Former recording artist, son of legend, Haggard finds happiness in serving Christ

Thursday, December 2, 2004

Major recording artist Marty Haggard, son of country music legend Merle Haggard, will present an evening concert and testimonial at 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 12, at the Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church, located at 434 Greene Road, four miles west of Rector.

The event is free and open to everyone. A love offering will be received. Fellowship and food will follow.

Marty Haggard was born in 1958 in Bakersfield, Calif. Two months after his birth, his dad, Merle Haggard, was sentenced to prison for one to 15 years, to be served at San Quentin. While Marty's father was imprisoned, his mother, Billie Leona, only in her teens at the time, did what was necessary to put food on the table for Marty and his sister, Dana, picking cotton or taking jobs as a waitress.

With a very limited income, Marty, his mother and his sister lived in a converted boxcar which, during the dust bowl days of the 1930's, had been the home of his paternal grandparents after they migrated from Oklahoma to California. Too poor to rent or buy a home when they arrived in California, the elder Haggards were able to get a used boxcar since he worked for the Santa Fe Railroad Company. It was in this make-shift home that Merle Haggard was born and raised, and later his son, Marty.

Merle was released from prison after serving two years and nine months. Marty's parents had two more children, but when he was six, they filed for divorce. Due to the violent nature of the relationship, his mother's inability to provide for four young children and his father's criminal conviction, the courts refused custody to either parent.

To prevent the courts from fostering out the four siblings, Marty's Grandma Haggard, now in her early sixties, asked for and was granted legal custody, though she now was a widow with a modest income of about $60 a week.

Marty lived with his Grandma Haggard until he was 12. He and his siblings had very little contact with their dad or their mom, whose lives had taken very drastic changes for the better and worse. Marty's mother became a heroine addict who was in and out of prison over the next 20 years or so, while his dad's life went in a totally different direction --- a well-documented "rags to riches" story.

Within a five-year period, Merle Haggard had gone from a career in crime to becoming one of the most successful entertainers in the world and, to this day, is considered to be one of the greatest singer-songwriters in country music history.

With Grandma Haggard aging and the children getting older as well, it became an extreme hardship for her to care for them. When Marty turned 12, he and his siblings moved in with their dad. This was a major culture shock. They went from a small house on the poor side of town to a 24,000 square foot mansion his dad had recently built on the rich side of town.

To put his dad's sudden success into perspective, Marty puts it this way. "My dad was voted man of the year by the same local government that sent him to San Quentin five years earlier." Marty went from being exposed to practically nothing of any material value to suddenly being exposed to just about anything money could buy.

As a teenager, Marty tried his hand at acting, landing a role as a semi-regular in the television series "The Fitzpatricks," the debut to the series "Mad About You," with co-star Helen Hunt. Marty also worked in the movies, the last being a film which starred Henry Fonda and Billy Dee Williams.

Marty's music career began in 1979 when he landed the first of three record deals with Dimension Records. He took a short break from his solo career to become a member of his dad's band, playing rhythm guitar and singing harmony for his dad from 1983 to 1985.

It was during that period, in a little Baptist church in California, that Marty says he accepted Jesus Christ as his personal savior. Marty eventually resumed his solo music career and signed a second recording contract with MTM Records. His single and video release of "Trains Make Me Lonesome" was instrumental in winning Marty a nomination for Top New Male Vocalist of the Year by the Academy of Country Music, along with Lyle Lovett, Ricky Van Shelton and Larry Boone.

Shortly after the awards show, Marty suffered a serious setback, both personally and professionally. On his way to a performance Oct. 3, 1988, just outside of Waldron, Ark., he was involved in a head-on collision which sent him through the windshield. He sustained serious head injuries which resulted in an extended memory loss. He is unable to remember the entire year of 1989.

It took Marty about four years to regain his motor skills, memory and ability to function on a daily basis. At the time of the accident, he was one of the hottest up-and-coming young artists, but he lost everything, financially and professionally, and was forced to start over again.

He landed his third record contract with Critique/BMG in 1995. As his career was taking off again, he says he began to realize that he "desperately needed the Lord" in his life and knew that money, fame and material possessions could not fill the emptiness in his heart.

Marty says he "strongly felt the call of God" and decided to leave Nashville without knowing where he would go or what he was being led to do. In the middle of his work on the album, he walked away from everything he had to serve his Lord.

Critique released both the album "Border & Boundaries" and the single "Amnesia," in 1996.

Marty spent a year and a half in California seeking God's will for his life and, on a trip to Conway, Ark., felt led to stay there for spiritual reasons. Marty says he believes God led him to Meadowlake Baptist Church in Conway, where he found a spiritual family.

In July 1998, he began his ministry of sharing his testimony in word and song in an effort to spread the gospel. He says he plans to spend the rest of his life working for God "wherever and in whatever he leads."

"I'm here to tell a story," Marty says. "It's only worth telling because Jesus Christ is in it. Because of Jesus Christ, it has a guaranteed happy ending."

(Parts of this story were taken from a June 2004 newsletter of the Oxford Baptist Institute at Oxford, Miss.)

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: