Merle Haggard more than just a musician to some

Posted at 8:01 PM, Apr 13, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-14 03:21:50-04

Merle Haggard's connection to Kern County runs deep, but some knew him better than others.

To Ray McDonald, Haggard's legacy is so much more than what he could do with an instrument.

"I used to tell him, 'Merle, you're the best country music singer, songwriter, fiddler, guitarist ever,'" McDonald said. "But you're just as a good a dad."

Growing up in Oildale, McDonald would watch Cousin Herb's Trading Post Show almost every day on KERO TV. He saw Haggard perform on the show, later spotting him pulling up near his home.

"I said, 'Mom, the guy who was just singing is walking up to the house'."

McDonald would later find out that Haggard's mom lived across the street. He befriended Mike and Buddy Owens, the sons of Bonnie and Buck Owens.

After Buck and Bonnie divorced, she married Merle. After that happened, McDonald moved in with the family, where they treated him as their own.

"They knew that they [Bonnie and Merle] were going to go on tour and be gone a lot, so they figured that Mike and Buddy need another brother, so that was me."

"Was he family to me? Oh yeah. As soon as he took us in we were like 'man, this is the perfect dad.'"

McDonald worked multiple jobs for Haggard over the years, including work as an assistant and an office manager. His final duty was as Merle's bus driver, one he cherished during Haggard's final seven years of life.

Despite seeing him as a father figure, McDonald often referred to Merle as a "brother" because Merle didn't like being thought of as an old man.