photo by Chris Felver

I'd been working on a documentary on Jimmie Rodgers AKA the Father of Country Music for years, and some years back Willie

Nelson told me, "If you want to know something about Jimmie Rodgers, you need to talk to Merle Haggard.  So the Saga begins. 

 

After starting the hunt for the great Merle Haggard I'm led to Frank Mull.  Frank went way back with Merle to when Moby Dick was

a minnow.  After some months of talking on the phone with Frank I was invited to one of Haggard's concerts...thereafter a 12 year

friendship and working relationship began centered on the life and music of "The Singing Brakeman" one of Merle's biggest

influences Jimmie Rodgers, and and in general our mutual passion for country music history that led us working on a film about

Lefty Frizzell and down the track he would ask me to help him make a movie on his life

 

For the first year that I was around Merle on various tours and at a number of shows in California,  Frank and I would talk, and I

began to meet the guys in the band, the road crew and bus drivers, let's call it a vetting dance.   A number of months later, and

after several meet ups with some dates in California, Frank told me to meet them at a show off the 210 near LA, I met Frank at a

hotel where he was checking in the band he said, "Merle is out in the parking lot on his bus, why don't you go say hi to him." 

 

I got butterflies in my stomach as I began to walk out of the hotel into the parking lot headed for the Super Chief his famous bus. 

I boarded the bus and Merle looked at me and said, "Come on in Banford."  He called me Banford, instead of Benford... hell I

didn't care Merle Haggard could call me whatever he wanted, and from that point on a great friendship and a working relationship

began and grew year by year.

 

Norm Hamlett and Frank Mull talking talking on stage during sound check in

Carmel, Ca., where there was some talk Clint Eastwood might show.  Frank

worked for Merle wearing many different hats going back to 1968. I know

Merle and Frank saw each other as brothers. Merle had held Norm in very

high regard and being with him since 1965, and he would introduce him as

Music Director of the Strangers.  He would tell me that Frank, Norm and

Fuzzy Owen were the engineers that kept his touring train on track...

Frank Mull and Merle Haggard leaving the stage, Frank was always there

with a flashlight so Merle could see what side of the stage to exit, and

Frank would lead him back to the bus.  Merle did not like to stop after

a show and visit, or sign autographs, he just wanted to get to his bus

and take his boots off, only a few people had the luck to get to come

 on Hag's bus and talk to him...That I had that freedom was wild to me.

 

 

Merle's songwriting was very important to him.  One time he told

me one of his biggest thrills was that "Today I Started Loving You

Again" had been recorded by over 420 artists."  Then a big smile!!!

He said he had these stories that must be told and music was his way.

 

 

Merle Haggard is a Pioneer Troubadour if there ever was one.  Willie Nelson's ole stage

manager Poodie Locke and I were talking about Merle a nd Willie with Buck Page, founding

member of the Riders of the Purple Sage (formed in 1936) and called them "road warriors"

 

 

 

The ramblin' fever, the road and his bus were antagonists.  His memories that became his songs and the

passion and his deep desire to tell his life in song so others could learn became his antagonists.   Hear it

in the songs he sang up and down the highways of the country for six decades.

 

I was born the running kind, leaving always on my mind.  Home was never home to me at any time.

And I got to keep goin'  I can't lay down Sleep won't hardly come Where there's loneliness all around.

Listen to the train that stops in our town, Sliver Wings shining in the sunlight.  Sing Me Back Home

Where The Lonely Go  Too Many Bridges to Cross Over  I'm a Lonesome Fugitive  The darkness of

the night catches me crying A whistle soon will blow a lonesome sound.  No matter where I am living

I've got to tell them where I've been, or they will send me back to prison if I fail.  A canvas covered

cabin in a crowded labor camp stand out in this memory I revived.  I'm tired of this dirty old city

Big city turn me lose and set me free   Won't be long before my shoes touch the ground  Down every

road there's always one more city.  I'm on the run, the highway is my home.  I'm a hunted fugitive

with just two ways: Outrun the law or spend my life in jail.  Within me there is a prison, surrounding

me alone As real as any dungeon with walls of stone  I know running is not the answer, but running's

been my nature  And part of me that keeps moving on...Sing me back home with a song I used to

hear  Make my old memories come alive  Take me away and turn back the years.  Well I'm leavin'

town forever kiss an old boxcar goodbye...SING ME BACK HOME BEFORE I DIE and KERN

RIVER BLUES...he sang to me as we held hands on this bus before his next to last show...

 

Bob Dylan, Merle Haggard and Buck Owens backstage before Dylan's

performance.  Buck took Dylan one of his red, white and blue guitars.

I walked in the room with Buck and Merle standing shoulder to shoulder

and you should have seen the look on Bob's face when he saw these two

legends of the Bakersfield sound walk in...His jaw actually dropped.

Like two historic gun/guitar slingers just walked through the swinging

doors...I could write a chapter this night in Portland, Oregon.

