Alt-country star Steve Earle grew up a wild, long-haired kid in a conservative military town (San Antonio), and he was beaten up regularly by kids with a fondness for "Okie From Muskogee." The association between the two stayed with him.
But as Earle opined for the New York Times, "I tried hard to hate Merle Haggard. But I couldn’t. He was simply too damn good.”
"Merle Haggard was, undeniably, a great singer, some say the best that country music has ever produced. But it was the songs that got me. When I discovered, at an early age, what that line in parentheses beneath the title of a record meant, as in (Jagger/Richards) or (Dylan), I immediately attempted to write songs of my own. By ’69 the deceptively sophisticated chord structures of Haggard songs like 'I’m a Lonesome Fugitive,' 'Mama Tried' and 'Silver Wings' were not lost on me.
"To my ear they had more in common with the work of John Lennon and Paul McCartney (you can imagine the early Beatles playing 'Mama Tried') or Paul Simon than anything else I heard on the country radio stations.
So I just kept listening and pretended that was some other singer on the jukebox singing about 'The Fightin’ Side of Me.'"