80s. (A banner behind the band appears to say “Ain’t Nothing Better North American Tour,” which should put us in 1987). The iconic song topped the country chart in 1969 and was already considered a classic by the time this warmly-received performance was filmed.
Haggard plays up the crowd after a big reaction at the start and his band is in fine form, but the piece that makes this video for me is his tender vocal. The nuanced delivery only once rises to a gruff growl but all along the way flutters and falls off like a love ballad. Oddly enough, the crowd keeps on hollering like it was a fighting tune.
An interesting side note that I found while researching: In the late ‘80s Haggard was a spokesman for George Dickel Whisky. Appearing in magazine ads and elsewhere, the country-to-the-bone tagline read “Water’s for teardrops, Dickel’s for drinkin’.” They should bring that back.
Enjoy Merle Haggard in this vintage performance of “Okie From Muskogee.”