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The Strangers (American band)
Roy Nichols, lead guitarist of the Strangers.
|Origin||Bakersfield, California, United States|
|Past members||Merle Haggard
The Strangers are an American country band that formed in 1966 in Bakersfield, California. They mainly served as the backup band for singer-songwriter Merle Haggard, who named them after his first hit single "(My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers". In addition to serving as his backing band, members of the Strangers also produced many of Haggard’s records, sang lead vocals on select tracks, and co-wrote many of Haggard's songs with him, including the No. 1 singles, "Okie From Muskogee" and "I Always Get Lucky with You".
From 1969 to 1973, they issued several records independent of Haggard, released on Capitol Records, and even had their own Top 10 hit single called "Street Singer" on the Billboard Hot Country Songs Chart. Three members of the Strangers would go on to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Between 1969 and 1987, the Strangers were voted Band of the Year by the Academy of Country Music eight times—more than any other group in history.
Lead guitarist Roy Nichols (October 21, 1932 - July 3, 2001) was from Chandler, Arizona, and had previously played with the Maddox Brothers and Rose, Lefty Frizzell, Wynn Stewart, and Johnny Cash before playing with the Strangers from 1965 until 1987, when health problems forced him into retirement. Duncan, Oklahoma-born steel guitarist Ralph Mooney (September 16, 1928 - March 20, 2011) had previously played with Wynn Stewart and written the song "Crazy Arms", and after leaving the Strangers recorded a duo album with James Burton and then joined Waylon Jennings band.
Norm Hamlet (born February 27, 1935 in Woodville, California) joined the Strangers on steel guitar in 1967 and, shortly afterward, became its bandleader. Howard "Jerry Ward" Lowe was the Strangers original bass player and George French (March 6, 1926 - August 14, 1992) played the piano. But when Ward left, Willard "Gene" Price (February 27, 1944 - August 13, 2013) from Shamrock, Texas replaced him on bass just in time for the Okie from Muskogee album in 1969, on which he also sang lead vocals. Tulsa, Oklahoma-born Roy "Eddie" Burris (October 27, 1931 - April 19, 2011), the drummer for the Strangers, co-wrote the title track "Okie From Muskogee" with Merle Haggard.
Clair "Biff" Adam (April 19, 1936 - March 7, 2020) from Reading, Pennsylvania, replaced Burris as the Strangers drummer in 1970 and also served as Merle's publicist and bus driver. On the album, The Fightin' Side of Me, the Strangers added rhythm guitarist Robert "Bobby Wayne" Edrington (December 11, 1941 - September 21, 2009) from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and they got their own showcase on the instrumental "Stealin’ Corn". A second rhythm guitarist, Marcia "Nichols" Ashcraft (May 23, 1950 - October 1976), also joined the band 
After Bobby Wayne and Marcia Nichols left, Ronnie Reno (born September 28, 1947 in Buffalo, South Carolina) of Reno and Smiley and the Osborne Brothers joined the Strangers on rhythm guitar, and he also produced Merle's duo album with Mac Wiseman as well as Merle's The Bluegrass Sessions. Ronnie would also sing lead vocals on albums like Merle Haggard Presents His 30th Album. Gaffney, South Carolina-born Johnny Meeks (April 16, 1937 - July 30, 2015), previously a member of Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps, the Champs, and Michael Nesmith and the Second National Band, played bass with the Strangers in the early 1970s and later got inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. After Meeks left, Jimmy Tittle (born December 1, 1956) played bass with the band. After leaving the Strangers, Tittle would go on to play with his father-in-law Johnny Cash. He was replaced by bassist Sherman "Wayne" Durham (July 8, 1947 - April 13, 2016.)
Bakersfield, California-born saxophonist Don Markham (November 28, 1931 - February 24, 2017), who had played with Sly & the Family Stone, the Ventures, the Bakersfield Brass, and Johnny Paycheck played with the Strangers from 1974 to 2013. In the mid-1970s, former Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys guitarist Estel "Eldon" Shamblin (April 24, 1916 - August 5, 1998), who was born in Clinton, Oklahoma, was invited to join the Strangers. After retiring from the Strangers, Eldon Shamblin would continue to perform with them whenever they played in Tulsa. Electric mandolinist Billie "Tiny" Moore (May 12, 1920 - December 15, 1987) from Port Arthur, Texas also joined the Strangers during the 1970s. Like Eldon Shamblin, Tiny Moore had also been a member of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys.
