Mama Tried (song)

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"Mama Tried"
Single by Merle Haggard
from the album Mama Tried
ReleasedJuly 22, 1968
Format7"
RecordedMay 9, 1968
GenreCountry
Length2:12
LabelCapitol 2219
Writer(s)Merle Haggard
Producer(s)Ken Nelson
Merle Haggard singles chronology
"The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde"
(1968)
"Mama Tried"
(1968)
"I Take a Lot of Pride in What I Am"
(1968)
 
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"Mama Tried"
Single by Merle Haggard
from the album Mama Tried
ReleasedJuly 22, 1968
Format7"
RecordedMay 9, 1968
GenreCountry
Length2:12
LabelCapitol 2219
Writer(s)Merle Haggard
Producer(s)Ken Nelson
Merle Haggard singles chronology
"The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde"
(1968)
"Mama Tried"
(1968)
"I Take a Lot of Pride in What I Am"
(1968)

"Mama Tried" is a song written and recorded by American country music artist Merle Haggard. It was released in July 1968 as the first single and title track from the album Mama Tried. The song became one of the cornerstone songs of his career. It won the Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1999.

Background[edit]

In Mama Tried, Haggard focuses on the pain and suffering he caused his own mother by being incarcerated in 1957 in San Quentin.[1]

However, the song is not literally autobiographical, as many country music historians point out. While writer Bill Malone's assessment of the song is in agreement with Ace Collins' (referring to his own experiences that saw him sentenced to prison), Malone points out that Haggard never was sentenced to "life without parole," as the protagonist in the song was.[2] Still the song's lyrics, and the protagonist's experiences, are heavily influenced by Haggard's early life.

Additionally, Allmusic writer Bill Janovitz notes Haggard's lyrics are sympathetic to his mother, who tried everything in her power to rehabilitate her rebel son. But, as the lyrics point out, "In spite of all my Sunday learning, towards the bad I kept on turning/'Til mama couldn't hold me anymore"; thus, the observation, "I turned 21 in prison doin' life without parole."[2]

Malone notes that Mama Tried "recalls for us the 1960s California honky tonk and the Merle Haggard sound of those years, featuring the searing electric guitar of Roy Nichols."[2]

Chart performance[edit]

Released in July 1968, Mama Tried became Haggard's fifth No. 1 song on the Billboard magazine Hot Country Singles chart in August. The song spent four weeks at No. 1, and was his biggest hit to that time.

Chart (1968)Peak
position
U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles1
Canadian RPM Country Tracks1

In popular culture[edit]

Haggard's version of Mama Tried was on the soundtrack of the 1968 film Killers Three, a film which featured his acting debut.

The words Mama Tried—referring to the song—are shown on Miranda Lambert's shirt in several scenes of the music video Kerosene.

In the 1997 documentary about the making of the film From Dusk till Dawn, known as Full Tilt Boogie, Quentin Tarantino can be seen singing the song with others whilst on the set.

In the 5th season finale of Gilmore Girls ("A House is Not a Home," 2005), Stars Hollow's "Town Troubadour" is singing the song on a street corner soon after Lorelai brings Rory home from a night in jail.

In the 2008 film The Strangers, the song is used to build tension whilst also referencing the potential poor upbringing of the films' antagonists.

In the 2nd series of the 2008 UK television series Survivors, the song is often played and sung by truck driver Billy Stringer.

In 2010, the song was sung as a plot element by Nate Moretta (Kevin Alejandro) to a young incarcerated Hispanic gang member on TNT's Southland season 2 premiere "Phase Three".

Cover versions[edit]

The Grateful Dead covered the song regularly, playing it over 300 times live throughout their career, including at Woodstock.

The Everly Brothers covered the song on their 1968 album Roots.

Joan Baez covered the song in 1969, though her version went unreleased until it was included on her 1993 boxed set Rare, Live & Classic; it later appeared on the 2005 reissue of her 1970 album (I Live) One Day at a Time.

David Allan Coe covered it. It appears on several compilation albums including "Truckin' Outlaw" and "20 Greatest Hits".

The song has been a live standard for Texas alt-country band Old 97's for their entire career, and was recorded for their debut album.

American Oi! band Forced Reality covered the song. It appears on their Unheard, Unreleased, and Under the Boot compilation.

The Seldom Scene covered the song on their 2007 Sugar Hill Records release, SCENEchronized.

American bluegrass band Greensky Bluegrass have played the song many times at live shows.

Ray LaMontagne includes the song in many live shows.

Other artist who have recorded it include:

Merle Haggard with Conway Twitty

Merle Haggard with Ray Price and Willie Nelson

Toby Keith with Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson

Johnny Cash with Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson

Merle Haggard with Buck Owens and Willie Nelson

Merle Haggard with Roger Miller and Bill Anderson

Merle Haggard with Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings

Marty Stuart with John Anderson

Troy Cassar-Daley with Adam Harvey

Willie Nelson

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

Reba McEntire

Percy Sledge

Conway Twitty

The Buckaroos

Commander Cody of Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen

Randy Travis

blues man Albert Lee and numerous others.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Collis, Ace, The Stories Behind Country Music's All-Time Greatest: 100 Songs, Berkley Publishing Group, New York, 1996, p. 198-200. (ISBN 1-57297-072-3)
  2. ^ a b c Malone, Bill, The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Country Music ((booklet included with The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Country Music 8-volume set). Smithsonian Institution, 1981).

See also[edit]

Preceded by
"Already It's Heaven"
by David Houston
Billboard Hot Country Singles
number-one single

August 31–September 21, 1968
Succeeded by
"Harper Valley PTA"
by Jeannie C. Riley
Preceded by
"When You Are Gone"
by Jim Reeves
RPM Country Tracks
number-one single

November 25, 1968
Succeeded by
"Where Love Used to Live"
by David Houston