George Strait - What Makes Him Sexy?
F a n t a s y M a n
From Country Spirit, KNIX, Sept. 1993,
Written by: Holly Gleason
ITEM: Once there was a rumor that George Strait had been a passenger in a small plane that crashed.
The Texas Legislature suspended sessions until it was determined that the rumor was false.
They call him The Pope of Texas, George Strait, all clean cut and wrinkle free. A man whose ring you could kiss (if he wore clunky jewelry); or whose hands might heal sick children (if they weren't all weathered and worn from roping calves without wearing sunblock). He is the ultimate 'Guy;" Someone who's benign and regular. Yet there's something extraordinary about this slow-smiling man of few words.
Sexuality bristles beneath the surface of the Sta-pressed cowboy. (That Texas Pope business begins to wear thin about now.) It's not ardor, exactly, or outright passion; it's more a hint of amusement about the whole man-woman thing, exhibited with a twinkle of the eye and enough respect that the distaff side of the populus are ever ready to hurl themselves en masse at the crisp buttoned-down country hunk.
He is a hunk, no question. And at a time when the hunks are decidedly younger than the standard issue country stars of the '60's, '70's and 80's, George Strait proves he has uncommon staying power. Perhaps the only studly guy "BR" (before Randy Travis) to still elicit squeals, his appeal is something of an anomaly -- out of tune with the times.
For the sheer volume of squealage he generates (both in decibels and number of participants) , Strait is a puzzle. True, he has those simmering good looks, that smooth voice, those smiling eyes. But there's nothing overtly testosteronic about him. Nothing predatory. Nothing that says, "I gotta have you right now."
You can prove this to yourselves, ladies. Close your eyes, go on, take a deep breath and try to imagine going lip to lip with George Strait. I mean, really do it. Pressure point to pressure point, eye to eye, hearts a-thumping, pulse-racing exchange of electricity and desire.
You can't, right? I've asked several women who think this is an easy game... until they try it. Then they find they can't, and they break down laughing at the foolishness of it. He's just too perfect for a liplock! And as for the big nasty, forget about it. But that doesn't make him any less sexy. Indeed, it probably makes him more so.
Sex appeal that's not derived from overt sexuality is a slow-burning thing -- and if sex is mostly mental, then it's the promise more than the process that makes women smoulder. And on the smoulder scale, Strait, with his almost shrugged-off approach. is the ultimate ladies man. If romance is the real deal (and it is), he gives women what they want.
Take Strait's starring role in the modest movie, Pure Country. He's downright courtly as the country-star in-hiding. He may have found something he likes, but he doesn't lunge. Aw, no, not smooth George. He's biding his time, playing it straight (eek!) and letting her come to him. And if trying, and failing, to stand up for the young woman of the moment doesn't do much for his jaw (remember the sloppy fight scene in the rain?), it certainly lets her know that his intentions are beyond honorable. Collective sigh. He r-e-s-p-e-c-t-s me. What every woman wants, along with flowers every now and then.
We'll never know if George Strait truly lives by the whole mystique thing, because he's not open to probing interviews that let outsiders get that close. But as long as we can cling to our illusions, fed by songs such as he gives us on his newest album, "Easy Come, Easy Go," he'll remain the man of our dreams. The misty-eyed weeper, "I'd Like To Have That One Back," and the fidelity-forever "We Must Be Loving Right," are samples of the new material that further Strait's arms-length appeal ideally. The good cowboy in white is sent to protect the things we hold dear, and be the person --in our minds-- that we can't find at home. Or anywhere.
If he's too good to be true, he's also smart enough not to allow us to get close enough to find that out for sure. There's a story that circulated during the filming of Pure Country; upon being introduced to the Warner Films publicist who explained her job as, "I'm in publicity," he replied, "Hi, I'm George Strait, I don't do publicity."
