Five years later, in 1981, Merle wanted to write a song expressing his appreciation to Collins, not only for the two number one hits, but to their great friendship as well. He wrote and recorded a tune called “Leonard” (Collins’ real name was Leonard Raymond Sipes), and threw in some very personal remembrances in the storyline.
Haggard composed “Leonard” during a bus trip he and Leona took to Gatlinburg, Tennessee (that same trip also yielded their Top Ten duet “The Bull And The Beaver”), but Merle didn’t tell Tommy about his creation. Instead, he let it come as a surprise.
A few weeks later, Collins was invited to one of Merle’s recording sessions. Tommy was unaware that anything unusual was going to happen, so about halfway through the session he got up and started to leave. One of the musicians noticed this, went up to him and said, “Don’t go. Merle wants you to stay for the whole session because he has a surprise for you.”
When Haggard recorded and released “Leonard,” Collins was touched that Merle would honor him with such a tribute. The song became a #9 Billboard hit and generated renewed interest in Tommy Collins’ career, something that probably wouldn’t have happened otherwise.