Merle and Buck Owens on Merle's bus talking about Jimmie Rodgers.

Such a great catch for me to have my film camera with me and able to

get these two ole friends talking about the guy I am doing a doc on...

 

Back in 2005, Merle told me that Bob had called him to tour the United States, and was wanting him to tour with him as an opening

act on  30+ dates across the United States.  Merle told him, "No."   "Hell!" Merle said, "He wanted to go out at the wrong time of the

year for me to want to cross the U.S. North to South to West to East...And, Merle looked at me and said, "I'm not an opening act...

maybe for Willie."  Then he said, "And the money was not that good."

 

Days after I got the first phone call from Frank Mull that this had all come down... Frank calls back and tells me the tour is on!  Later

Merle tells me, "After the call I told my ranch hand to go to town and get me some Dylan CD's".  The story from Frank and Merle is

that after listening to the CD's he called Frank and said, "Call Dylan...tell him I will do the show.  That son-of-a-bitch is a GENIUS!".

Let's say Merle Haggard just discovered Bob Dylan.

1969 Merle released his tribute to Jimmie Rodgers SAME TRAIN

A DIFFERENT TIME and in 1997 Bob Dylan released

THE SONGS OF JIMMIE RODGERS: A TRIBUTE

 

In that the prior year I'd been not only running down Haggard for interviews to have him in the Jimmie Rodgers documentary,

but I had already run down Bob Dylan, and had already started talks with his management for his involvement and had his

interest, I could not help but feel some fate, destiny and synergy going on with the call of this tour coming together.

 

In 1969, Merle released a tribute album to Rodgers titled SAME TRAIN A DIFFERENT TIME,  and in 1997, Dylan released a

tribute album to the Jimmie titled THE SONGS OF JIMMIE RODGERS: A TRIBUTE.  In short Dylan and Haggard's boys gave

me permission to be the only video and digital camera on the tour.  A month plus on the road and 39 shows sold out across

the Nation.  I started taking notes and serious video of the tour itself, the busses, the roadies, the load ins and load outs, and

the road warriors doing what they do.

On the 31 show Dylan tour there were these two trucks and Hag's 3 busses

a merch truck and Dylan's 5 busses... was a trip pulling into all the cities. 

The trucking and lights/sound was produced by Upstaging in Dallas, Texas...

 

The Bob Dylan Sound boys setting up for a show.  Merle always relied on

having sound provided by the producers of the shows.  He carried a sound

person, someone to run his monitors and sometimes had a light person, and

sometimes relied on the producers again to furnish this production assist.

 

Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson

From the Merle Haggard UFO Music Festival in Roswell, NM to

the Willie Nelson's 4th of July Picknick, then their last tour and

shows together in 2015 on the Django and Jimmie album Tour

 

A sell out October 2015 tour in support of the Django and Jimmie release followed the album's

#1 position on the Country Charts.  The Boot.com named the album the #3 country album of the

year, and it was the top selling album on the Amazon.com Classic Country Charts for weeks...

and the album was dedicated to Jimmie Rodgers and Django Reinhardt and the synergy

grows with this next linkup of Merle Haggard, Jimmie Rodgers and myself, with Willie to boot.

 

Willie and Merle circle the wagons...

Merle and Willie laughing and telling jokes while signing stuff

for fans.  These two ole friends always had a fun time together

CUT TO 2014, somewhere on the road with Merle...

In 2014, Merle was talking about getting back together with Willie on a project.  He and Willie and Kris had just been together

at an awards show, so he and Willie started the ball rolling on the idea to do another album.  Merle had said they wanted to do

something with Kris, but at the time and for awhile Kris was dealing with some health problems, which later showed he was

most dealing with the wrong diagnosis, and he was having to cancel some shows.

 

There were a number of times Merle would tell me about the project, then he would just grab his phone and call Willie.  Last call

I remember he just grabbed his phone and called Willie and they talked awhile about getting off the dime and doing the project. 

Merle told Willie to "call Mark and let's get this moving and let's get in the studio."  Sony came on board and that picked up the

pace...  As per many of the big recording projects the doings were kept hush hush, so for awhile I just knew when Willie and Merle

were getting together to do some recording.  Most of the work had been done on the phone with Willie and Merle talking about

songs... Merle told me the story about how the song D'Jango and Jimmie came across his and Willie's radar and that is a story

that for sure tied me into the mix.

Brothers from the road...I know they loved each other like brothers...I loved them

and grateful to be able to spend time with these two guys on a number of occasions

in my one life time... was a ride that only men could dream of...to smoke pot with

them both, take pictures, interview and record them just adds to one of the great

chances my life in the entertainment business that fate and destiny has taken me on.

 

 

 

1981 was a big year for Merle and his "red headed brother" Willie Nelson, with the release of "Pancho and Lefty" the album, single and video were a big hit.  The same year

Merle signed with Epic records and hit the single charts

with a #1 for the song "Yesterday's Wine" with another

one of his best friends Mr. George Jones.  Same year

he released the book SING ME BACK HOME.