Hmmm. Was he kidding? People wondered. Of course he was kidding. He did plenty of publicity. It was in the contract. But why did anyone wonder? Because it seemed like something he might say for real. It would have been true to the way he operates. Here's a man who knows how to leave 'em wanting more, never giving away too much, never ending up a slave to the rhythm of his own desires.
Even with his impending big screen debut, Strait remained nonplussed. "I never saw it as a risk -- I see it as an adventure, a good change of pace for me," he said. "I'm enjoying it, and depending on how it goes, I'll consider doing another down the line. If it comes out okay, and I can see that I can do it, and if it's possible for me to do more, then I will."
That's the attitude that has marked Strait's public behavior over his entire career: reserved, respectful, unassuming. Even on film his hugs were chaste. No stray sparks, no heat generated anywhere. His acceptance speeches echo the same elements. Soft spoken, politically correct, he humbly thanks the right people, displays quiet pleasure to receive the accolade.
The title track of his new album might say it all: "Easy Come, Easy Go." It's a song about walking away with no hard feelings; if it's the end, then it's okay, no big deal. Anyone who's ever been through a breakup has wished it could be that easy, but it's not. Feelings get in the way. It's not pretty, being the person who leaves a devastated one in your wake, or bieng the last to know the fire's out.
And that's another reason George Strait makes an ideal fantasy man. He comes with no entanglements. You can lust in your heart, and know there's no emotional surcharge to pay later. He says all the right things, then disappears undramatically when it's over.
Life is full of bills to pay and men who won't, stockings tha run and cars that don't. Yet somewhere inthe heat, hassle, fuss, and muss, there's George Strait' calm, cool, ready to smile that smile, talk that drawl, utter some self-effacing form of homage, and look good doing it.
So, maybe you can't picture him doing lustful things with a pound of whipped cream, your favorite nail polish and a feather. Heck, you probably can't even picture him barefoot. Don't try. George Strait is there to look at only, wearing Wranglers, starched shirt, boots and Stetson, in the fantasy where everything is perfect.
That one will never go out of style. And you'll never get there from here. If Strait plays his cards right, he could last forever.
November 1995 Country Weekly
Exclusive, Personal Interview with George Strait
George Strait, country's most reclusive star, has never talked to the press about the tragic accident that broke his heart.
"I got real private after I lost my daughter," George Strait said, talking for the first time about his 13 year old daughter's death. "That's when I really shut things down."
In an exclusive interview with COUNTRY WEEKLY, the MCA Nashville Records superstar broke his nine year silence and talked of the lingering pain from the heartbreaking 1986 car accident that claimed the life of his only daughter, Jenifer. Following her accident, Strait said he didn't do a single interview for more than a year. Instead he went on a grueling concert tour to try and ease the pain.
"I didn't feel like talking to anybody that wasn't really close to me," George noted. "I kind of had the attitude, well, you know, nothing worse could happen and so this is the way I'm going to do things, this is the way I'm going to choose to do it, and to handle my career."
George knew keeping to himself put his career on the line. "I knew if it worked it was going to be great, and if it didn't work, then nothing worse could happen," he reasoned. "I could accept that, so that's just the way I chose it."
And that philosophy carries over even today. Interviews with George are rare.
Even before the most painful tragedy in George's life, he had always protected himself and his family from the sometimes harsh glare of life in the fast lane of show business. "Privacy is real important to me to have another life besides the one I have when I'm out on the road when I'm doing what I do as a country music singer, or entertainer, or whatever you want to call it."
George treasures his time spent with his wife, Norma, and their son, George Jr. "It's important for my family to have that. I don't want always to be a country music singer, especially when I'm at home." he said. "It's especially important when you have children to have that kind of thing where they're not always exposed to the media. It's important for them to have a normal life, and that's the only way I can think of to try and give that to them."
