“Okie From Muskogee” Writer Dies

Haggard tune brought Eddie Burris fame.

Musician and songwriter Roy Edward “Eddie” Burris, who gained his greatest fame as the co-writer of Merle Haggard's anthem “Okie From Muskogee,” died April 19 in Tulsa, Okla., of heart problems at age 79.

Eddie was the drummer in Merle’s band and wrote the classic tune with Merle in 1969 while Merle and the band were traveling to a show in Muskogee, Okla., on their tour bus. Reportedly, Merle saw a sign reading, "Muskogee—17 Miles," and became inspired to write a song. He woke up Burris and the two began writing.

According to the most famous account of the writing session, Merle remarked about the fact that smoking marijuana was probably not popular in the sleepy small town. Merle and Eddie then began to think of other activities that might be frowned upon in Muskogee, such as burning one’s draft card, a hot button issue during the height of the controversial Vietnam War. Merle and Eddie finished the song in about 15 minutes.

“Okie From Muskogee” was released in October of 1969 and hit No. 1 on Nov. 15 for the first of four weeks. In 1970, it won the Country Music Association Award for Single of the Year.

The song’s popularity eventually led to a heavy influx of tourism in Muskogee. “Oh, my goodness, that 15 minutes has given us so much fame and notoriety around the world,” said Sue Harris, president of the Greater Muskogee Area Chamber of Commerce, in a press release. “There are people overseas who know that song. We have really seen a lot of results from it.”

Eddie is survived by his wife of 32 years, Susie, three children and a stepson, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

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