One could hardly accuse Merle Haggard of being a nine-to-five songwriter. He went through lengthy droughts on many occasions and, in fact, had suffered a six-month dry spell before writing “If We Make It Through December” during a bus trip that produced a total of five Christmas songs.
In 1974, a man named Dean Harrington triggered a songwriting idea in Merle’s head. The owner of a construction company in Bellflower, California, Harrington shared similar musical tastes with The Hag. Ronnie Reno, a member of Merle’s band in those days, remembers that Harrington was a good friend of Hag’s and the entourage. He was just a rowdy old man who would come up to Tahoe, Reno and Las Vegas and stay with the group until the schedule of performances was over.
Like Merle’s father, Dean Harrington was actually from Oklahoma and loved the music of Bob Wills. Merle and all the guys called Dean “the old man from the mountain” and one day Haggard decided to write a tune based on Harrington, reminiscent to what Jimmy Dean had done with his actor friend John Mento for “Big Bad John.”