Among country music stars there's never been a better ole boy than Merle Haggard. Known as "the poet laureate of the hard hats," his songs celebrate plain people in places like Muskogee, Okla. and, often, the pleasures and perils of two-fisted boozing (I Don't Want to Sober Up Tonight). Moreover, he knows whereof he sings. He spent seven of his first 23 years in stir for robbing and carousing (occasionally at the same time), and he celebrated his 21st birthday in San Quentin in solitary—for whipping up some home brew right on the premises. So during a Fort Worth show at Billy Bob's Texas, which has billed itself as "the largest honky-tonk in the world," what was more natural for Haggard, 45, than to introduce his new hit C.C. Waterback by pulling out a quart of Canadian Club (a C.C. Water-back is C.C. with a water chaser) and passing it around to the boys in the band? Then, without bothering to count the house, Merle pulled the stopper: "I want to buy everyone here a C.C. Waterback," he announced.

When the cheering stopped, Haggard had stood for 5,095 one-ounce drinks totaling 40 gallons and costing $12,737.50. His largesse should earn him a place in the next Guinness Book of World Records as the purchaser of the biggest round ever.

Billy Bob's, with its 14,000 square feet of dance floor, indoor rodeo ring and 43 bar stations, is a fitting place for grand gestures. Haggard planned his mass treat in time for plenty of supplies to be on hand. "He has done some unusual things before," his business manager, Tex Whitson, noted, and one of them was to buy drinks for the house at J.D.'s in Ridgecrest, Calif. in 1974, although J.D.'s held a mere 200. When a grateful Billy Bob Barnett presented the tab, he offered to buy Merle a drink. Offer accepted.

Now then, Hag, y'ever think of recording that fine old standard Blue Champagne?