The country music community continues to mourn the loss of Merle Haggard, who passed away on April 6 following a bout of pneumonia. For rising star Drake White, Haggard's influence permeates not only his music but his life, which is why Haggard's death feels so personal.

"We’d always go to these old fish camps and hunting clubs with my uncle and my dad. Merle would always be on either the tape deck or a CD player," an emotional White tells The Boot. "He lived the life. He was on his side of the fence; he wasn’t a fence-straddler. I think that’s so admirable.

"Today, everybody’s kind of gray; it’s not black and white. He stood for something," White continues. "He had a rough life: He’d been to jail, he made some stupid decisions, and I’ve seen interviews where he was the first to admit he made stupid decisions, but it was that lifestyle that was so interesting and so unique about him."

White found a kinship specifically with Haggard's song "Mama Tried," which the younger singer-songwriter admits is an accurate depiction of his life as well.

"I was hell on my mom. I didn’t raise too much hell, but I disappointed her, and I made her happy, and I made her proud. "Mama Tried" has always been familiar to me," White admits. "I remember the first time I heard "Okie From Muskogee," I was like, ‘What does this even mean?’ And then I got to hear all the culture that is in that song, when he was talking about that.

"His list is long and deep," White adds. "It’s awesome."

The "Livin' the Dream" singer is inspired by Haggard's career path, especially as he embarks on his own career.

"He had an opinion, and he wasn’t afraid to tell you about it, whether it was popular or not: ‘I’m Merle Haggard, and you can kiss my a-- if you don’t like it,'" White acknowledges. "You’ve got to respect that. You’ve got to love it."

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