Merle Haggard can make a case for himself as the hardest working man in country music these days. Before the year's out, Haggard plans to put out his first-ever bluegrass album, "Runaway Mama," and a

Merle Haggard can make a case for himself as the hardest working man in country music these days.

The veteran "Okie From Muskogee" (actually Bakersfield, Calif.) will be spending the year promoting a number of new album projects. In October he joined forces with George Jones on "Kickin' Out the Footlights ... Again." On March 20, he'll be part of "Last of the Breed," a collaboration with Willie Nelson and Ray Price. Before the year's out, Haggard also plans to put out his first-ever bluegrass album, "Runaway Mama," and a compilation for Cracker Barrel that features six of his classic hits and six new songs.

And in between, Haggard is busy planting redwood trees on his 180-acre spread in Northern California. "I've got a studio here in my place, so I'm always working on something," says Haggard. "(The music) is what it's all about, and everything else is secondary. I've had a wonderful career and an interesting life, and I've still got an interesting life going on.

"I'm just hoping nobody gets upset. With mine and George Jones' album out right now and the 'Last of the Breed' and bluegrass thing, I'll have three albums sliding out there. I hope that's accepted."

Haggard credits Nelson with the "Last of the Breed" concept, on which the three singers cover older favorites and a few new songs. He, Nelson and Price are also taking it on the road for 15 shows beginning March 9 in Prescott Valleys, Ariz., backed by Asleep At The Wheel. And the trio could well become an ongoing concern, as far as Haggard is concerned.

"I think it will," he says. "If nothing else, the way these tickets have sold ... They sold without any formal advertisements of any kind. That's the kind of thing bookers and (business) people dream of. So it could be worth continuing."

Haggard is also getting attention for a song he's not even recorded -- "Hillary," an ode to presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in which he declares, that "This country needs to be honest/This country needs to be large/Something like a big switch of gender/Let's put a woman in charge."

"I'm just reacting to the news," explains Haggard, adding that the Clinton campaign camp has been in touch with his representatives. "Never before in history has there ever been a woman anyone seriously thought to be a possible candidate for president. A couple women in the past had that in mind but never had a chance to in.

"(The song) hasn't got past the studio yet. I recorded it and nobody's heard it, but they're talking about it all over the country. It's got me thinking it might be worth putting out there."