George Strait is one of the biggest names in country music history, but he's a fan, too. In the wake of Merle Haggard's death on Wednesday (April 6), Strait shared that Haggard was his inspiration for wanting to pursue a career in country music.

Strait recalled his early days in an interview with the Morning Hangover; he recounted seeing the country icon live for the first time, which turned out to be a life-changing moment.

He was a big fan of Haggard's music even before that, connecting in particular with one of Haggard's early hits.

"You know, Merle was huge in my career," he shares. "When he did 'Okie From Muskogee' back in the '70s, I kinda got hooked then, on Merle and country music."

But that impact was even greater after he saw the legend live in concert.

"When I was in the Army and stationed at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii, you know Merle came there and he played. I remember I was playing an NCO club that night, and before my little gig I got to run over there, and I kind of snuck in and saw Merle," he says. "It just blew me away. That's what I wanted to be like. I wanted to be like the Hag. I can't tell you how big of an influence he was on me. Just huge."

Haggard was one of the most important singer-songwriters and musicians of his generation, and the impact of his loss has been felt profoundly throughout the country music community. In addition to Strait, a number of admirers ranging from classic artists like Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson to more contemporary names including Brad Paisley, Jake Owen and Chris Young turned to social media to remember the country legend.

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