Haggard and his band started writing this song when their tour bus passed through Muskogee, Oklahoma. It started out as a joke making fun of small town rural folks, but took on new meaning when people took it seriously; the song was a #1 Country hit for four weeks, and it quickly became clear that many listeners really did despise the liberal, elite hippies in San Francisco and heard the song not as a commentary on the folly of intolerance, but as a song about southern pride.
Said Haggard: "We wrote it to be satirical originally. But then people latched onto it, and it really turned into this song that looked into the mindset of people so opposite of who and where we were. My dad's people. He's from Muskogee."
The Vietnam protests were an inspiration for this song - Haggard was protesting the protesters. Haggard was imprisoned several times in his younger days for various crimes, and during a 2010 interview with The Boot
, he explained: "When I was in prison, I knew what it was like to have freedom taken away. Freedom is everything.
During Vietnam, there were all kinds of protests. Here were these [servicemen] going over there and dying for a cause - we don't even know what it was really all about. And here are these young kids, that were free, bitching about it. There's something wrong with that and with [disparaging] those poor guys.We were in a wonderful time in America and music was in a wonderful place. America was at its peak and what the hell did these kids have to complain about? These soldiers were giving up their freedom and lives to make sure others could stay free. I wrote the song to support those soldiers."
Muskogee is a city in Oklahoma. In 1969, after this song was released and became a hit, Haggard went to Muskogee and recorded a live album called Okie From Muskogee.
Haggard wrote this song with Eddie Burris, who was the drummer in his band The Strangers. Burris and Haggard wrote the song on their tour bus; accounts vary as to how the song came together, with one story being that Haggard saw a sign on the highway for Muskogee and another that they were en route to a show there. Haggard and Burris thought about how drug use and other hippie behavior would be considered in this small town, and quickly crafted the song.
Burris was born in Oklahoma (Tulsa), but was raised in Bakersfield, California. He toured with Haggard until 1970, then left to become a truck driver. Burris died in 2011 at age 79.
"Okie From Muskogee" was parodied by Chinga Chavin as "A--hole from El Paso," which was later covered by Kinky Friedman. Another parody of the song was "Hippie From Olema" by the Youngbloods.
This was named CMA Single of the Year in 1970. It topped the Country chart for four weeks.
Julian - Oakland, AR
When Johnny Cash visited the White House in 1970, Richard Nixon - or one of his staff members - requested that he play this song as well as "A Boy Named Sue
" and a song by Guy Drake called "Welfare Cadillac." Cash said he couldn't play "Okie" and "Cadillac," but did play "Sue" as well as a few of his other songs. The incident was played out in the press as confrontational, but it was all very cordial, as the request for the songs was made before Cash showed up, and his performance was well-received. Cash later wrote that the songs he didn't play had become "lightning rods for antihippie and antiblack sentiment."
Haggard, joined on stage by Blake Shelton, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson, performed this song at the Grammy Awards in 2014.
This song is discussed in the 1986 movie Platoon, which takes place during the Vietnam War. In the film, a group of soldiers are enjoying some contraband in a tent when the scene cuts to some non-imbiding soldiers who hear this song playing. "Listen to that... that's a bad jam," a white soldier says. "Redneck noise dude, that's all it is," a black soldier replies. "It makes about as much sense as you do."
The song advances the storyline, but is historically inaccurate: the film is set in 1967-1968, but the song wasn't released until 1969.
Jimmy Buffett references this in his song "Captain America" with the line, "He wears a mask his clothes are weird and some folks call him hokie, but he is hip and just can't dig the Okie from Muskogee."
The Youngbloods released an answer song to this tune called "Hippie from Olema," referring to a liberal-minded city in California.