Photography: Photofest

Country legend Merle Haggard performs “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink” live at the Grand Ole Opry.

Merle Haggard paved the way for new “outlaw country” with the creation of the Bakersfield sound (the twang of a Fender Telecaster mixed with a traditional country steel guitar) during his time recording with his band The Strangers with bandmate Buck Owens. His songs “Mama Tried,” “I think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink,” and “Okie From Muskogee” captivated audiences around the world with their relatable lyrics and unique melodies.

Mighty Merle’s simple, authentic lyrics and rough, edgy voice combined to make an “everyman” brand of country that struck a real chord. Between the 1960s and the 1980s, he had 38 No.1 hits on the U.S. country charts, several of which also made the Billboard Singles charts. His success during his decades of dedication to country music landed him memberships in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1977, The Country Music Hall of Fame in 1994, and The Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame in 1997.

In 2006, Haggard was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and the BMI Icon Award for paving the way for contemporary country artists.

Before his death on April 6, 2016, his 79th birthday, Haggard’s last recording was a song called “Kern River Blues,” a political statement and the story of his departure from Bakersfield. Recorded on February 9, 2016, the track was released posthumously on May 12, 2016, capping an incredible career that has influenced untold artists and forever enriched country music.

In memory, check out the Hag’s performance of “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink” during what would be his final appearance at the Grand Ole Opry.