Vince Gill Recalls Meeting Country Legend Merle Haggard for the First Time and Why He Calls It the “Greatest Thrill of My Life”

It doesn’t matter if Vince Gill is playing with the Eagles, sitting in on a session with another country artist, joining Amy Grant on stage, or playing solo, Vince Gill is a legend. However, long before he was hailed as one of the best guitar players—and the nicest guy—in Nashville, he was a fan of the music in general. He was a fan of Merle Haggard in particular.

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Over the years, Gill has stated several times that he believes Merle Haggard to be the greatest country artist of all time. So, it’s fair to say that he has been a fan of the “Mama Tried” singer for quite some time. In an interview with Southern Living, he recalled meeting Haggard for the first time.

[RELATED: Vince Gill Reveals His Pick for Greatest Country Artist of All Time]

Vince Gill on the Night He Met Merle Haggard

“It was 1981, I had sung with Emmylou Harris that night. It was a big night for me, it was the first time I ever got to sing with Emmy,” Vince Gill recalled. However, the 24-year-old singer/songwriter didn’t know that singing with Harris was only one “first” he would experience that night.

“I found out Merle was doing a tour of old honky tonks, he was playing beer joints across the country. I found out about it and told Emmy. So, we piled into a couple of cars and drove about forty-five minutes to find this beer joint,” he said. “I got to see Merle Haggard for the first time live at a beer joint. It couldn’t get any better than that,” he recalled with a bright smile.

“Merle was married to a woman named Leona Williams at the time, and she had cut one of my songs,” Gill said, setting up the end of the story.  “After he was done playing, Emmy said, ‘Do you want to meet him?’ and I said, “Uh, yeah.” She carried me on the bus and said, ‘Merle, you need to meet this kid. He’s kind of special.’ He said, ‘I know who you are. You’re the kid that wrote that song that Leona’s got out,’” Gill continued.

He was shocked to hear that his favorite artist knew who he was. “Greatest thrill of my life,” he said of the meeting.

Featured Image by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for ACM

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