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Episode 81

Merle Haggard & The Bakersfield sound featuring Marc Eliot

Episode  81
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Hag, by Marc Eliot is the definitive biography of country legend Merle Haggard.

Marc has penned best selling books on Cary Grant, The Eagles, Jimmy Stewart and so many more. His latest work explores the complex and conflicting personality forces that push and pull Merle Haggard both to the brink of destruction and to indelible greatness. Marc shines a light on the charismatic and mysterious man behind the achingly beautiful music that continues to move and inspire us. 

Plus Fritz and Weezy are recommending Disney’s Encanto and Munich: The Edge Of War on Netflix.

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Fritz Coleman (00:00:04):

Welcome to Media Path. I'm Fritz Coleman.

Louise Palanker (00:00:06):

And I'm Louise. P Planker

Fritz Coleman (00:00:07):

Media Path is a podcast that likes to call new entertainment options to your attention, watching, reading, listening, whatever. We do the legwork for you in search of your interesting new content. The best part is we'd like to welcome amazing guests, and today we're welcoming back, mark Elliot. When we're finished here, you may want to go back into our archives at the website Media Path Podcast, and listen to us talk to New York Times bestselling buyer for Mark Elliot about his eye-opening book on Carrie Grant. Love that book. And today he's back with his latest work called Hag the Life Times in Music of Merle Haggard. Merle Haggard is one of the most revered artists in the history of country music. He and Buck Owens, um, the Godfathers of the Bakersfield Sound. We're gonna talk all about it. Mark will join us in just a second. Wheezy, what do you have?

Louise Palanker (00:00:56):

I've got Encanto.

Fritz Coleman (00:00:58):

I can't wait to hear about

Louise Palanker (00:00:59):

It. So this is, uh, Disney animation. The Magicals are an extraordinary family who live in the Columbian mountains in a miraculous home they call Encanto or enchanted. This magical dwelling has blessed every child in the family with a unique gift. Every child that is except Maribel. However, she's about to become the magical girls's last hope when she discovers that the encanto magic, along with the house is crumbling, much dancing and singing en soothes as memorable, discovers her true gifts and the richness, texture, and flavor of Columbia's people and history are fully celebrated. As the story unfolds, we learn how the ripples of generational trauma impact all of us. The cracking and compromise Casita at the heart of the story is emblematic of Columbia's fate trapped for centuries in vicious cycles of civil wars, gorilla violence, fascist militias, armed conflict, and drug trafficking. And throughout all of this adversity, the Columbian culture, art, food, music, and people thrive inspired by engaging animation and a hummable score from Lin Manuel Miranda Latinx. People of every shade are embracing their representation in this beautiful film. You can go online and type, uh, encanto into it like any social media, and you're gonna find all sorts of people finding themselves and expressing themselves to the beat of Encanto music. You can watch and rewatch encanto on Disney Plus, as many people are.

Fritz Coleman (00:02:22):

That sounds fun. Yeah. Uh, at the, the, the animation is so beautiful. I mean, they're like iridescent colors that pop

Louise Palanker (00:02:32):

Off the street. Oh, it's a very colorful country. So it's cool. It's a highly recommend, just fun for the whole family. And once you watch it once, you're just gonna wanna watch it over and over again, because the music just gets, gets into you.

Fritz Coleman (00:02:42):

Cool. Well, I'm gonna talk about Munich. Yeah. The Edge of War. This is, uh, brand new on Netflix as of last Saturday. It's based on a historical thriller by Robert Harris set. During the Munich Peace Conference of 1938, this is when Hitler and British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain signed an accord that would allow Germany to take over a portion of the Czech Republic, as long as Adolf promises that this would be his last invasion. Well, we know how that went. Hitler had no intention of stopping there. World War II ensued. Chamberlain became known as the Great Appeaser, and the rest is history. That pre-war scenario gets meticulously played out in this movie. It's actually filmed in the same building where the signing actually happened in Munich. Chamberlain is played by Jeremy Irons, who is a dead ringer for the great appea, but within the historically accurate setting is placed the drama intention of the movie, which is totally fictional.


It's two friends from Oxford that end up working toward the same end, but from opposite sides. One becomes an assistant to Chamberlain, the other works in the German government, but is a secret spy for the German resistance. I know another Hitler flick spare me, but the truth is not all that much has been dramatized about the Neville Chamberlain aspect. Leading up to World War II really paints an interesting picture, how Chamberlain was all pleased with himself, figuring he was gonna be considered the hero of the world, but the exact opposite came true. Also, it shows how Hitler totally controlled all the circumstances, and everyone else seemed to be blind to his intentions. So, great film, British film Company, and wonderful.

Louise Palanker (00:04:26):

I think that, you know, the wisdom of, of, of perspective allows us to sort of look at Chamberlain and say, well, you know, he really didn't see what was up. No, but he was, he had lived through World War I and he was really trying to keep his country out of war. I I don't, he's not depicted as a bad fellow. He's just,

Fritz Coleman (00:04:41):

No, he's not a bad guy. He just tru because he knew that his country did not wanna be in war because of what happened in World War I mm-hmm. <affirmative>, he thought he was doing the right thing for not only, uh, Europe, but specifically for England. So he was just blind. He trusted the minute he shouldn't

Louise Palanker (00:04:56):

Have. And it's interesting too, the parallels with Woodrow Wilson, who, you know, ran on. He kept us out of war. So there were pre were pressure on leaders in both countries to keep us out of war. But based on Hitler's personality, it was an inevitable. And it's just really hard to know when you're on, on the, and the front of history, what's gonna be required Yeah. To save humanity.

Fritz Coleman (00:05:17):

Yeah. And the difference in style between him. And then Winston Churchill, who is his successor crazy good movie. Let's introduce our guest, mark Elliot. Mark is a New York Times bestselling author of biographies of Clint Eastwood, the Eagles Carrie Grant, and just released last week, an in-depth and heartbreaking work about Merle Haggard songwriter. Steve Goodman wrote a country song that says All country songs have to include getting drunk jail, trains, trucks. And Mom, while many country artists have done songs about those topics, that very few have actually lived that life and left nothing on the table. Merle Haggard is one of those few, when you read the book, hag The Life Times in Music of Merle Haggard, a couple of things will occur to you, one, that after his early life, it is a miracle he survived to become a star. Secondly, you'll realize that all of those dark roads and all of those gritty, hard boiled experiences along the way are the reason why Haggard is considered a poet on par with Robert Frost. We're happy to welcome back Mark Elliot to talk about his wonderful new bookmark. Welcome.

Mark Elliot (00:06:31):

Thank you. It's great to be back with you.

Fritz Coleman (00:06:33):

Listen, um, the story of Merle's family is the classic American story of the Oakes folks from Oklahoma trying to escape poverty and escape the Dust Bowl, and moving west, ultimately landing in the southern end of California, central Valley near Bakersfield, scraping by with oil field worker, agricultural work, and his family fits right into that template. You think of, uh, grapes of Wrath and those other tellings of that particular story, but what drew you to the Merle Haggard subject?