In the late 1970s Decatur, Alabama-born Gordon Terry (October 7, 1931 - April 9, 2006) joined the Strangers on fiddle. Terry had previously played with Bill Monroe, Faron Young, and Johnny Cash.
After Gordon Terry left the band, fiddler Jimmy Belken (May 25, 1931 - August 19, 2000) joined the Strangers. Born in Dallas, Texas, Belken had previously played with Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys as well as Mel Tillis and the Statesiders. In addition to serving as Strangers bassist, Dennis Hromek (born November 12, 1940) would also sing some lead vocals at Strangers shows. When Hromek left Bobby Wayne returned to the Strangers, this time playing bass. Other noteworthy members of the band included Princeton, Illinois-born trumpet player Gary Church (March 26, 1951 - June 22, 2018), and Los Angeles, California-born keyboardist Mark Yeary (1952 - January 17, 2020), who also served as Merle's co-producer on his records. Clint Strong (born in 1966), who had studied under Stan Kenton, joined the Strangers on lead guitar during the mid-1980s.
Albums credited to the Strangers
|February 23, 1969||The Instrumental Sounds of Merle Haggard's Strangers||36||Capitol Records|
|April 6, 1970||Introducing My Friends the Strangers||34|
|October 5, 1970||Getting to Know Merle Haggard's Strangers||44|
|June 21, 1971||Honky Tonkin'||34|
|May 1, 1973||Totally Instrumental...With One Exception||23|
Singles credited to the Strangers
|US Country||CAN Country||Bubbling Under Hot 100|
|April 18, 1970||"Street Singer"||9||1||24||Introducing My Friends the Strangers|
Albums credited to Merle Haggard and the Strangers
Singles credited to Merle Haggard and the Strangers
Albums credited to Bonnie Owens and the Strangers
|1967||All of Me Belongs to You||35||Capitol Records|
|Lead Me On||-|
|1970||Mother's Favorite Hymns||-|
Singles credited to Bonnie Owens and the Strangers
|November 19, 1966||Consider the Children||69||All of Me Belongs To You|
|February 15, 1969||Lead Me On||68||Lead Me On|
Albums credited to Leona Williams and the Strangers
The Strangers as Backing Band
|Merle Haggard||Merle Haggard's Christmas Present||1973|
|Rainbow Stew Live at Anaheim Stadium||1981|
|Songs for the Mama That Tried|
|Johnny Paycheck||Mr. Hag Told My Story|
|Merle Haggard||Going Where the Lonely Go||1982|
|Goin' Home for Christmas|
|That's the Way Love Goes||1983|
|The Epic Collection (Recorded Live)|
|Merle Haggard and Leona Williams||Heart to Heart|
|Rose Maddox||Queen of the West|
|Merle Haggard||It's All in the Game||1984|
|Amber Waves of Grain|
|A Friend in California||1986|
|Willie Nelson||The Promiseland|
|Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson||Seashores of Old Mexico||1987|
|Merle Haggard||Chill Factor|
|Live from Austin, TX ’85||2006|
|Live from Austin, TX ‘78||2008|
Contribution to Merle Haggard Albums
|Falling For You||Ralph Mooney||Strangers||1965|
|Mary's Mine||Jerry Ward||I'm a Lonesome Fugitive||1967|
|Blue Rock||Roy Nichols and Norm Hamlet||Okie from Muskogee||1969|
|In The Arms of Love (Gene Price on lead vocal)||Gene Price and Buck Owens|
|Okie From Muskogee||Eddie Burris and Merle Haggard|
|Hammin’ It Up||Norm Hamlet||The Fightin’ Side of Me||1970|
|Harold's Super Service||Bobby Wayne|
|Stealin’ Corn||Roy Nichols and Norm Hamlet|
|Champagne||Roy Nichols, Norm Hamlet, and Biff Adam||I Love Dixie Blues||1973|
|Come On Into My Arms||Marcia Nichols||If We Make It Through December||1974|
|Girl Who Made Me Laugh||Roy Nichols and Merle Haggard||Merle Haggard Presents His 30th Album|
