By Jeff Gilliland
When country music legend Merle Haggard passed away Wednesday on his 79th birthday, it struck especially close to home for at least one Highland County native.
Dayne “Woop-Woop” Puckett, who was born and still lives in Sinking Spring, said he traveled with Haggard from around 1972 to 1976, selling the country music star’s merchandise, like he did over the years for scores of other country music greats.
“The main thing was I hadn’t seen him in a long, long time and just like everyone else, I was very saddened that we lost an icon in the country music business,” Puckett said. “My goal was to go out and see him this year, or next year, or whenever. But I’m busy with The Van-Dells and that takes up a lot of time, too.”
Puckett, now the sales manager for the Van-Dells, said it should also be noted that Greenfield area musicians Don, Gary and Joe Adams worked with Haggard and knew him well. He also said the Van-Dells are scheduled to play at the Highland County Fair this year on Sept. 9.
Haggard had 40 No. 1 hits during his 50-something year career including chart-toppers in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. A masterful guitarist, fiddler, songwriter and singer, he proved he still had something left last year when he and Willie Nelson released an album, Django & Jimmie. It debuted at No. 1 on the country albums chart and No. 7 on the Billboard 200 chart for all genres.
Puckett said he was also an occasional emcee for Haggard’s shows. He said the show promoter and emcee in those days was Bob Eubanks, but sometimes Eubanks would have to leave to film “The Newlywed Game,” and Puckett would fill in as emcee.
Haggard’s entourage traveled in two buses in the 1970s, Puckett said, with a crew that sold the merchandise traveling along in a van.
“One time Merle said, ‘I’d like to sit down and chat with you some night,’” Puckett said. “Then he said, ‘I’m tired and I have to write some songs, but if you ain’t doin’ anything come out to the bus.’”
So later that evening, Puckett said he went out to the bus and knocked on the door. He said that when Haggard asked who it was, he responded with the “woop-woop” sound from the “I’m A Nut – Woop-Woop” song Puckett once sang on the “Hee Haw.”
Puckett said Haggard told him he was hungry and asked Puckett if he’d go get him a hamburger. They were in San Antonio, Texas, and Puckett said he didn’t know where to go. So, he said, Haggard handed him a $100 bill and told him to take a cab and bring back a burger.
“I asked him if wanted me to get anything to drink, but he said, ‘No, I have plenty of stuff in here to drink here,’” Puckett laughed.
After he went and got the hamburger Puckett said he knocked on Haggard’s door again.
“He said, ‘You’re going to have to excuse me ‘cause I got two good songs in my head and we’ll have to talk again sometime,’” Puckett said. “Then I knocked on the door again and said sorry, I forgot to give you your change. He said, ‘Keep it.’ He gave me like a $65 or $70 tip.”
Puckett said Haggard was cool, calm, collected and always thinking. He said Haggard was a quiet guy, liked to be alone a lot, was very confident, and honest.
“When he told you something that was the way it was, whether you liked it or not,” Puckett said.
Puckett said Haggard was good to him and that Haggard told him he could sell anything.
“Merle was an absolute icon. He was a legend,” Puckett said. “He would do a lot more for you than you’d think. He was very good-hearted. And he was always writing songs. I think he was thinking about writing songs 24 hours a day. He’d get up in the middle of the night sometimes and work on them.”
According to Puckett, Haggard’s manager and son wanted to do something for him on his 79th birthday, but Haggard had been ill and told them not to plan anything that day because the Lord was going to call him home.
“He had visions,” Puckett said. “That’s how he wrote most of his songs.”
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or on Twitter @13gillilandj.