Sometimes, Haggard cautions, a song is just a song.
"You know, most people are like you and I," he says. "They understand it, they don't do the pigeon-hole thing. A lot of that song was humor, and people understand that. You can sing it with a straight face, or with a smile."
These days, Haggard and his band perform about 100 dates a year. Two weeks on, two weeks off. He doesn't use a formal set list but tries to strike a balance between pleasing his fans and keeping his vast repertoire fresh.
"I'm carrying one of the best bands I've ever had right now," he says. "You guys can see when I get there."
Haggard plays Wednesday in Mankato for the first time since the 1970s.
"We don't do the same kind of show outside as we would do indoors," he says of the Vetter Amphitheater show. "The environment kind of delivers what you should do."
If his 20-year old lead guitarist bears a resemblance to the singer, it's no coincidence.
"My son, Ben, is playing guitar with me because he's the best guitar player I could find," he says.
"He started playing on stage when he was 15. It's a thrill. He's learned more about music in 10 years than I have my whole life. It's amazing to see a kid stand up there with a bunch of old guys and play his butt off. "
The son introduced his father to a new medium — social media. Even Merle Haggard has Facebook and Twitter accounts.
"I burnt my lip and shot a hole in my guitar the other day," he wrote in a recent post. "Most eventful."