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Merle Haggard

The Life and Times of a Badass Legend From holding his first guitar to “cheap thrills and bad decisions,” see the legend through the years

Merle Haggard

Childhood photos of Merle Haggard in the early 1940s

Photographs courtesy of Merle Haggard

Merles brother, Lowell, and his sister, Lillian, were teenagers when his mother, Flossie, found out she was pregnant with Merle. "She sort of was embarrassed about it", Haggard says. "The children were nearly up and gone. They were going to move into this new little place. And then I came along." Haggard was born on April 6th, 1937. "When he was an infant, and I mean an infant Lillian once recalled, "Mother would turn the radio on, and when he heard what was then called 'Western music' his little feet would start keeping rhythm with the beat. We would change the station, nothing would happen. Put it back, the feet start moving again."

Merle Haggard

Merle Haggard with his wife Theresa in 1998.

orrison / Wulffraat

Merle Haggard with his wife Theresa in 1998.

Haggard met his current wife, Theresa, when her mother persuaded her to come see Haggard perform, even though she was more of a ZZ Top fan. After the show, Theresa met Haggard's guitarist, Clint Strong, and the two went back to Strong's room. Haggard asked Strong to go to the bus and get a guitar. "He said, 'I'll take her up to the room, and we'll meet you up there,'" Theresa says. When Strong returned with the guitar, Haggard wouldn't let him in. "There's bangin' on the door, and it's Clint," Theresa says. "And Merle says, 'Get the fuck out of here! She's my woman now. You don't know how to treat a woman. Get the hell out of here, or I'm going to fire your ass.' I went on a month tour with him, and we were pretty much together."

Merle Haggard

Merle with his daughter Janesa at their home in August of 2009.

Photograph courtesy of Merle Haggard

Merle with his daughter Janesa at their home in August of 2009.

Theresa didn't believe she could have kids, so when she got pregnant in 1989 she says, "It was a blessing." They named their daughter Jenessa, the name came to Haggard in a dream, and moved off the houseboat to the ranch full time. "We got worried the baby might fall overboard," Theresa says. "So Merle fixed up a cabin at the end of the property, and we moved in after he brought me home from the hospital."

Merle Haggard

Merle Haggard and his son Benion tune their guitars before a gig in 2009.

Photograph courtesy of Merle Haggard

Merle Haggard and his son Benion tune their guitars before a gig in 2009.

Three years later, Theresa gave birth to Benion, named after Benny Binion, the colorful, criminal owner of the Horseshoe Casino in Las Vegas, whom Haggard says was like a father to him. The same day Benion was born, Haggard was served with papers at the hospital claiming he owed creditors $14 million. "Once again, I was paying a high price for cheap thrills and bad decisions," he wrote in My House of Memories. "And I was dunned at one of the most memorable moments in my life."