Mark Elliot (00:07:07):

Well, it's always difficult to me to pinpoint, uh, the moment I decide to write about somebody. It's kind of, uh, to me it's a pregnancy <laugh>. And, uh, you know, no one ever knows the moment, the exact moment. Uh, he, she gets pregnant <laugh>,


You know, you're there, but you don't know exactly when you got there. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, uh, Earl was, um, in my mind for a while. I always, I always loved him. I always loved what he stood for. He was the, the ultimate underdog. Uh, and really everybody I write about is an underdog who live out the American dream and the American nightmare. So, after, uh, at the same time, but after I, uh, began the book two years ago, I was very lucky to be able to get right into the usually unpenetrable, uh, haggard wall. And, uh, that, that I really owe to a couple of people. But as you know, at this point, I have given the book away. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, uh, like women who give birth, and then the baby no longer belongs inside of it belongs to the word. If I can use that metaphor, of course.


So when, when I give, when I finish a book and it comes out, um, it's, it's a funny feeling and it, it's, uh, uh, you're never really finished with it in your head, and, uh, you can never really let go. I still think about Carrie Grant. I still think about Jimmy Stewart, um, Steve McQueen, uh, of them. They, they, uh, they resonate that they're like your children. You know, when somebody says to me as they often do, what, what's your favorite book that you read? What should I read? And to me, it's, it's like saying, uh, who's your favorite child? Uh, um, to me, they're all great. They're, to me, they're all wonderful, and they're all like babies. So, uh, I always liked Merl. I wanted to go back to music. I had done several film books and music actually was the, my first subject, uh, the first book I wrote, uh, death of a Rebel about Phil Oaks.


Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, ironically, which has a small of which Merl has a small part in, in this book. Phil has a small part. So there's a kind of a symmetry to all these books, uh, that I do. Um, I, I, I love the American Dream. I, I think it's, um, it's unique to this country in so many ways. Uh, where someone like Merle, who spent almost three years in San Quentin when beginning when he was 19 years old, the eight years later, he's the biggest star in country music. Right. You usually see that in movies, but not so much in real life. This is a real life saga, and it's just, it's just, as you say, unbelievable, but totally believable.

Louise Palanker (00:10:32):

So much of, so much of his story is completely extraordinary. And it, you almost get the sense that if it weren't for like every complicated, interwoven aspect of his personality, Merl Haggard wouldn't happen. For example, you know, you're, you're quoted in the book as saying Merl had an enormous capacity for feeling guilty about things he shouldn't, and feeling no guilt for things he should. Why was his calibration so off in such an important aspect of a personality?

Mark Elliot (00:11:00):

Well, Merle's father died, uh, when Merle was nine years old. And children have a tendency at that age to blame themselves when something happens to their parents. But with Merl, he was especially close to his father, who, who was a musician, although he wasn't allowed to play in the house. Wife was a about Kristen. But he and Merl used to listen to country radio every evening after dinner. You know, they would watch the radio in those days, the big old, uh, whatever they had, um, a month before his father died, who was in, only in his thirties, uh, uh, uh, Merle got very ill. And, uh, everybody thought it was tuberculosis, but it, it turned out not to be. It was a severe flu. And he recovered. A month later, his dad had a massive stroke and died. So it's not difficult to see how Merl carried that guilt around thinking that somehow he had caused his father's death, uh, what he, and that, by the way, that haunted him the rest of his life.


Uh, and you can hear it in every note of every song. There's, there's a longing, there's a wanting there, there's a sadness to the joy. And at the same time, there's some joy in the sadness for Merl. His hopeful qualities just extraordinary. Um, what he didn't feel guilty about was the way, uh, he treated some of his ex-wives. Um, and when it came to women, uh, except for Bonnie Owens, who was the most maternal of all the wives, and the most patient with dealing with someone like Merl, um, he didn't feel guilt there, but he felt something as close to love as he could get, considering what he had been through. Mm-hmm.

Fritz Coleman (00:13:15):

<affirmative>, you know, his relationship with women is very interesting because Flossy, his mom was, before Bonnie, the most important female in his life. And she was the, uh, non-judgemental, always accepting mother. And even after he'd had all his, uh, juvenile delinquent problems, always had him back in the house and embraced him with love and, and believed him in in him, yet his relationships with his wives were very complicated. One didn't carry into the other, as it often does. And so that was an interesting dichotomy there.

Mark Elliot (00:13:49):

Well, it, it, he was the third or the fourth child, however you configure it. His older sister and brothers were much older than him. They were already almost out of the house in between she, she had, um, gotten pregnant and the baby was stillborn. So flossy as I, as I said before, being a devout Christian, bla thought that God was punishing her by taking away that baby. And she vowed never to have any more children. 15 years later or so, she had Merl. And so her feeling was that Merl was a special baby. He was a gift from God, a redemptive gift. And because she was a little bit older, the other children were gone. Uh, Merl was almost like an only special. And so she was, she was reticent, reluctant to be harsh with him. She, she wanted him to somehow find love for her in his own way. So she let him kind of run wild, not out of indifference, but out of beloved for him.

Louise Palanker (00:15:12):

But he see, he had kind of like a reckless, you know, really just pedal to the metal, uh, self-destructive force where he was gonna run towards danger. Like, he just felt like he was hell bent in the direction of whatever mischief he could create for himself. And that's like an interesting quality when you consider who he winds up becoming, cuz his music is infused with it. And yet he, he lives, you know, at every, at every corner, you think, this kid's not gonna make it. He's not staying in school. He's jumping trains. He's like, you. Well, talk about what, what all he got up to, uh, before he went to prison.

Mark Elliot (00:15:49):

Well, he, uh, he was acting out his rage, I think, over, uh, his father's death, his abandonment, that he felt guilty about his father loved trains, worked for the railroad, and Merl thought that trains would give him some freedom, would get him out of the prison of his own grief. Mm-hmm. And, you know, he was a small guy, but a tough guy. And, uh, there were no boundaries set for him. So he didn't like school. He didn't like, uh, any, anything that was authoritative. And so he made his own rules and he hung out with a bunch of kids who were tough kids. I mean, it was a working class town. Oildale is actually where you grew up, right next to Bakersfield. The name of the town will tell you what everybody did. <laugh>, they all were in the oil business. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And they all wanted to let off.


The men wanted to let off steam at night. And so they would go to these bars. Merle, who had a natural affinity for playing the guitar, got work in these bars. And the occasionally could do a pickup gig in no way, a professional musician at that point. But it did two things. It taught 'em how to play with a band, and it taught him that women, uh, he was a magnet for young girls. Uh, and those two things both helped him and hurt him throughout his career. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So, the way, you know, he looked, he looked a lot like James Dean. Yeah. Uh, in fact, I call him in the book a a junior James Dean. Um, and he and his pals increasingly, you know, almost like addicts, they increasingly needed a bigger thrill to keep the thrill of what they saw as freedom, um, their own rulers of their own kingdoms.


