Roy Burris, who played drums for Merle Haggard’s band the Strangers and co-wrote “Okie From Muskogee,” died Wednesday, April 20, of heart-related problems in Tulsa, Okla. He was 79.
A member of the Bakersfield country legend’s band in the 1960s, Burris reportedly co-wrote “Muskogee” with Haggard while on the band’s tour bus in ’69. The song — which compares such old-time small-town pleasures as college football and moonshine with the sandal-wearing, acid-dropping San Francisco counterculture — spent four weeks at No. 1 on the country charts and was included on the hit LP of the same name. (Oddly, Burris did not play drums on the recording.) Though there was clearly an element of satire in the song’s lyrics, it nonetheless became a major conservative rallying cry during the era’s culture wars and remains one of Haggard’s most recognizable songs.
Burris left the Strangers in 1970 and evidently retired from music, working as a truck driver and fishing-shop owner.
He is survived by his wife, Susie; three children; a stepson; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.