|It Don't Bother Me||Mark Yeary|
|Travelin’ (Ronnie Reno on lead vocal)||Tiny Moore and Ronnie Reno|
|I’ve Got A Darlin’||Ronnie Reno and Merle Haggard||Keep Movin' On||1975|
|After Loving You||Ronnie Reno, Merle Haggard, and Leona Williams||It's All in the Movies||1976|
|Cotton Patch Blues||Tiny Moore, Bob Wills, and Billy Joe Moore|
|I Won't Give Up My Train||Mark Yeary||My Love Affair with Trains|
|Union Station||Ronnie Reno|
|I Always Get Lucky with You||Gary Church, Merle Haggard, Freddy Powers, and Tex Whitson||Big City||1981|
|I Think I'm Gonna Live Forever||Dennis Hromek, Merle Haggard, and Benny Binion|
|Silver Eagle||Gary Church and Freddy Powers||A Taste of Yesterday's Wine||1982|
|My Life's Been Grand||Gordon Terry and Merle Haggard||Out Among the Stars||1986|
|Roy Nichols||Goin' Home for Christmas||1982|
|Mark Yeary||5:01 Blues||1989|
|Mark Yeary||Blue Jungle||1990|
|Ronnie Reno||The Bluegrass Sessions||2007|
|Gene Price||In The Arms of Love||Okie from Muskogee||1969|
|Ronnie Reno||Travelin’||Merle Haggard Presents His 30th Album||1974|
|Liner Notes Writer||Album||Year|
|Mark Yeary||Keep Movin' On||1975|
Merle Haggard famously called out members of the Strangers by name on his records prior to their solos. He sometimes prefixed their name with “Brother,” as in the song "I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink" when he called out “Brother Don” Markham. For 20 years (1969 – 1989) he regularly called out 16 different members of the Strangers and 14 guest musicians on 70 songs on 31 different albums. Roy Nichols received the most call-outs (42), followed by Norm Hamlet (24), Tiny Moore (13), Mark Yeary (10), and Don Markham (9). Below is a list of all the songs and Stranger call-outs Merle made over his career. Not listed are callouts the Strangers received by others than Merle, such as when Leona Williams called out Roy Nichols during “Yes Ma’am This One Can” on her 1976 Strangers-backed album “San Quentin’s First Lady,” or when Rose Maddox called Roy Nichols out prior to his “Downtown Modesto” solo on her 1983 Strangers-backed album “Queen of the West.”
Academy of Country Music Band of the Year Awards
|Year||ACM Band of the Year|
Music City News (Now named CMT Music Awards) Band of the Year Awards
|Year||Music City News (Now CMT Music Awards) Band of the Year|
|1969||Album of the Year||Okie from Muskogee|
|Song of the Year||Okie From Muskogee|
|Single of the Year|
|1970||Album of the Year||Okie from Muskogee|
|Single of the Year||Okie From Muskogee|
|1972||Album of the Year||Let Me Tell You About a Song|
Academy of Country Music Individual Nominations
|Year||Guitarist of the Year||Steel Guitarist of the Year||Keyboardist of the Year||Bassist of the Year||Drummer of the Year||Fiddler of the Year||Specialty Instrument Player of the Year||Most Promising Vocalist||Song(writer) of the Year|
|1966||-||Ralph Mooney||George French||-||-||-||-||-||-|
|1967||-||Ralph Mooney||-||Jerry Ward||Biff Adam||-||-||-||-|
|1968||-||Ralph Mooney||-||-||Biff Adam||-||-||-||-|
|1969||Roy Nichols||Norm Hamlet||-||-||Biff Adam||Gordon Terry||-||-||-|
|1970||-||-||-||Dennis Hromek||Biff Adam||Gordon Terry||-||Bobby Wayne||-|
|1971||-||Norm Hamlet||-||Dennis Hromek||Biff Adam||Gordon Terry||-||-||-|
|1972||Roy Nichols||Norm Hamlet||-||Dennis Hromek||Biff Adam||-||-||-||-|
|1973||Roy Nichols||-||-||-||Biff Adam||-||-||-||-|
|1979||-||Ralph Mooney||-||-||-||Gordon Terry||-||-||-|
|1981||Roy Nichols||Ralph Mooney||-||-||Biff Adam||-||-||-||-|