Right, right. And it got to a point where he went to a house of detention, a reform school, and he kept on escaping. He, he just walked off these institutions. Finally, one night, um, he and a buddy decided to break into a restaurant, and, uh, they got drunk as they usually did. Went to the back, started playing with the lock, and the owner came to the back, opened the door and said, I don't know why you're trying, I don't know why you're trying to break into the back, the doors open in the front <laugh>, we're doing business. Uh, that's a metaphor. Yeah. I mean, uh, you know, it was like a Laurel and Hardy episode, but the kids, um, Merle went before the same judge that he had been before 17 times. Uh, and this judge was fed up with him. Yeah. Decided the only thing that would straighten this kid out was going to San Quentin, where he couldn't get away with what he got away with on the streets, or in overnight jails, or in, uh, uh, junior, uh, uh, retention centers. So at the age of 19, he was sentenced. Uh, he, he received an indeterminate sentence of 15 years to the big house as, as they called it. And that's where everything got worse and everything turned around.

Fritz Coleman (00:19:24):

Yeah. That was the pivotal time because he became self-aware of his music talent cuz he developed a little following in prison playing when they finally allowed him to have a guitar, which wasn't right away. He, he learned to play and he got a following in there. And he also, uh, got to sit in the front row for one of Johnny Cass's classic prison concerts. And that was a transformative time in his life. He got to see the reaction of the inmates, the Johnny and Johnny's stage presence and everything. And that, that really changed him, didn't it?

Mark Elliot (00:19:54):

Yeah. You know, Merle had this chip on his shoulder, uh, uh, the size of, uh, the one that fell on the California highway that time. <laugh>, the one that he had that size Yep. Chip. And, uh, it was only when he saw Johnny Cash talk to these prisoners like they were men, not prisoners. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> the way he played and the songs he sang. Uh, Merle had a moment, uh, uh, kind of a pregnancy moment, I guess, where he said, that's what I want to do with my life. I can do that. I know how to do it, I'm going to do it. Yeah. And, uh, that eventually when he was released, that's when his life really begins.

Louise Palanker (00:20:46):

Talk for a moment, uh, about how the Dust Bowl creates the Bakersfield sound.

Mark Elliot (00:20:53):

Well, uh, everybody knows about the, the, uh, immigration, uh, out of the Dust Bowl in the, in the, uh, depression. His father, uh, actually was able to find work here and there, but for several reasons, including the fact that, um, Flossie had relatives in California, and she and she had become ill and needed, uh, clean air, better air to breathe. And of course, the Dust Bowl would not be the ideal place. So they moved to California and in search of work, they wound up in Oildale. Now, the residents of Oildale and Bakersfield did not welcome, uh, the, uh, the immigrants from, uh, from Oklahoma, Arkansas, um, Texas, and they called them Okies Archies. Yeah. You know, whatever name. And it was not, it's not a friendly term, it was a very, uh, pejorative term. Uh, it would be like the N word, you know. And they treated them very, very poorly.


Merle's father eventually made enough money, uh, working for the railroad to buy an old box car. It's actually a freezer car that they were no longer using. And it was a very good carpenter. He put it on a lot. He bought it from a old, an older woman paid her so much money every month, fixed it up and added a room. So it was almost like a house. And that kind of drive and determination made Merl only love his dad more. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. But the Bakersfield thing, and the oildale thing about Oakies arches and whoever else came in, uh, made it difficult for him. It's one of the reasons he, he didn't want to go to school because everybody treated him, uh, uh, like an outcast, like a, like a poor kid. Like, uh, you know, not one of us. And, and so all the seeds are planted early on for what would become this great explosion of autobiographical music.


Mm-hmm. There really isn't a song that Merle wrote in all his entire career that didn't some way relate back autobiographically to him. And that's one of the things that's great about him. You know, you said before, well, everybody sings about this, and everybody sings about that. Yes, they do. But they're very derivative. They, they, the concentration today in country music is, I want to be a star. I want to have hit records. So what can I write? That sounds like what I've been records. Merle Merle was influenced by Jimmy Rogers from the late twenties and early thirties, who he listened to with his father. Um, Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, Hank William, of course, who everybody was influenced by Lefty Fra. These are the people who influenced Merl. But his music, you can't really classify it as that kind of music or as modern country music.


It's, it's the sound of Bakersfield for sure. But if you were listening to a Frank Sinatra, you know, those Frank Sinatra radio shows a Night with Sinatra and all that, that are on mm-hmm. <affirmative>, every city has one, I think, or every other city. If you put a Merle Haggard record on in the middle of that, I don't think anybody would say, Hey, what are you, what are you playing that for? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, um, Merle's music is really hard to categorize that way. Um, he, he borrowed from everybody, Elvis Presley, uh, Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and he formulated his own sound, his own singular expression. And I think long after most of the contemporary music, uh, uh, coming mostly out of Nashville is kind of comes and goes and is forgotten. His last year's music, Merle's music will still be there, timeless. And, um, the, the most beautiful music, I think that came out of country.

Fritz Coleman (00:25:26):

So to finish the Bakersfield sound discussion, the two godfathers of the Bakersfield sound were Merle and Buck Owens. And it was the sound that they sort of developed playing these little honky tonks around town. And at one time, there were tons of 'em, and they would go from place to place. And then, um, buck turned out to be a better businessman than Merle. And, and, um, and sort of went off on a different path, but their lives stayed intertwined because Merle ended up marrying Bonnie who was Buck's first wife. And so they, they couldn't escape one another even if they wanted to. They were

Mark Elliot (00:26:05):

Frenemies. That's right. And, uh, there wasn't a lot of love between them in the beginning between Merl and, uh, buck. But, but, you know, I have a quote in the beginning of the book of what Merl said. The difference was between Nashville and, uh, baker School, the music. He said, the music of Nashville came out of the church, and the music of Bakersfield came out of the bars. So I, I think, you know, in a sentence there, it's mm-hmm. <affirmative>, uh, uh, you know, Merle's brevity hit it right on the nose. Uh, buck was more, uh, jangly, uh, buck buck's music was more amenable to pop, I think, than Merl. Uh, the Beatles recorded, uh, one of his songs, and everybody was always covering, um, buck who came a little bit earlier than Merl. But when Merl came, uh, uh, only a few people covered him in the beginning.


And it really wasn't until, uh, Emmy Lou Harris and her generation of singers who rediscovered Merl like, uh, Dwight Yoakum, that he began to be recognized as the force that he was. Um, uh, a lot of the, the, the music that came out of the Troubador, um, the, the, you know, the eventual country rock that took over music in the seventies, the Eagles and all that, it really, uh, comes from, uh, the birds. And one of the members of the Birds who said, let's record this music of this guy, uh, who was not part of that sound, who was, uh, if anything, part of the other side, the valley side of, uh, country music, uh, in those clubs, which were not like the troop and all those clubs. So slowly he began to get recognized as somebody who needed to be heard, who needed to be recorded.