 

Jump to July 3rd, 2005, Willie joins Merle for his MERLE HAGGARD UFO MUSIC FESTIVAL in Roswell, New Mexico, then they board their busses and head East to

Fort Worth where Merle would then join Willie for his

annual 4th of July picnic... frequently trading off as

closing acts for each other's Festivals.

 

Was always fun when Haggard and Nelson joined up...

their merry band of friends and crew and always made

for a fun family reunion.

Merle and Willie in New Mexico in 2005, where they were the main act...

on Merle's UFO and Music Festival in Roswell, New Mexicon...

 

 

Merle and Lacy J. Dalton, who Merle would book on

his Merle Haggard UFO Music Festival in New Mexico

Along with Haggard, Willie's picnics at

the Ft Worth  Stockyards featured the

likes of  Ray Price, Leon Russell,

Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Billy

Joe Shaver, David Allan Coe, Asleep

at the Wheel, Ray Wylie Hubbard.

 Also appearing was  Cross Canadian Ragweed, Los Lonely Boys, Django

Walker, Jack Ingram who'd be at other Haggard shows plus Paula, Luke or

Amy Nelson or other kids playing.

 

The backstage was always a who's

who of guests and main acts...always

a lot of room for buses from all of the

acts and fun area for large number of

guests, and then the actual backstage

where security was little tighter.

Jack Ingram good friend who was on a few

Merle Haggard and/or Willie Nelson shows

and I had worked with Jack in LA and we

had a mutual friend in Miranda Lambert.

 

 

Click Hag's pic to see more

 

 

I've hours of interviews and performances of Merle that I shot, and own

the masters to the footage.  So many memories for me to write about

my times Waiting For A Train with Merle and Jimmie, and how I in fact

documented my times with Merle...Many times not just filming him, but

the scene and the road, and the halls of a road warrior through the

lens of my cameras.

 

 

Rough Draft 3rd read/rewrite Copyright  March 2021

by Benford Standley, All Rights Reserved

 

My book and this Track in the project is a memoir.  It reflects Benford "Buffalo" Standley’s  present recollections of experiences

over many years researching the history of country music.  Some characteristics have been changed, some events have been compressed, and some dialogue has been recreated.  For the most part the Memoir is exactly that and written there from.  Stats

and dates are in the ballpark don’t quote me because many times story tells it and rumor has it.  I claim A FAIR USE of any copyrighted material and was done in a "transformative" purpose and to educate and tell  the story of the public figure in

the Legend Merle R. Haggard, and in no way as an ingringement on any copyright thereof.

 

Merle Haggard in Front of the Camera

Buffalo Benford Behind the Camera

Joined by Willie Nelson, Les Paul, Kris Kristofferson, Miranda Lambert, David

Frizzell, Kacey Musgraves, Toby Keith, Buck Page, Bob Dylan, Buck Owens,

Lacy J. Dalton, Wanda Jackson, Junior Brown, Robert Earl King and more...

____________________________________________________

 

ALL OF THE PICTURES ON THE PAGE ARE PROPERTY OF BENFORD E. STANDLEY AND ARE

NOT TO BE COPIED OR SHARED IN ANYWAY UNLESS WITH WRITTEN PERMISSION.

_________________________________________________________________________________

 

 

The interview below is with filmmaker Chuck Banner and

Merle Haggard out at a film session with Merle on his

in Northern California Happy Fish Ranch...

Chuck: Merle, when did you meet ole Benford?

 

Merle: “I have been knowing him about 10 to 12 years. When I ran into Benford, I realized that he was in a search for all the information he could find. Seems like every time we get together we end up in the same area, something about country music history. He is a history buff and I guess I am too...I enjoy digging out the truth of what really occurred. Benford is one of those kind of people also.”

 

Chuck: Have you learned much from Benford? He has been chasing the stories and his life sounds a lot like Jimmie's Rodgers life himself.

 

Merle: “I've learned a lot from Benford. He knows stories about Jimmie Rodgers that leads to other people. Hank Snow and Earnest Tubb, Lefty Frizzell. I don't know why my passion level is as a child. I am still interested in finding out something about my heroes, and he is in the same business (laughs). When I see him coming I know what we are going to be talking about. I know he is a history buff and a interesting person and he has worked awful hard to prepare this chunk of history.

 

Chuck: Merle, you don't let a lot of people just come on the bus, or go on tours with you?

 

Merle: “No, that's right.”

 

Chuck: How come Benford made it into the mix?

 

Merle: Well, I could tell immediately that he was (pause) “Knowledgeable” about what he talked about and that was interesting to me. I didn't know if he was there to tell me something or find out something but it is always interesting to talk to Benford.”

 

Chuck: It's a passion with him...

 

Merle: “It sure is, you can see that, not hard to tell that.”

 

 

 

Click Hag's pic to see more