Merle Haggard and Dolly Parton

by Regis Boff

I have worked with people who have spent parts of their lives in prison. Mostly these were low to medium level felons.  They were not greedier than most, simply harder to trick. The music business during my era was not much different from in it’s past with the glaring exception that the numbers were much bigger.

The important bands would tour from city to city while civil wars raged between rival promoters over who would control them in their market. These same people a hundred and fifty years ago would have been selling snake oil to women in bonnets. It was easy to take advantage of some of them if you worked for a powerful band. Other’s, like Bill Graham and Harvey Weinstein made you unsure about who bested the deals. Bill Graham could make you feel sorry for him even if you knew he was stealing.  Harvey Weinstein was the most genuine. He was later to have some success in the movie business as well.

Everyone was rushing into the pristine newness of rock like it was the Oklahoma land rush of 1889.

The most high profile criminal I got to know was Merle Haggard, the country and western singer and bank robber. Merle was famously quoted when asked what his biggest mistake in life was. He blurted out without a glance to conscience, “ pulling my jobs in small towns.”

I tried to get Merle to open a show for Dolly Parton, who was a much bigger star than he at the time. After much begging and throwing money at him he turned me down flat, claiming that,  “God never meant for a man to open a show for a woman.”

I flew down to see Dolly hoping she could help, telling her what Merle had said about the date. She called Merle and typically no one could find him so she left this message with his drummer, “ Tell Merle the Good Lord Dolly Parton wants to talk to him.” He opened the show.