You know, you were talking before about Bakersfield. Bakersfield today is not the Bakersfield. It was when, uh, Merle was up and coming. There were very few clubs left. It's, it's, uh, I don't mean this at any, uh, pejorative way. It, it, it, uh, it's kind of a tourist attraction. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> people want to come and see where Merl Haggard came from, and they wind up buying souvenirs and all, you know, all that. It's not where he came from. Yeah. That was a rough and tumble town. And I'll, I'll tell you how Bakersfield got on the map very, very quickly. Um, if you, if you look, if you look at a map of, uh, uh, Las Vegas, Reno, uh, uh, all the three cities that were in Vegas, that's, that was the circuit. They called it the Vegas circuit. Okay. Uh, and then they all went to Hollywood to record mm-hmm. <affirmative>


Mostly with Capital studios. So they would go west to California, and the stopover was Bakersfield. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, it was about halfway between LA and Vegas. Right. And, uh, Papo and, uh, Reno. And they would stop for a night and play a gig at a bar. And that began to put Bakersfield on the map. And then they would all go down to Hollywood and do mm-hmm. <affirmative> their recording, and then back to Vegas. That wa that was the circuit, uh, of the, the bands and the acts that had made it. So Merle was able to see all these big acts that came through Bakersfield, and that helped him formulate his sound. And then, you know, he recorded for, um, uh, tally Records, which was a small Bakersfield label, and they brought him to Capital Records. It's a longer story than that, but once he recorded for capital, he flipped that switch. And everything that came out of his mouth was gold. Not necessarily monetarily, but, uh, in terms of the music. Uh, and, you know, his great great songs like Mama Tried Sing Me Back Home, which is based on seeing Carol Chessman, if you remember The Red,

Fritz Coleman (00:30:32):

That was the story I was gonna get you to talk about. Yeah. Yeah. You were talking about how his prison life was the transformative time in his life. And Carol Che Chessman being on death row. And, and Merle having befriended him by being able to talk to him through the ventilation system, even though they never saw one another, they had these great deep conversations. And when Carol went to his death, that was really the one, that one moment that made Merle decide he can't have a life of crime. It has to stop. Cause I can end up there too.

Mark Elliot (00:31:01):

That's exactly right. Uh, Carol Chessman was a cause celeb, if you remember, anybody remembers back in the, uh, fifties, uh, because he had never killed anybody. And, uh, he was going to the gas chamber. And so a lot of the liberal, uh, writers of the day, I guess, uh, Capote, uh, uh, mailer, all those writers wanted him to have his sentence commuted. Merl believed he was innocent because he, that was Merl. Everybody was innocent. Nobody should be in jail. But that day, you know, the day that Carol Chessman went to the gas chamber, all the prisoners, they have a ritual. They stand in front of theirselves and they run their cups back and forth and protest Years later, Merl wrote a song about that. But what's the beginning of how you understand how great Merl was as a writer, is he didn't say, think me back home. He didn't say, take me back home. He didn't say, I wish I was back home. He said, sing me back home. And that is, you can begin to see how Merle's life and his music starts to

Fritz Coleman (00:32:16):

Come back. I think it's his most beautiful song. And I listened to it a thousand times and still get goosebumps. I watched it on YouTube preparing for this interview. It is a beautiful, beautiful, heartbreaking song. I think his best one,

Mark Elliot (00:32:31):

Uh, heartbreaking. And at the end, a gospel choir comes in mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And, um, and, and the prisoner asks the, the head of the choir, if they would sing a song his mother used to sing. So you, you'll have that aspect in it also, the, the, the mother's influence on Merl. Yeah. I like songs. I, I I love that song. There's almost nothing, I don't like it in Merle's music, but if we make it to December, if we make it through December, oh yeah. I think that's the most poetic song. Oh. That

Fritz Coleman (00:33:03):

He Unbelievable. And, and, and about that, you brought up Dwight Yoakam's name earlier, and I wanted to mention that during the whole Ken Burns documentary, the eight Parts, I thought the most poignant moment was when Dwight Yoakum was commenting on the talent of Merl Haggard. And he got very teary-eyed about it. And, uh, it talks about if we make it through December and talks about his writing process. And I thought it was the emotional peak of that entire eight part series. I really did.

Mark Elliot (00:33:31):

Well, what I interviewed him extensively, and he also got Te Merl brings out the tears. You know, I interviewed, um, the Ken Burns people Yeah. People who did the show through Ken Burns. He, he sent me to Dayton Duncan mm-hmm. Who wrote the show and wrote the big coffee table book. And Duncan looked great. They all were great. They, they suggested I could see the rest of all of Earl's outtakes. At the end of the interview, uh, Dayton said, and he ought to talk to this Stello Frank Mole. And I said, I've never heard of Frank Mole. And he said, nobody did. Uh, Merl never mentioned him, but he was Merle's best friend for 40 years. And I said, well, I'd like to, I'd like to get in touch with him. Oh, here's his cell number. Call him. Uh, Dayton said, and, and, and I said, well, what time do you think I should call him? Call him anytime. He sleeps with a phone on his chest. <laugh>, that happened by working for Merl. Ha.

Louise Palanker (00:34:31):

Oh, yeah.

Mark Elliot (00:34:33):

I called Frank, and Frank Mo is probably the fellow most responsible for me getting in touch with everybody. I did. Wow. He just opened the doors called people, called the daughter, called the, the, the nephew. Once he trusted that I was me <laugh>, he, um, did everything he could to get this book done correctly. And so I, I stand on, on this book, and, uh, Frank has now become a good friend of mine down in Nashville. He's just a terrific guy, warm, truthful, which was the most important thing to him, was to get it right. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> and connected to everybody. And the stories in the book that he has just are wonderful. All the Bob Dylan stuff that comes later.

Louise Palanker (00:35:23):

There's so many, there's so many conflicts within Merle that make him fascinating. And it's, it's all kind of really, uh, illustrated so beautifully in your book, in a way that makes it possible for us to understand how this guy is gonna, you know, turn up his nose at hippies, even the ones that were embracing his music and then become kind of a drug addict himself. Or he's going to, you know, go see Nixon and then defend the Dixie Chicks when they say something that gets, you know, their career. And like, and the, the hypocrisy of Merl saying he defends the Dixie Chicks, and then, but his records aren't burned, and all of that stuff. Talk about the conflicts of the guy that, that are so fascinating.

Mark Elliot (00:36:02):

First of all, uh, Merle and, uh, his, the boys in the band were always smoking pot. I mean, it was just, uh, part of like gasoline, you know, you needed it on the bus. And they were driving, they were on a tour going through Oklahoma, and there was a sign that, uh, I think it was 10 miles to Muskogee or something like that. And someone on the bus said, a fellow who was driving, he made a joke, I'm just an Okie from Muskogee. And that's where the song began. Now, Merle insisted, although you take this with a grain of, uh, Saul, that the song was not an attack on hippies. It was a song about pride because his father, his father's pride, right? Yep. On Muskogee. And, you know, we believe in waving the flag and freedom and all that. He, that's what the song is about.


