In a famous story from country music lore, the first time Merle Haggard met Johnny Cash he told the Man in Black how seeing him play a New Year’s Day concert in 1958 inside the walls of San Quentin prison left him a changed man. Cash admitted he didn’t recall Haggard being on the bill. Haggard replied, “I wasn’t in the show, I was in the audience.”In a 2004 interview with CMT (here), Haggard said the pardon was a complete surprise:
Absolutely. They kept it under wraps. There was some effort on my brother-in-law's part, who was part of the Reagan team when he was on the West Coast, and my brother-in-law was friends with [Reagan adviser] Michael Deaver and people who were in a position to examine my case, and they found that I was improperly convicted and had no representation because I was poor and things of that nature, and ... 12 Supreme Court judges and Ronald Reagan -- the governor -- found it right to pardon me. God, it meant everything.Haggard returned the favor by playing at a Reagan Ranch party and calling for Reagan's image to appear on Mount Rushmore! Interestingly, the Artvoice article notes Haggard was out "in late 2007 stumping for Hillary Clinton, even writing a song for her." PardonPower apologizes for failing to add Haggard's name to the list of those supporting Clinton who had been pardoned (see post here).