Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard, The Good Lord and Me

by Regis Boff

I badly needed Merle Haggard to open my country show. Dolly Parton was the headliner, and it was a large venue. Dolly was more famous at the time, a far bigger draw, but not strong enough to sell the arena without help. They knew each other well.
Dolly is one of the smartest people I have ever met. With hair, she barely cleared my belt buckle. Her voice sounded the same whether she was singing or talking. When she disagreed with me, she would say something like,” Now Mr. Boff, that’s not exactly what you mean is it?”
Haggard was a convicted felon, a bank robber. He had spent a good deal of time in prison; my guess because he wasn’t a particularly good thief. When asked by the press what he learned in prison, he answered, ” To never pull my jobs in small towns.”
His band, “The Strangers” was populated by musicians who just happened to be on parole when his tours began. His drummer, who arranged our meeting, appeared to be his manager, but this was murky.
I liked him. I don’t believe he disliked me. But it would have been an exaggeration to call our conversation that night a negotiation. I was already paying him more than enough, and we both understood that. I knew he wanted, maybe needed, the money.
This man left you not hunting for more like him. He was simply as tough an old fucker as you could meet. A hard face with dangerous lines that had to scramble to pretend to smile. His hat combs his hair.
He said very quickly to me after we sat down, “Mr. Boff, I don’t believe the Good Lord intended a man to open a show for a woman”.
And with that, I flew home.
The next day I called Dolly to report what had happened directly. She said she would call me back. Merle did not pick up phones. She left a message with his drummer to tell Merle.” The Good Lord Dolly Parton wanted to speak to him.”
He opened the show.