But put in a way, in the times that, uh, that made it, uh, seem more of an attack on hippies than it was, uh, it was differentiating them from him, uh, as much as putting them, uh, down. Uh, uh, the, the other things that happened, uh, with Merle, the conflicts. He, he, he, he loved Ronald Reagan for, for a very simple reason. Reagan gave him a part, an unconditional part. So whenever Reagan called and said, well, having a big barbecue, would you come? He would come. And he thought Reagan was of the common man, whether he was or wasn't a marathon, when Nixon invited him to sing for his wife's birthday party, he was indifferent to it. He wasn't a big Nixon fan. He, he didn't think, uh, um, he was good for the country. But he went, I mean, that's the kind of guy Merl was. Uh, he wanted to sing at the White House, but, you know, after they gave, um, he got a, a signed plaque from, uh, Nixon, and Merl kind of tossed it away, gave it to a friend of him, so it didn't mean anything to him. <laugh>, um, later on when he, um, when he was invited to have the, uh, to be given the Kennedy,

Louise Palanker (00:38:20):

Kennedy Center, center

Mark Elliot (00:38:21):

Honor. Yeah. Um, he, he stood side by side with Barack Obama mm-hmm. <affirmative>, and they became close mm-hmm. <affirmative>, um, you know, he saw Obama as one of the common people, even though he may not have been, uh, with his background, but he became a worker for the people out of Chicago, an organizer. And that appealed to Merle. Uh, so his tastes, uh, he didn't like, uh, Donald Trump particularly, he didn't trust him, is what he said. This is even before Trump was president,

Fritz Coleman (00:38:54):

Very prophetic Biden

Mark Elliot (00:38:55):

16, he said there was something about him that he didn't trust. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So the instincts <laugh> of, uh, Merle good

Fritz Coleman (00:39:03):


Mark Elliot (00:39:03):

Detective were pretty well. Right on. Yeah.

Fritz Coleman (00:39:07):

So you pointed it out when we first introduced you, mark, uh, um, about, or Merle puts up this impenetrable wall, and even his children in the interviews you did with them, said that this was a man that didn't warm up even to his own family very well. Do you think that's a product of having to be self-protective in prison, or it was just Merl from his early life forward?

Mark Elliot (00:39:32):

Uh, I think it, it, it's a combination of losing his father and therefore having to be out on the zone to a great extent. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. But Dwight Yoakum said that when you, when you go to prison like that, and you go through what he went through, you are in prison for life. You're not in prison for three years, you're imprisoned for the rest of your life. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, and that you learn, uh, in prison, stay prison, not to trust anybody, not to turn your back on anybody, not to get too close to anybody, because it's the quickest way to get in big trouble. And I think, I think Dwight was correct. Uh, when Merl came out of prison, he never again trusted anybody completely. Uh, even, even Frank Moe, his best friend, he brought him to the edge as close as he could get him, but he never trusted anybody.


And I guess Bonnie Owens, he trusted up to a degree, but not completely. He was the classic loner. Um, but coming out of the early death of his father, the sentencing in, um, San Quentin, and later on, his dealings with the ruthless music business and how he lost so much money and he was taken advantage of, you know, he was a hard guy. The, the softness, the sweetness, the insights, the beauty, the love comes out in his music mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And, uh, that, that is really the legacy. Uh, what I tried to do here is show you where it comes from, uh, who he was that made him write what he did. You know, with, with movie Stars, which I wrote to the books about you, you learn the character that they play. Audiences come to believe that that's who they are. Oh, Carrie Grant is ua wonderful guy.


Jimmy Stewart, this awkward kid. Steve McQueen is tough, but nice, beautiful guy. And we know that, you know, today that when we go to the movies, that's not necessarily who they are. Uh, you can bank places like Entertainment Tonight or their national enquire or whomever you want to, um, blame that to. But, uh, the music business is very much like that. Uh, people that we idolize, we idolize because of what we hear or see, not because of what we know, what we relate to. And Merl had the incredible ability, a a certain kind of charisma that drew everybody in the audience and who played music to him. They couldn't figure out exactly what it was, but they loved it. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you know, he was such a great performer that he didn't need outfits. He didn't need jangles. He, he, he dressed like a working man with a, a little hat, mostly because he was, his hair was receding.


And he got up there with a band that was together mostly the whole time he was, uh, performing. And sang gave the audience these beautiful songs. Occasionally he would, he would do a medley that would begin with Jimmy Rogers and go through the history of country music and then bring in his own music. Mm. So in that way, he was a teacher. Mm. He, he was a prophet, you know, he, he turned people on to what he wanted them to know, to hear where he came from creatively. And, uh, he succeeded as when, when he was really down and out, which was up to 2000, year 2000, he owed everybody, not everybody, the irs. And he was just mortgaged and, you know, women, uh, alimony, child support. Um, he, he stayed in there and it was really Bob Dylan, who, when he asked him to open for him, brought him back to huge audiences. And it was that last 10 years when, um, when he played with Dylan, for five of them, that his reputation was restored, people discovered him all over again. And it's

Louise Palanker (00:44:07):

Beautiful that he, he got to do that in his lifetime. And some people aren't celebrated until after they passed, and he got to enjoy that. And that's,

Mark Elliot (00:44:13):

That's, that's right at exactly right. I, I remember seeing, uh, Merl and, uh, Dylan in, uh, in New York at the Beacon Theater.

Louise Palanker (00:44:23):

Oh, you

Mark Elliot (00:44:23):

Did? And, uh, he did a, he did five shows. They did five shows together, and Merl opened for Dylan. And the funny thing was, Frank Moe was in charge of the souvenirs, the merchandise. Mm. So before, before the intermission, he'd go out and set up for people to come out. Half the audience came out and never went back. <laugh>. Uh, they, they had come to see Merl.

Fritz Coleman (00:44:50):

That was a fascinating part of your book. And not only that, that was at a time in Dylan's career, cuz he never stopped touring. He was probably tired of performing his own songs, so he would reconfigure these songs. It's even his hits to the point where he couldn't even recognize what he was singing. So it was a very unsatisfactory experience for the audience. And they just got bored with Dylan and left. Right.

Mark Elliot (00:45:12):

Yeah, that's

Fritz Coleman (00:45:13):

Right. He stayed for a to a song or two and new and bolted. York.

Mark Elliot (00:45:17):

York. I mean, New York was the place where, you know, Bob started. And I can remember seeing him in, uh, uh, in a, a little coffee shop where, uh, he'd be playing for 10 people. But, you know, Bob had that drive and that ambition that a lot of them in the village didn't. And I'll tell you a quick funny story about the Beacon and what you say about Dylan. Uh, you know, he had, he has arthritis, so that's the real reason. He doesn't play a lot of guitar. So he stays on the side of the stage and tapes a couple of fingers together and hits two or three chords, and the band plays whatever configuration of the songs. And part of the game is when you see Bob is to figure out what song he's singing. <laugh>,

Fritz Coleman (00:46:02):

You know, <laugh>.

