Merle Haggard is in "the final stages" of re-signing with Capitol Records, the label that built him into a superstar. He is scheduled to start recording his first album under the new contract next week in Burbank, Calif.
A source close to Haggard also confirms that Toby Keith will record two duets with the Country Music Hall of Fame member -- one for the Capitol project and another for Keith's own forthcoming album for DreamWorks Records.
As CMT.com reported last week, former Capitol Nashville president Jimmy Bowen has agreed to produce the album. Bowen retired from the music business in 1995, after having headed the country divisions of Elektra, Warner Bros., MCA, Universal and Capitol. While holding those posts, he also produced hit albums for Hank Williams Jr., Conway Twitty, Reba McEntire and George Strait, among others.
During his original 11-year tenure at Capitol -- from 1965 to 1976 -- Haggard scored 24 No. 1 singles, including "Mama Tried," "Hungry Eyes," "Okie From Muskogee," "It's Not Love (But It's Not Bad)" and "If We Make It Through December." In 1970, the Country Music Association voted him its male vocalist and entertainer of the year. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1994.
Earlier this year, Capitol threw a party for Haggard in Nashville to mark the release of a retrospective album of his hits. Keith was on hand for the celebration, as were such other famous well-wishers as Bobby Bare, Lee Roy Parnell, Ronnie Dunn, Tom T. Hall, Mel Tillis and Mac Wiseman.
There is no word yet on when Haggard's album is expected to be released.