Merdalf spent the early 1970s aboard an aircraft carrier in the Navy and spent some time drifting after that. "I've been a drug addict. I've been homeless. I've been locked up," he says of his past. But then, when he was 50 years old, a friend gave him a guitar and showed him a couple of chords. "I wrote a song with those two chords," he says, adding, "I'm a preacher. Not the religious kind. I have something to say. But ain't nobody want to hear you talk that shit. But I noticed when I had a guitar, they'd listen."