Mark Elliot (00:46:04):

So I was there one night, and, uh, you see a lot of Boomer, um, divorced fathers taking their hit to show them, you know, their own youth. Here's, you know, so it's the fathers and the sons of the daughter. So sitting in front of me was a, a daddy boomer mm-hmm. <affirmative> and his 12 year old daughter. And after Merl left, you said, now you're gonna see something amazingly, a legendary Bob Dylan, I, when I was a kid. So on Dylan comes out about 10 minutes into the show, the girl turned to her father and said, when is Bob Dylan coming?

Fritz Coleman (00:46:41):

<laugh> <laugh>. And, and we learned something interesting about Dylan. Dylan can hold a grudge. Oh man. I mean, that whole story about, um, I, I forget what the circumstance was where, uh, I, I think Dylan was receiving an award and just brought up out randomly Merle's name, but was not nice about it. Talk about that and what the basis for that criticism was.

Mark Elliot (00:47:05):

Um, Merl was, was receiving a, a musical award. Um, and he usually doesn't go to that kind of thing, but he went to this one and he just ran down everybody in his life who he loved Johnny Cash and who he didn't like. And he said something about Merl Haggard. He, he, he, out of the blue, he said, uh, you know, I like Merl, but I loved Buck Owens Owens. I, I mean, it was, it was a kind of a, you know, when you try to figure out Bob Doune, it, it's like, uh, a Rubik's cute type

Fritz Coleman (00:47:38):


Mark Elliot (00:47:39):

He just can't, he just can't do it. Every turn gets you farther away. Afterwards, Merl said, you know, and Merl is very smart about this, and this is, this is the Bakerfield in Bakersfield. In Merl. Someone said, well, what do you think about, uh, Bob, Bob what Bob Dylan said? And Merl said, I've always loved Bob Dylan. I've always listened to Bob Dylan, and I've recorded a Bob Dylan's song, <laugh> he did with Willie Nelson, the recorded and a couple of Dylan songs. Yep. And he said, you know, um, that's all I, that's all I can say. And then he said to Frank Mole, I think it was Frank Mole, after the press left, I do believe Dylan Dylan has gone Sile <laugh>. And, and that that was Merle's humor. You know, he,

Fritz Coleman (00:48:30):

But, but I, I, maybe I was mistaken about this, but I, I, when, when, when he, he said those really sort of, uh, sharpened comments about Merl on stage, it went back to the time when, after a show, um, Merl, um, was brave enough, uh, to say to Bob, why don't you throw off the piano, go back to playing your guitar and playing the songs that people know. And Dylan didn't respond to it, and apparently silently did not take the criticism well. And that came to bear all those years later during that awards ceremony, <laugh>.

Mark Elliot (00:49:07):

Well, uh, uh, that's true. And Bob switched to the piano. Merle watched the show, and, uh, he said to Bob, he, he chewed him out. He didn't just suggest to Bob. He said, get rid of that damn piano. What's the matter with you people come to see you play the guitar and sing your songs the way they remember them. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> Dylan shrugged and walked away. Uh, but I'll tell you something interesting about that, that happened at the beginning of when Merl was playing for Dylan. Merl had a, uh, Merl loved soundchecks. Um, he, he could do a sound check that was like a, a show, and the whole band had to be there. The sound had to be right. The lights had to be right. One day during the soundcheck, a guy with a hat pulled way down, blow his eyes and wearing a hoodie, came out and sat in the audience, put his feet up, uh, uh, on the, uh, the, uh, chair in front of him, and sat there and listened to the whole soundcheck and then left.


Now everybody knew who it was. It was Bob Dylan coming out to see what it was Merl was doing. And then when Dylan came out for his part of the show, the only acknowledgement he gave was as he was checking his mic, he, he, uh, softly, he said, sing me back home. Boy, <laugh>. And everybody got it. Everybody laughed and got it. That was Dylan's way of saying, Hey, you know, uh, maybe I was a little too hard, but I'll tell you this, Dylan spent the rest of Merle's life apologizing for what he said. And that's not normally what Bob Dylan. Wow.

Louise Palanker (00:50:49):

Wow. That's interesting.

Mark Elliot (00:50:50):

Uh, because it, you know, it was, it's the wrong thing to say. Uh, uh, you know, it's your celebration. It's your party. Don't take out your vengeance there. Take it out somewhere else, like in your million songs where you get everybody. Yeah. But don't take it out on Merl. I mean, uh, you know, Merl, he didn't deserve that, but, you know, he wasn't, he wasn't taken by it because Merl felt like the outsider. Anyway,

Louise Palanker (00:51:16):

He's also done stuff like that too, at, at accepting awards. He's kind of like riff. Where's that man rift? When he was receiving his CMA award, he kind up like went off script at just,

Mark Elliot (00:51:25):

That's right. Is that people a bank and he unscr, you know, like a girl, like, you know, like a hundred names. He, he, no, he was, uh, he was a rowdy guy. And I, I don't want to paint him as a, you know, as a saint. He, he was a, he's a rowdy guy. He didn't like authority. He didn't particularly like, uh, awards. He liked to perform. He liked to sing, he liked to write, he liked to be with Bonnie with her for a long time until that fell apart. Um, he, he was what he was. And the only reason we care about him is because the legacy of his music is so powerful, is so great. It's so, uh, um, mesmerizing. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, that one person, you know, could be like, uh, like Merle and write like, um, frost, like, like the, all the poets, right. That he, you can relate to him like Robert Frost,

Louise Palanker (00:52:26):

You know, can you tell the story of the Ed Sullivan show and Oklahoma, which I guess was at a point in his career where he felt like he needed to do this, and then he reached the wall. <laugh>.

Mark Elliot (00:52:36):

Well, <laugh>, that's a really funny story. It was his manager, um, fuzzy Owen, not Owen, fuzzy Owen. I was trying to get Merle to do more things. And, uh, ed Sullivan in, I think it was 71, he, he was starting to go down. He was starting to end his reign, and he wanted to do, uh, uh, a tribute show to Rogers and Hammerstein. And he wanted to do it out of the Hollywood Bowl just to shake things up for his own show. So he asked all these country people to do, to be on the show, and he wanted Merl, well, fuzzy Gotham to take Merl to do, um, curly and a scene from Oklahoma. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And Merl didn't wanna do it. He said, uh, Hey, I'm not a dancer. I don't sing show tunes. What are you doing to me? Fuzzy said, do it. You'll, it, it will enhance your audience tenfold.


