During the 40-year run of classic PBS music series Austin City Limits, country legend Merle Haggard made multiple appearances that included some of the late singer’s most memorable tunes, from “Sing Me Back Home” to “The Fugitive.” Both of those songs are highlights of the 16-song set captured in the 1978 episode which marked Haggard’s debut on the series. The entire episode has now been made available for streaming on the PBS Cove website.
Haggard is joined by his longtime band the Strangers, which in ’78 featured his then-wife Bonnie Owens. Canvassing the crowd for requests, Haggard prefaces their performance of his first Number One hit “I’m a Lonesome Fugitive” — the title of which he shortens to “The Fugitive — by remarking, “We’ll go into what is known as our prison segment. We’ll dedicate it especially for all the shut-in friends over at the county jail.” He follows that song with an especially poignant version of the 1967 chart-topper “Sing Me Back Home.”
Other Haggard standards performed during the hour-long episode include “Silver Wings,” “Ramblin’ Fever,” and a lively take on “Workin’ Man Blues.” The multi-talented musician also shows off his fiddle skills (joined by band mates Paul Anastasio and Gordon Terry) on a fiery “Orange Blossom Special,” which is followed by a medley of Western Swing tunes. Owens also gets her chance in the solo spotlight on the classic “I Want to Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart.”
Haggard’s 1978 debut on the series, which is now in its 41st season, was followed by four appearances in the Eighties, and three in the Nineties. His last two guest spots on the show both took place in 1996.