Before getting married on Dec. 5, 1993, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band co-founder Jeff Hanna and talented songwriter Matraca Berg bonded in a very sweet (literally) way. The two met on tour with Clint Black in the late 1980s, and before every show, they ate pie together — a tradition Berg says was “so country.”
“We were married to different people when we met. And, in fact, our spouses were friends of each other. It’s a long story. But both of our marriages imploded,” Hanna recalls, adding that, ”after the dust settled” from his divorce, he was unaware that Berg had divorced as well.
When someone suggested that the Hanna and Berg write songs together, they did. Hanna describes his and Berg’s initial relationship as “pals,” but one thing led to another, and they began dating in 1991.
“… I’m really, really lucky,” Hanna admits. “Like one of my friends, in a football analogy, said, ‘You’ve out-kicked your coverage,’ is the way he put it. Or, ‘marrying up,’ is another one I like. She’s a really, really cool girl. And an amazing talent.”
Berg is the co-writer of Deana Carter‘s “Strawberry Wine” and numerous other hits, so to say that she and Hanna are a talented duo is an understatement. But they’re also each other’s inspiration: Shortly after their wedding, Hanna co-penned “Bless the Broken Road,” which has been recorded by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Marcus Hummon and, perhaps most famously, Rascal Flatts.
“In 1994, when Matraca and I got back from our honeymoon, Marcus and I got together to write. Marcus’ wife, Becca Stevens, had actually married Matraca and me,” Hanna recalls. “We got to talking about the circuitous route you take in life and how sometimes you think things are horrible and are never going to get better, but they lead you to something that ultimately is a lot better, whether it’s a relationship, spiritual path, business or whatever.”
True, Hanna and Berg have almost two decades between them in age — he was born in July of 1947, and she was born in February of 1964 — but we can’t imagine a sweeter love.
“Jeff is icing on the cake … the legendary, founding member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, it is always a thrill to have him on stage with me. It feels kind of odd sometimes that I married one of my most important musical heroes,” Berg wrote on her blog in 2012. “Slight age difference … ha … He shaved his mustache, and I was smitten. Who would hide such a handsome face with hair?! Anyway, he is a prince. I feel lucky to have had such a sweet man in my life for so long.”
Here’s to long-lasting marriages, great music … and pie.