This is Ed Sullivan. Um, so Merle Begrudgingly agreed to do it during rehearsals. They made him do the, you know, the dance right in Oklahoma, the square dancing and all that. And, uh, he, he hated it. And then the, the, the, the day, the, the last rehearsal that they had, Merle claimed that, uh, one of the boys in the chorus pinched his rear end pinched pearl's, rear end <laugh>. And that was it for him. He stormed off the stage, went into his bus and wouldn't come up. Uh, uh, Bob Pret, who was, who was Sullivan's producer, came banging on the door, Sullivan, you'll never work, you'll never be on TV again. Uh, fuzzy begging him to come out, but he wouldn't do it. So at the last second they got, uh,

Louise Palanker (00:54:31):

John Davidson,

Mark Elliot (00:54:33):

Uh, yeah, Davidson,

Louise Palanker (00:54:34):

Who knows the part

Mark Elliot (00:54:36):

Who was in, yeah, it was in a million times. Uh, so he came at the last minute and did it. But, uh, Merle didn't appear again on c b s for a very long time. Uh, after that, uh, uh, he did appear on Johnny Cash, but he was on a abc. And that show came out of Thery. But, uh, you know, Merl was not the kind of guy who pinches bottom. And he just says, oh, you know, walking too slow here. I mean, he, he didn't like it if a woman had done it. Uh, Frank Mo said, if a woman had done it, you would've been in heaven. But, uh, you would've married

Louise Palanker (00:55:12):

Her <laugh>. He would've married her. Now. So let's talk about the wives and the kids. I cannot believe that a judge gave Merle custody these kids. Like, what? You don't say a lot about the first Leona. I guess there were more than one when you weren't through that many wives. You're gonna start to duplicate the names, but what judge gives Merle, who's never home custody of these kids.

Mark Elliot (00:55:35):

Well, Leona, who he married, I think when she was 17, first Leona, uh, while he was in prison, had a baby with another guy. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And that didn't sit too well with Merl. And she had her own problems. She had, uh, issues that made her unfit to be a mother. I, I don't want to go into them, but you know what? Whatever you might imagine, uh, whatever addictions you can think of, uh, whatever tendency she might have had, uh, a judge just, uh, didn't, uh, think she'd be a fit mother. On the other hand, Flossy, who was involved with, with this decision said, I will take care the kids better than she will. And the judge agreed. So the judge let Flossy, and again, the angel of Merle's life took in these kids mm-hmm. <affirmative> and, and reared them. You know, Merle, while he was in prison, he had a tattoo of, uh, Leona's name on his, on his wrist. And when he married, uh, the third Leona, uh, he said to Frank, look how great this is. I don't even have to get a new tattoo, <laugh>,

Fritz Coleman (00:56:51):

But he, he tried to make it work with Leona when he got outta prison a little bit, didn't he? He just wanted to try to go in the straight and narrow.

Mark Elliot (00:56:58):

And that was, that was his first, that was his, you know, his first love, I guess. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. But, you know, he couldn't do it. He, he and his pal, every once in a while, they would, uh, when they, he couldn't stand that domestic light. And this was really before he had hit the big, big time. Um, so he, and he and his pal, uh, his childhood pal, was with him the rest of his life, um, said to Leona, Merl said, I'm going out for some cigarettes. And they'd disappear for three days. They go to Vegas, hit all the whorehouses, get all that out of them, and then he'd come back and, uh, Leona would say, like the old Joe, where are the cigarettes? You know, I mean, <laugh>, it, it, it was that kind of a relationship. She certainly didn't miss him because she had her own thing going. So it, it really wasn't much of a marriage. It was a teenage romance. And in those days, you know, we're looking at, uh, uh, the late fifties, you know, had a girlfriend who went steady, and then we got married. So that's, that's what they did. You know,

Fritz Coleman (00:58:03):

He loved, Bonnie was the one love of his five marriages that he really, truly loved, I think the love of his life. Why, why did that not work? And even after it didn't work, she continued to perform with him for years.

Mark Elliot (00:58:14):

It didn't work, uh, because Bonnie couldn't face the truth before they got married. And Bonnie, by the way, was the sweetest, most loving woman on earth. <laugh>. I can, uh, make a statement like that. When, when she and Merl got married, uh, she had two children by Buck Owen, buck Owens a few years back. They had been divorced for a while, and Merl had these two kids. And so, uh, they bought a house and, uh, the Merle's kids came to live with them. And Kelly Haggard, Merle's daughter told me this story that, uh, she was so angry that every time she was near something, she would throw it on the ground. If, if, uh, if there was food on a table, she would take tomatoes, throw them on the ground, throw them around the room. Just really a angry little girl. And she said, Bonnie came over to her and said, uh, darling, there's nothing you can that would make me not love you.

Fritz Coleman (00:59:23):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative>.

Mark Elliot (00:59:24):

Yeah. Yeah. And from that moment, everything changed. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, it was not a family of two and two, it was a family. It

Fritz Coleman (00:59:33):

Wasn't a stepmom. Four. Yeah. Yeah. Wow.

Mark Elliot (00:59:36):

And she became, for all intense and purposes, Bonnie's, uh, um, uh, Kelly's mother. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. But before they got married to get back, really to what you were saying, Merl said to Bonnie, look, I am who I am. And I learned from my first marriage that I can't change, that I run around with women, I drink. Um, I, I like to run with the boys and I'm not about to make up stories to you. If you wanna marry me, that's the deal. It's me. And it's, if I want to go with a, with a, um, a, a truck driver, stop hooker, I'm gonna go. And if you want that, then you'll have me. You know, she thought she could handle it, but, um, who could handle that? It

Louise Palanker (01:00:28):

Still hurts every time. And I know she, I know she loved him and everything, and it makes you kind of wonder why he felt the urgency to be married at all times. He really should have just been a single guy, but he always wanted to get married again.

Mark Elliot (01:00:45):

Well, I think, I think, uh, that's a very good point. But I think what what it means is that he was always looking for flossy. He was always looking for a woman like Flossy, who, when he was a baby, you know, worshiped him. And you know what, what Freud said, I want a girl, just like the girl who married dear old dad. You know, he, uh, he, he, he wanted a girl like Flossie. Yeah. But there was no girl like Flossie. So he would try, he would marry them and they would turn out not to be what he wanted. And if you look a little deeper, that was probably self-serving because that drama kept him falling off bar stools and keeping the whiskey flowing. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> now it was a way of reinvigorating his creative side. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, when he brought Leona, the second Leona, Leona too. Leona Williams, who was still, still performing, uh, when he brought her into his life, Bonnie was still in the band. Yeah. Um, he brought Leona on, on stage with him and relegated Bonnie to the back. That was when she left that, you know, if, if it was personal and he didn't throw it in her face, she could take, uh, but when he did that to her, she took it as a public humiliation and left.

Fritz Coleman (01:02:12):

And it was a three-dimensional pain too, cuz Bonnie was kind of his muse. She walked around the house and recorded songs that he was improvising, walking around the house and made order out of his new creations and sort of supported his talent as well. Right?

Mark Elliot (01:02:27):

Absolutely right. He couldn't read music and, um, he was, he couldn't, couldn't spell or write that wrote cuz he didn't go to school. So Bonnie, when he would pick up the guitar and he would start, you know, tonight, the bottle, she would grab a, like a legal pad, <laugh>, and write down everything he said and, uh, cord it, you know, put the chords on top ah, and transcribe it. And she was a musician. And so then when he would like go back to it, he would remember what he had, what he'd written. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So she really, she was the one who helped him write all those great songs. Um, uh, there's the song he wrote called, uh, today I Started Loving You Again. Right. And, um, it, it's a beautiful song. I mean, just, just breathtaking and it, it based on, they weren't, they weren't getting along, which is for Merle, not this, not the big surprise of this interview. Um, they were, they flew back from a little tour. They did. And Bonnie was waiting by the luggage cart, you know, to pick up the luggage. And he just looked at her and he said, you know, today I started Loving You Again. Legal Pad and <laugh>. And, uh, and that became one of his greatest songs, uh, one out of many, many, many great songs.