|1982||-||-||-||-||-||Gordon Terry||Don Markham||-||-|
|1983||-||-||-||-||-||-||Tiny Moore||-||Gary Church|
|1987||-||Norm Hamlet||Mark Yeary||-||Biff Adam||-||-||-||-|
Strangers in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
|Stranger||Year Inducted||Band Inducted With||Inducted By|
|Tiny Moore||1999||Texas Playboys||Chris Isaak|
|Johnny Meeks||2012||Blue Caps||Smokey Robinson|
|Charles R. Townsend||San Antonio Rose||1976|
|Merle Haggard||Sing Me Back Home||1981|
|Tiny Moore||Tiny Moore Mandolin Method||1982|
|Jonny Whiteside||Ramblin' Rose: The Life and Career of Rose Maddox||1997|
|Merle Haggard||For The Record||1999|
|Gerald Haslam||Workin' Man Blues||1999|
|Susan VanHecke||Race With The Devil||2000|
|Ken Nelson||My First 90 Years Plus 3||2007|
|Gary Church||Autobiography of a Nobody||2012|
|David Cantwell||Merle Haggard: The Running Kind||2013|
|Freddy Powers||The Spree of '83||2017|
|Rachel Lee Rubin||Okie from Muskogee||2018|
|Fuzzy Owen||Merle Haggard, Bonnie Owens, & Me||2019|
|Raymond H. McDonald||Merle Haggard was a Friend of Mine||2021|
- "The Life & Times of Merle Haggard". Rolling Stone. October 1, 2009.
- "Merle Haggard Obituary". The Guardian. April 6, 2016.
- "Roy Nichols; Merle Haggard's Guitarist". Los Angeles Times. July 4, 2001.
- "Country star Ralph Mooney Dies". Variety. March 22, 2011.
- "My Friends Are Gonna Be Strangers". Country Music Hall of Fame. April 11, 2012.
- "Country Music Star, Wife of Local Legends Dies". The Bakersfield Californian. April 25, 2006.
- Rubin, Rachel Lee (2018). "The Bakersfield Sound: Hag Gets Hard". Merle Haggard's Okie from Muskogee. ISBN 9781501321450.
- "Eddie Burris Helped Make 'Okie from Muskogee' a Hit". Tulsa World. April 20, 2011.
- "Merle Haggard: Under the Growl, a Crooner". The New York Times. July 29, 1993.
- "Merle Haggard". Vintage Guitar. July 2014.
- Erlewine, Michael (1997). "Merle Haggard". All Music Guide To Country. ISBN 9780879304751.
- "Ronnie Reno, Bluegrass Music's Youngest Old Timer". Bluegrass Unlimited. July 1, 2013.
- Erlewine, Michael (1997). "Merle Haggard". AllMusic Guide To Country. ISBN 9780879304751.
- "Johnny Meeks, Former Gene Vincent & His Blue Caps Guitarist, Dead at 78". Guitar World. August 2, 2015.
- Waddell, Hugh (2004). "Jimmy Tittle". I Still Miss Someone. ISBN 9781581823981.
- Streissguth, Michael (2006). "Addiction". Johnny Cash: The Biography. ISBN 9780306815911.
- "Don Markham, Longtime Merle Haggard Band Member, Dead at Age 85". Rolling Stone. February 27, 2017.
- "Eldon Shamblin, 82, Guitarist for Texas Playboys". The New York Times. August 8, 1988.
- "Obituary: Eldon Shamblin". The Independent. August 12, 1998.
- "Merle Haggard Talks Music and Life". U-T San Diego. February 29, 2012.
- "Tiny Moore & Jethro Burns: Back To Back". All About Jazz. April 7, 2005.
- "Watch Merle Haggard's 'Austin City Limits' Debut". Rolling Stone. April 18, 2016.
- "Funeral Services Scheduled for Fiddler Gordon Terry". CMT. April 10, 2006.
- "Merle Haggard". The Washington Post. April 10, 1995.
- Dempsey, John Mark (2002). "I'll Die With Them, If They'll Keep Me That Long". The Light Crust Doughboys Are On The Air. ISBN 9781574411515.
- "Merle Haggard's Performance Rewards Audience's Wait". The Oklahoman. January 16, 1984.
- "Merle Haggard". Tulsa World. June 10, 1989.
- "Ornery". The New Yorker. February 12, 1990.
- "Merle Haggard's Diverse Influences". SFGate. November 25, 2015.
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