Dean Opperman here with the story of my encounter with the great Merle Haggard.
It was 1983 and I was co-hosting The Dean & Don Show on KKDJ Fresno where the Fresno State basketball team had just won the National Invitational Tournament.
Our morning show crooner, Bobby Volare, had cut a song commemorating the achievement, a parody of Merle Haggard's Okie From Muskogee called I'm Proud To Be a Bulldog From Cal State Fresno. It wasn't great but it was timely and with the Bulldogs getting national attention we had something of a hit on our hands.
One of the local ad agencies saw this as a great promotional opportunity and offered to press a red vinyl picture disc of Bobby's song for commercial release but for perfectly valid legal reasons they wanted permission from the composer of the original song.
Suddenly I was on the phone with Merle Haggard playing the song for him and his manager, Fuzzy. Now, I don't know if they were just being nice or what but they laughed like a couple of hyenas.
"Son of a bitch," Merle said, "that kicked my ass!"
"Wow, Merle," I said. "Thank you! That's high praise indeed!"
"I'm not blowing smoke-- I mean it!"
"So, it's OK if we use it then?"
"Are you kidding? Merle said. "It'd be an honor."
"Thank you Merle," I said, "We really appreciate this."
"Now, hang on, Fuzzy wants to talk to you about the legal shit."
"Yeah, Dean?" Fuzzy said. "We got a little problem here, buddy. Merle sold Okie From Muskogee to Buck Owens a few years back so you're gonna have to call Blue Book Music in Bakersfield and get the OK from his sister, Dotty."
Dotty Owens wasn't friendly or receptive nor was there anything to indicate she had a sense of humor. I don't suppose I was ten seconds into Bulldog From Cal State Fresno when a roar came down the line that would have impressed Siegfried and Roy.
"HOW DARE YOU MAKE FUN OF OKIE FROM MUSKOGEE," she said. THAT'S THE SONG THAT MADE MERLE HAGGARD A HOUSEHOLD NAME AND I SHUDDER TO THINK WHAT HE'D DO IF HE EVER HEARD WHAT YOU DID TO IT!"
"Well, as a a matter of fact," I said. "I played it for him a few minutes ago and he laughed his ass off."
"WAS HE DRUNK?"
"I don't know, Dotty. We were on the phone."
"WELL, IT DOESN'T MATTER ANYHOW CAUSE MERLE DOESNT OWN MUSKOGEE ANYMORE, I DO. AND IF YOUR VERSION EVER SEES THE LIGHT OF DAY I'LL SLAP YOU WITH THE BIGGEST GOD-DAMNED LAWSUIT THIS COUNTRY HAS EVER SEEN... COMPRENDE?"
Oh, I comprende'd all right. Deeply and thoroughly like a barium enema.
We never released Bulldog From Cal State Fresno. Dotty Owens scared me so bad we erased the master tape. In fact, up till now there's been no evidence the song ever existed in the first place but now that Dotty and Fuzzy and Merle have all donned the pine overcoat, friends have convinced me its safe to go public with the story though I've got to say I do so with reluctance because there was something in Dotty's voice that convinced me she was not only capable of slapping me with the biggest god-damned lawsuit this country's ever seen, she might even do so from beyond the grave.