George and his son, nicknamed Bubba, have developed a healthy give and take attitude about their favorite forms of music as they listen to, and enjoy, the sounds from their two generations. As Strait's newest single "Check Yes or No," climbs the charts, the handsome Texan revealed he bounced the song off Bubba before it was released. "I came back from Nashville to Texas after cutting it and I was taking Bubba to school," George recalled. "He's usually in a bad mood in the morning and he doesn't talk much. I said, 'Bubba, I'm gonna play this song and I know you're gonna love it.' I could tell he was really perking up when I played it. He finally smiled and said, 'I was trying hard not to like it, but it's a cool song.'"
George put aside his need for privacy for a few minutes because he had a couple of things that were important to him that he wanted to talk about rumors about his retirement and his new album.
"I don't know where a lot of my fans got the idea that I was on the verge of retiring, but that couldn't be further from the truth," he announced. "I just want them to know that as long as they're gonna keep coming to the shows, I'm going to keep coming out there and doing them. So don't think I'm quitting. It's great to have these fans. They're very important, and it's unbelievable to me that they're still coming out. I just want to say thank you to them."
And if anyone thinks he's stepping off the stage, just pick up a copy of his newest album and you'll be more convinced than ever that he's here to stay.
His newest release a four-album boxed set titles Strait Out of the Box is terrific. The masterpiece contains 72 No. 1 singles, duets with Frank Sinatra, Hank Thompson and Asleep at the Wheel, and three early songs George wrote and recorded for D records of Houston before he signed with MCA in 1981.
"This album reminds me of all the great times I've had from that very first song, and before that in recording with D records back in the old days of hauling our equipment around in the back of pick up trucks."
The boxed set also contains a colorful booklet with his comments on each record, recording session information, a biographical essay and dozens of photographs, including many from his personal collection. "It was real interesting to remember all of those things, and then when we finally got the thing finished, to have it all put together in one set of everything I've done even songs that other people never really got to hear except for me and a producer," he said. "We were just a local band that never got much publicity. I mean, why should it have? We were just plugging around in the bars and honky tonks."
George said that while he was in San Antonio recently "I was on the golf course listening to these songs on the radio, they played some stuff that I had totally forgotten about.
"I started thinking, dadgum, I need to go back and out these back in my show again. It's funny how that happens. You have so many albums and you release the singles off the albums and then you do another one and all the other cuts get kind of put back. And they were playing stuff I really enjoyed hearing."
George says he also enjoys the music of Merle Haggard, George Jones and Bob Wills, and some new acts. "I listen to Mark Chestnutt and thinks he's a great singer and he really does good material," he said. "And Alan Jackson. "Gone Country' was such a great song, great song. My son listens to just about everybody so I get exposed to all of it."
His favorites aren't confined to country, George confided. "I've always been a fan of Frank Sinatra and I've listened to his music for a long, long time. You just can't beat the sound of the big band swing. He's such a great singer."
But he confides that when he worked with Sinatra, the result was less than he had hoped for.
George was invited to record a duet with Ol' Blue Eyes.
"I met him one time in Texas, went to his show and went backstage right before he was getting on. He's a classy guy." Then, with a laugh, George added: "Well, I always thought he was until he didn't use that song. I was kind of let down because I thought it had turned out really good. I was really mad. I really liked the cut that we did."
In fact, he liked it so much that he put his duet with Frank doing "Fly me to the Moon" on his new boxed set.
As usual, George managed to get the job done, but he did it "My Way."
Sunday June 28, 1998
By RICK OVERALL -- Ottawa Sun
IN the ever changing world of contemporary country music there is one comforting constant -- George Strait.
The legendary Texan has gone about his business and built a reputation as a fan favorite that's reflected by the fact that he is ranked in the Top 10 among musicians of all genres -- in 18 years he has produced 22 gold, platinum and multi-platinum records. And don't forget the man also has a hit film, titled Pure Country.
As a testament to his sustained firepower, Strait's latest CD, One Step At A Time, was the first disc to threaten to topple the mighty Titanic soundtrack from the top of the charts this year.
His current tour -- The George Strait Country Music Festival -- is the hottest touring ticket in North America and continues to pack 'em in in huge stadium events.
