What Merle Haggard Taught Me About People, Rockstars, and the Upper Echelon

Country Outlaw, Merle Haggard, died today.  By now, unless you live under a rock, you have heard the news.  This saddens me almost as badly as when Johnny Cash died.  I didn’t get the pleasure of meeting Johnny.  But I met Merle.  I had the honor of driving Merle Haggard to and from the venue in which he was playing back in the 90’s.

I have loved and appreciated Merle Haggard since I can remember as the parents loved all outlaw artists of the 70’s.  I’d say they raised me right.

So my time with Merle was incredibly special.  It started with a simple pick up from a hotel.  He got in the car just fine.  I did my obligatory request for an autograph for my mother.  I had found this was a great ice breaker with country stars.  And my mom loved getting them in the mail.  She hung them all at her flower shop.  The artists loved that I was prepared with their head shot and sharpie.  Merle was no exception.

We were driving to the venue.  Did I mention I was 24 at this time?  I was.  Well, I wasn’t the most brilliant 24 year old.  I saw a yellow slug bug and well. . . . .I NAILED HIM yelling, “Slug bug YELLOW!”.  He was frail back then folks.  I thought I broke him.  He immediately put his head down and was shaking.  I thought I was fired.  I was done.  I had just broken Merle FREAKIN’ Haggard.  I said I was sorry probably 500 times until he looked up at me.  I will never forget his sparkling eyes.  He was LAUGHING.  He said, “Game on girl!”  I found out he played with his grandkids and he kicked my ass!  We had a blast from that moment on.  Talking about all things Merle and life.  It was an honor and a privilege to serve him.

What does this have to do with business?  He taught me that no matter WHO you THINK you are, to be treated with respect, honor and decency is how EVERYONE wants to be treated.  He didn’t expect to be treated “special”.  He didn’t DEMAND to be treated like a rockstar.  He was a human, a man, a grandfather, a musician, a father and a husband.  He was so much more than just an Outlaw (although I think we can agree that THAT particular part of him was pretty awesome in it’s own right).  He taught me that if you treat everyone with respect you have no problems.  If others demand to be treated “special”, it was on them, not you.

That lesson I learned when I was 24 has stuck with me ever since.  I meet folks who are the “upper echelon” and I respect them.  I respect those in the “lower echelon” as well.  I treat folks the same way.  I do try to treat everyone with a little more love and a little more grace than normally because who doesn’t like to feel “special”.  When someone demands more from me, I graciously step away.  It’s their issue.  Not mine.  I do the best I can with what I have a that particular moment.  If my best is not the best for you, that is too bad.  Because my best is pretty good.

As you walk this earth, remember WHO you are.  Remember WHO you are talking to.  Remember to SERVE them with the BEST that YOU have at that MOMENT.  If you have, you have done well.  If you blow it (I blow it daily), apologize.  Do not apologize for who YOU are.  Apologize for the behavior (short temper, ego, attitude, ect).  You own who YOU are, not who THEY are.  Often times, if you are yourself, they will appreciate you so much more than if you put on your “pretend” face.

After Merle left, I was sad.  It was like I found another grandfather.  My boss was discussing his visit as we do after all singers left and he didn’t mention a word to me about my “oopsie”.  I thought I had gotten away with it.  As I was leaving his office, he said, “Beth, let’s not play slug bug with EVERY artist.”  DOH!  Busted.  Yet another life lesson:  Do not do to anyone that you don’t want coming back to bite you.

Rock on Merle.  You will be missed.  Cannot thank you enough for your time.  You were one of a kind.


  1. Randy Clark on April 7, 2016 at 1:32 pm

    Thank you for sharing this. You’ve gone beyond your industry and shared from your heart with this post, and who doesn’t love reading such insights?

  2. Adam Fout on April 28, 2016 at 5:04 pm

    Sorry I’m just now getting to this—I adore this piece. What an experience to have! Sometimes we get so stuck in business that it’s easy to forget that we’re all just a bunch of humans trying to get on with the business of having a damn life. It’s easy to forget about the things that matter—honor, integrity, justice, kindness.

    I was just thinking today that I shouldn’t get out of my lane and blog about something that has nothing to do with the subject matter I chose randomly as my topic because I was in a rush—thanks for reminding me that it’s ok to be human.

  3. Clement on May 12, 2016 at 9:25 am

    I just stumbled on your blog after reading a comment you left on my blog.

    To be honest, I’m not familiar with Merle Haggard or his music.

    But I enjoyed your piece. It was well written and evocative.

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