Wednesday, Apr 10 2013 02:24 PM

SCOTT COX: How I got my Merle Haggard signature guitar

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    By Photo courtesy of Scott Cox

    Oliver Cox with the Martin guitar his dear old grandpa had Merle Haggard autograph.

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By The Bakersfield Californian

There are exactly two people I've asked for autographs. The first was pedal-steel great Lloyd Maines, whom I met last year at Gruene Hall in Texas. He signed my sweaty hat, which I still wear.

The second was Merle Haggard, who signed my guitar a few months in the parking lot of Zingo's.

Related Info

Only 50 Haggard tickets left!

What: Merle Haggard concert

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Where: Fox Theater, 2001 H St.

Admission: $35-$85. Vallitix.com or 322-5200.

To clarify, I've never been shy about asking celebrities, including Merle, to sign various implements for other people .

Years ago, we used to have a concert for my birthday at Fishlip's. Great bands, food and giant champagne cakes from Smith's. The idea was to raise money for an outfit called Operation Interdependence, which sends care packages to troops serving overseas.

So a few months before the first Scottstock (which I modestly dubbed the affair), I got invited by Ray McDonald -- a mutual friend of mine and Merle's -- to go see the legend himself on his bus.

I figured that an autographed guitar might just be a good way to raise money, so I took my trusty Fender Telecaster with me and told Merle what I'd planned to do with it.

He thought it was a swell idea and signed it. We auctioned it for $4,500, which translates into a lot of love for the troops. I told Merle how much we'd raised, and he seemed genuinely tickled.

And every Scottstock thereafter, Merle signed a guitar for us. Shawna Haddad-Byers -- my Scottstock partner -- had the great idea to expand on Merle's kindness and we started hitting up other musicians to sign guitars. By the time Fishlip's closed in 2011, we'd raised more than $100,000. We got just about everyone in the act: Willie Nelson, Metallica, Gene Simmons, Ted Nugent -- you name 'em. Jerry Hufferd from the Crystal Palace even gave us a guitar signed by Buck. That was beyond cool.

But what started with Merle didn't end there. Anytime I needed a guitar signed for any cause, he was up for it. That wonderful old man has helped us raise countless dollars for military charities, the Ronald McDonald House, Relay for Life, the Mended Little Hearts Foundation, and on and on. (The record auction figure for one of Merle's guitars, as far as I can remember, was $7,800 at -- of all places -- a charity arm-wrestling tournament in Oildale.

So with all these guitars raising all this money, you'd think I'd have one of my own, and it was only recently that I got one.

Ray called me, knowing that I'd asked for a few autographs for some fundraisers I was attending. He said they were stopping at Zingo's to fuel up for a trip back East, and if I could meet them there, Merle would hook me up.

I never thought I'd ever ask for an autograph for myself, but I took my guitar with me just in case. I even took the little Martin I'd bought for my grandson, leaving them in the car when I went on the bus. After Merle signed my charity guitars, I told him that I'd brought my own. He seemed genuinely surprised that I'd never asked before. I fetched them from the car, and he happily signed both of them before they headed out.

With my own signed guitar, I finally have a chance to see hy all those folks paid all that dough for those Merle Haggard autographed guitars. It transformed a wooded box with steel strings into a living piece of history. Sometimes I'll listen to one of Merle's records and sit that guitar on the couch next to me and just look at it while absorb Merle's musical genius.

As for Oliver, well, he's 2. He has no idea what that writing is on his guitar, and he doesn't care. But someday he'll be sitting on his couch, listening to his Merle records, and I hope he gets his Merle guitar out and plays along.

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