We felt it was time to find out firsthand what it was about this country icon that keeps him such a favorite and to that end we recently took in Strait's touring country festival, which drew 50,000 fans to Chicago's Soldier Field.
Strait's stage show is as smooth as melted butter.
His music focuses the mid-tempo, mellow, shuffle featuring a gorgeous, romantic feel to them. The trademark smoothness features a big bass bottom, two-step sound exemplified on I Get Carried Away and I Just Want To Dance With You.
He also offers a traditional feel with a contemporary slant. I Can Still Make Cheyenne, Check Yes Or No and the Cajun feel of Adilida are proof positive the man has no bounds.
Despite his popularity, Strait is as mysterious as Howard Hughes. Guarding his privacy like a pit bull, he rarely, if ever, gives interviews.
On the other hand, there's no shortage of Nashville's elite who are more than willing to step forward to discuss Strait -- many with the same genuine awe as Garth Brooks, who keeps referring to him as "The Man.
The respect Strait commands is huge."
Fellow Texan Tracy Byrd, who is currently riding the top of the charts with I'm From The Country, understands exactly what the fuss is about because he has always been a huge fan of George Strait.
"In Texas, he's the king and always has been," Byrd said. "He's got the ability to pick these amazing songs and over the years his voice has just gotten stronger.
"George is the real deal. He is confident and comfortable without being extravagant or cocky.
He's a laid-back man with a tremendous aura about him that excites people and turns people on.
"Strait's like Elvis in that way, it's more than just the talent ... people get all choked up around him."
Steve Wariner, who is also riding high these days with Holes In The Floor Of Heaven, said Strait is one of a kind.
"I started recording just a little bit before George and I remember going to his very first showcase in Nashville and thinking to myself ... this guy is a star," Wariner said.
"The thing that I like about George is that he is the real thing -- no one else sounds like George Strait," he explains.
Wariner figures Strait's what-you-see-is-what-you-get attitude is what endears him to the fans.
"George has always been doing the cowboy thing with the hat because he really is a cowboy.
"His music is honest and real -- what you see is what you get.
"Any bar band can do George's songs easily because it's not a complicated sound.
It's a sound that everyone can relate to because it's the music of the common people, and I say that with no disrespect.
"The one thing I noticed about George was that from the beginning he always had the kind of charisma that people seem to really connect with."
Lee Ann Womack was another one of the performers on Strait's tour and she says Strait was an inspiration.
"As a girl in Texas I would go to all his concerts and see singers like Patti Loveless and Kathy Mattea sing on the show so I always hoped I'd be one of those girls," she said, adding she also admires Strait as a person.
"When George isn't singing he's spending all of his time with his family and that's something I appreciate most about him."
Shane Stockton's voice is one you'll be hearing a lot in the future. The young Texan has just released his debut CD Stories I Could Tell and was doubly thrilled to join George Strait during his American tour.
Sitting on his tour bus, adjacent to the stage, he looks at the crowd around the bus and reflects on his hero and tour boss.
"I guess for me, growing up as a country musician in Texas, the idea that someone from around where you live could become as big a deal as he is is just pretty neat and inspires you," Stockton said.
Also performing in Chicago with Strait was the hot up-and-coming band Big House from Bakersfield.
"(George has) never tried to sound or be like anybody else," Big House singer Monty Byrom said. "He has respect because he lets the music speak for itself.
"He's been an inspiration to us as a band because he's shown that if you believe in your music you should be able to continue on your course."
After the Chicago show, Strait met with fans backstage as a huge black limo and a breathtaking pearl-white tour bus sat as silent symbols of his superstardom.
But Strait himself is dressed in a ball cap and comfortable golf duds, looking like a father in a department store catalogue.
After all, understated elegance is what he's all about.
"Strait Back When"
KNIX Magazine -- February 1999
By Ray Benson of Asleep At The Wheel
"My band, Asleep At The Wheel, has had a great following in Texas for decades, so George Strait, always a fan of western swing, knew of me before I had a clue about him. We used to play alot in San Marcos, which is where he went to college at Southwest Texas State, and Austin. Austin was really happening in the mid-70s when George was in his early 20s, and he used to come up to see bands. I'm sure he heard our music on the radio, too. "The Letter Johnnie Walker Read" was a top ten hit in '75.
