Personalities | George Strait | New Country & The Neo-Traditionalists

The Lone Star State is steeped in tradition, producing both songwriters and swing bands. In the 1980s, the clean-cut George Strait And His Ace In The Hole band took the baton from such earlier legends as Bob Wills, Lefty Frizzell, Ray Price and Hank Thompson.

Born on 18 May 1952, in Poteet (south of San Antonio), Strait took to playing country music seriously in 1973, when, stationed in Hawaii in the final year of his three-year stint in the US Army, he got a job as vocalist in a band formed to entertain the troops.

Rising Star

Influenced by Bob Wills, whose music he discovered via Merle Haggard’s Tribute To The Best Damn Fiddle Player In The World (1970), it took until 1981 for Strait to secure a major record deal (MCA), with the help of his manager, Erv Woolsey. It came at a time when the majority of new country faces were leaning towards pop – the glossy urban-cowboy era had helped to accelerate a shift away from country music’s older styles, but this all changed as Strait almost single-handedly kept the tradition alive via his blend of honky-tonk, ballad-laden and swing-inflected honest fare. The prime movers of the new-traditionalist movement of the mid-1980s benefited greatly because of his pioneering work.

In 1981, Strait had been working as a ranch foreman in San Marcos, Texas, supplementing his income by playing nights in local bar-rooms and dancehalls. Now he was about to embark on a series of chart-topping hit singles. ‘Fool Hearted Memory’ was the first of his 51 No. 1s to date, and he drew on songwriters Dean Dillon (who nearly made a career out of writing for Strait), Frank Dycus, Sanger D. (Whitey) Shafer and Hank Cochran (and, more recently, Jim Lauderdale) to continue the trend. A raft of country awards soon followed. Many were from the CMA, including, in 1985, the first of his five Male Vocalist Of The Year awards – the others came in 1986, 1996, 1997 and 1998 – alongside two Entertainer Of The Year Awards (1989 and 1990).

Strait Success

Strait’s live shows always attract sell-out crowds, evidenced by his legendary Houston Astrodome gigs, where he outsold even Elvis Presley – the ink on the tickets had barely dried in 1987, when all 49,246 seats had been sold. His songs ‘Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind’, ‘The Chair’ and ‘All My Ex’s Live In Texas’ deservedly sat side by side with his equally successful versions of country standards like ‘Right Or Wrong’, ‘If You Ain’t Lovin’ (You Ain’t Livin’)’ and ‘Love Bug’. It is little wonder that the likes of Alan Jackson, Garth Brooks and Randy Travis cite him as having inspired them to pursue a life playing country music.

Apart from his recording and stage success, the Stetson-toting Strait also starred in the film Pure Country (1992), where he appeared as a country singer who turned his back on the superstar lifestyle....

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Source: The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Country Music, consultant editor Bob Allen


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