Don Markham, a mainstay in Merle Haggard’s band, the Strangers, passed away on Friday in Oildale, California, at the age of 85.
Markham was originally a pop and jazz musician but quickly joined the country scene in his hometown of Bakersfield, California, when it became a hot spot for country music.
“It seemed like, in Bakersfield, not a lot was going on with what I played in pop and jazz,” Markham recalled in 2012 (quote via Bakersfield.com). “The country people were so much nicer and appreciative of you playing for them than other kinds of music that I just fell in love with it.”
Markham was part of Haggard’s band from 1974 to 2013 when he retired. He joined the band by God’s intervention. While he was out on the road with Johnny Paycheck’s band, both Paycheck’s bus and Haggard’s bus stopped at the same New Mexico truck stop.
Markham began chatting with Haggard as Norm Hamlet, the Strangers’ steel guitarist, recalled, “These guys are fighting all the time, and it’s driving me crazy.” Markham then asked to join up with Haggard and left the truck stop with Haggard and the Strangers.
The Strangers at the time only had guitars. Markham was able to give the group a different sound with the addition of horns.
“We didn’t have horns at the time, didn’t even have a piano, I don’t think — it was just guitars — so he was a good addition,” recounted Hamlet.
Take a listen to one of Merle’s best, “Today I Started Loving You Again.”
Markham is survived by his daughters Marilyn and Carla and several grandchildren. His funeral is set to take place on March 7th in Bakersfield. No cause of death has been reported.
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H/T: The Boot