It was in the mid-70s that he joined The Ace In The Hole band. They opened for us at Gruene Hall about 1978, George told me. I remember that. There's no backroom, so I was sitting on our bus. I could hear the music, and I said, 'Hey, somebody's doin' western swing!' I noticed because nobody was doing that back then.
And that was my introduction to George Strait....I feel like I can say I influenced George because when he started making enough money, he hired a couple of my fiddle players! That was about when "Unwound" came out.
Our paths were destined to cross again soon. A guy called me up and said, 'I want you to produce a series of spots for Texas Budweiser. One of 'em with you guys and of 'em with this kid named George Strait. We'll give you 2500 bucks, you can give him 2500 bucks, and it'll be a deal.' I said, fine, great. We scheduled the sessions, I hired the musicians, and the night before we were going into the studio they called and said, 'We've changed our mind."
But that's how I met George. I had to call him up and arrange for the session, then cancel it. Later on Budweiser did the spot with him. I'm not sure; maybe they just fired me. All I know is they paid me for NOT doin' it, which I thought was pretty cool. Sometimes events like these make people a little crazy if they take them personally. But
I'd already been up and down twice at that point. Besides, I liked George. Over the decades we have gained mutual respect for the work we've done. And from the very beginning we had alot in common musically.......
George had been turned on to Bob Wills, as I had, by Merle Haggard. If you listen to George Strait, he started out imitating Merle Haggard. That's where his voice comes from, as far as I'm concerned. It's a Merle Haggard voice and then George made it his own.
That's why I say George Strait is one of the most important guys in country music.....he permeated Top 40 and superstardom and kept alive this great legacy of Bob Wills, Johnny Bush, Ray Price, Lefty Frizzell and Merle Haggard.
Now, I will admit he has a couple other things going for him. I have a theory that in order to achieve country music superstardom, you have to have a combination of three things:
music, a style or image, and sex appeal. And he has all three.
George has great music sense to go with his ability as a singer; he knows a great song.
In the early days, he was very serious about his music. Of course, as we grow older, we realize that serious is not really the word, you just put alot of energy into it. And he did.
He busted a**. He opened for everybody. He did the whole deal. He went out on the road and worked one nighters forever.
He also set a fashion style. On his boxed set there are a couple of early photos where he's dressed how we all used to look. Straw cowboy hat, cheapo western shirt, scruffy hair, a little longish. He hadn't discovered starch. Then he began to adopt what I used to the call the Cattle Auction look. Simple, really. Resistol hat, Roper boots, Wranglers jeans, crisp western shirt.
As for being a sex symbol, I've always said that George is a matinee idol. He's got that Robert Redford thing, that charisma. And yet he's the farthest thing in the world from that, in terms of his personality.
Somebody once asked me if I thought he was wasting perfectly good celebrity status. Well, George is a quiet guy. And I can say, because I know him, that he does plenty --
I'm talkin' about charity stuff - totally anonymously. That is his thing. He'd just as soon not make a big deal about himself, or anything. He's livin' his life. And I think that's really admirable. My favorite George Strait quote is when they asked him why he won Entertainer of the Year at the CMAs. He said, "Cause I got more votes."
Anyway, so George has been at the top of the heap for a long time now, but I think he's stayed there because in his own subtle way, he keeps improving. As a performer he's really matured in recent years. I believe his biggest influence there has been Frank Sinatra. George really admires that whole "Chairman of the Board" charisma, the way Sinatra was in control. He didn't have to make a big deal out of it, but he was the man and everybody knew it...onstage George has a touch of that swagger that comes with confidence. Plus he loves the big band stuff. I remember George went to see Sinatra in concert about 10 years ago and it was the highlight of his year.