Louise Palanker (01:03:56):

She was a song catcher.

Mark Elliot (01:03:58):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. She was a song catcher. Yeah. And she was, she was, uh, Flossy May Jr. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, uh, and, you know, she left him, whereas he left all the other wives. She left him, and he never got over that. She eventually came back and, um, when she got sick, uh, in, in the early nineties, she had early signs of Alzheimer's disease and it grew progressively worse. I I won't go into the stories here, but toward the end, uh, Frank Moe and Scott Joss, Scott Joss, who had been the keyboardist for 48 years in the band, and their wives were out to dinner. Um, and Bonnie was having dinner, uh, across, across the way. She came over to Frank and she said, uh, it's great to see you Frank. Uh, won't you introduce me to your friends? She had known them Oh boy. For her whole life.

Fritz Coleman (01:05:03):


Mark Elliot (01:05:05):

And that's when everybody knew that it was close to the end. Yeah. When she was committed to a hospital because she couldn't take care of herself anymore. Uh, they called Merle and they said, if you want to see her again, say goodbye. This is the time. So he went to the hospital, he went into her room, he sat down and she said, oh, what a lovely man, uh, who are you? And right behind her was a giant picture of Merl

Louise Palanker (01:05:40):

Hyber. Oh my goodness.

Mark Elliot (01:05:41):

So, you know, devastating. And she passed away not long after that. But, you know, it was out of all the women, she was the one who was closest, closest in his mind to flossy May and the one that he hoped could tolerate just like flossy May did. Yeah. He hoped that she could tolerate who he was and not try to fix him, change him, restrict him,

Fritz Coleman (01:06:13):

Uh, and always be there when he would wander back in off of one of his wander lusts. Yeah. Flossy was always there and always took him back.

Louise Palanker (01:06:20):

Well, there's different expectations in a marriage than there aren't a motherson relationships.

Mark Elliot (01:06:24):

When, when he was in, uh, San Quentin, uh, flossy, flossy didn't drive. So she, and, and when, uh, his older brother, uh, James couldn't drive her, she would take a bus for four hours to go see him for the 25, 30 minutes and take a bus four hours back. I mean, that, that was flossy, um, you know, a big influence on him.

Louise Palanker (01:06:50):

Let's talk about, uh, you know, the question most asked of you at any cocktail party, <laugh>, what's next Mark? What are you thinking? Who are you thinking of writing a book about?

Mark Elliot (01:07:01):

Well, uh, let me say this to you.

Louise Palanker (01:07:03):


Mark Elliot (01:07:04):

Right now I'm pregnant.

Louise Palanker (01:07:06):

Ah, he's pregnant. Okay.

Mark Elliot (01:07:08):

It's, so I wanna, I wanna keep that from me for a

Louise Palanker (01:07:12):

While. Is it boy or girl?

Mark Elliot (01:07:14):

Uh, twins and then <laugh>

Louise Palanker (01:07:19):

Gender, a gender reveal party.

Mark Elliot (01:07:21):

You will be the first guys all

Louise Palanker (01:07:23):

Know we're excited.

Mark Elliot (01:07:25):

I, I, I absolutely promise you that. I love doing your show. I love you guys. Well,

Fritz Coleman (01:07:30):

I, I, I'd love this book, mark, and I'll tell you to draw this to a conclusion. Uh, I wish I could be as, uh, touching as you drew your book to the conclusion, because we're talking about the fact that the death of his father was something he never recovered from. Right. Uh, you draw the book to a conclusion talking about Merle being hours away from death and saying he was ready to go. He wanted to go see his dad. And it was so touching. I dropped the book on the floor when I was reading in my bed. It really was beautifully written and interesting. And I'm wondering if your relationship with his children continues today.

Mark Elliot (01:08:05):

I know them. Um, they, uh, the boys are musicians. Kelly is living up, uh, near the, uh, the ranch, uh, that Merl had. I'm actually closest, uh, to Frank Mal, Dwight Yoakum and, um, Marty Stewart. They, they all became friends of mine and they're actually more, uh, uh, in tune with who I am. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, um, rather than the, the children or the wives and all that. Uh, uh, I can identify with these guys on many levels

Louise Palanker (01:08:42):

Because they embrace legacy the way you do. And it's kind of like, it's just that they a mutual appreciation society of people that, that really, really treasure the legacy. And

Fritz Coleman (01:08:54):

Marty Stewart, in that Ken Burns documentary, he was like the through line and the whole thing. He knew everybody. He was a, he was a country music historian. I loved hearing his comments.

Louise Palanker (01:09:04):

He's the witten marcal of the Yeah.

Fritz Coleman (01:09:06):


Mark Elliot (01:09:06):

Seriously. It took him eight years to make that series. It was

Fritz Coleman (01:09:09):

Beautiful. I watched it a couple of times. It was beautiful.

Mark Elliot (01:09:12):

That's great. I mean, Ken Burns, he's, you know, this his own category.

Louise Palanker (01:09:17):

Yeah, absolutely.

Fritz Coleman (01:09:17):

Well, nice job my friend. I hope it brings you lots of success in the country field and out. All right,

Louise Palanker (01:09:22):

Mark, this is the point in our show where we beg people to review us on Apple Podcasts. Take it away from,

Fritz Coleman (01:09:27):

And if you enjoyed this episode of Media Path, it would help us to be more discoverable by potential new listeners. If you would, leave us a quick review on Apple Podcast. And if you're new here and this is your first time with us, please check out our back catalog, including our previous interview with Mark, uh, uh, with his wonderful book, his revelatory book about, uh, Kerry Grant, it, it's worth it. Go look in our catalog. Thank you for spending an hour with us and we would be overjoyed if you, uh, took a moment to share your thoughts with us or recommend us to a friend.

Louise Palanker (01:09:56):

We would love for you to join us online on Instagram and Twitter, or we are at Media Path Pod and on Facebook where our show page is, media Path Podcast. And our Facebook group is Media Path with Fritz and Wheezy podcast community. You can find full episodes with all kinds of bonus visual content on our YouTube channel Media Path Podcasts. We would love to know what media you have been enjoying, so you can contact us at our social media or email us at Media Path We wanna thank our wonderful guest, mark Elliot. Our team includes Dina Friedman, Francesco Desmond, John Maddox, Sharon Beo, bill Fiac, Thomas Hubble, Mason Brown, and you. Our theme music is by me and John Maddox. I am Louise Lanker here with Ritz Coleman and Mark Elliot. And we'll see you along the media path.


Alright, so take,


We stand.

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