Is 26-year-old Marty Haggard new to the business of country music? "Relatively," he says. Which is accurate on two counts: He's only been active in the past five years and his dad happens to be Merle Haggard, one of country music's legends. The younger Haggard didn't even pick up a guitar until he was 18, despite much encouragement. "I did work for three years with my sister Dana and her band in the early '80s," Haggard fils says, "and then I took a break from that to work in the oil fields.
"My next job was singing backup for my dad and playing rhythm guitar with the Strangers," he explains, adding that having a famous father has brought no particular pressures. "It might be a big problem for some people, but my dad is so well accepted and liked, they want to like me too. Dad thinks this is where I should be, so he secretly encouraged my return to music. That's why I think he hired me to sing harmony, to stir up some interest."
Haggard, who will be performing at the Crossroads in Bladensburg on Friday and Saturday, looks very much like his father and concedes there are vocal similarities as well. "Our lows and our tones are quite a bit alike, but our phrasings are a little bit different. He's more mellow, has more bottom. I'm just a younger voice."
Sister Dana still opens Merle's shows, but Marty is striking out on his own, which means some dues-paying: he travels with only one musician and mostly works with local house bands. "I'm too poor to afford a band." And stylistically, Haggard adds, "I don't sing too much progressive stuff, though I've updated some of my dad's stuff. Don't worry -- it's country."