I can't say I'm a 'call-him-up-on-the-phone-friend' but I've had lots of chances to socialize with George. We talk about our kids. His son Bubba is a wonderful kid. He's really a devoted father. That's the bottom line with George. I think the family is his motivating thing. He's a team roper, so he keeps horses...ropers have to have great horses. And he's got this incredible rodeo arena and he practices with Bubba. Bubba loves the rodeo and so does George, so that's somethin' they do together.
We've played golf and he's a very good golfer. He gets mad at himself, but not like Vince. And we both love pro sports, but we're not really rabid fans. He lives right next to David Robinson, the big center for the SA Spurs. Socially, we're very compatible: we like to sit around with a drink, smoke cigars and tell stupid jokes.
We had a big 'wrap-up party' at the Hard Rock Cafe in Houston after the stadium tour last year. Asleep at the Wheel kind of took over 'house band' duty. I looked out on the dance floor and there was George two-stepping with Norma, and doin' the 'Cotton Eyed Joe'.
Then he got lubricated enough to get onstage with us. We were doin' stuff that we used to do in the 70s in the honky tonks. Tim McGraw and Faith Hill joined in, and little Lila McCann.
He made us stay 'til the bitter, bitter end. It was, like, four in the morning and he wouldn't get off the stage! Whenever we'd stop to figure out what we were going to do next, he'd grab the mike and belt out the first line of "How Do I Live", that song by Trisha Yearwood and LeAnn Rimes that was all over the radio. Then he'd just laugh. As I report this, I realize you had to be there. But it was so funny.
We had a wonderful time and George probably had more fun than anybody. Offstage he's a normal guy who gets in his truck and listens to the radio like everybody else. But he doesn't get to be just another goofy singer at a late night jam that often. I treasure that I was there, 'cause I know moments like that keep hugely successful artists in touch with why they got into the business in the first place.
George Strait is one guy who can drop out of sight anytime he wants, and there wouldn't be much, if anything, about being a superstar that he'd miss. But country music would sure miss him."
The Mystique Continues To Grow For Country Music's Classiest Superstar
by Reid Slaughter
Cowboys and Indians Magazine, January 2000
The King of Country music was only halfway through his first song when the storm hit. Gale force winds began to rip his stage apart and sparks flew from electrical connections assaulted by the sheeting rain. Thunder exploded over the party site with a Richter scale boom. As the ultra-fancy guests knocked over chairs and tables and sprinted for cover, the only sounds from the stage were screams of "let's get outta here!" from the band and crew.
An hour later, with nine inches of rain on the ground and North Texas sky still thick with more, the headliner and his wife sat quietly in his bus talking with friends. this was a benefit for the American Cancer Society and he was not going to leave early, torrent or no torrent. Suddenly, there was a knock on the tour bus door, and in from the squall climbed two drenched rats. Their wives wanted autographs, they meekly explained, and dripping from every inch they offered semi-dry programs to sign.
"You boys are nuts," said the star.
"Yes, sir," they replied. "Make those out to Donna and Betsy." It was the kind of heroic gesture only new husbands make, a fact not lost on the star.
"Let me guess," he said, "you guys just got married."
"How'd you know?" they wondered.
He smiled his electric star smile, the one that tells you he knows about women and love and foolishness and the power of music. He winked at his friends; in a life full of intrusions and interruptions, this was one he didn't mind so much. "Y'all get in your boats and paddle home." Then he added, speaking almost in lyric, "I'll come back...if it ever stops rainin'."
That was the first time I met George Strait.
Had things turned out the way he expected, George Strait would be designing cattle pens today, saving his musical efforts for the shower as most of us do. And while that would be a disaster for the folks at MCA Nashville - where he has sold a staggering 50 million records over the past 18 years - you get the feeling that Strait's happiness quotient would be right where it is now as long as he could spend his free time roping, hunting and fishing.
He is, after all, a remarkably simple guy in the center of a complex world where art collides with commerce, image masks reality and your career is only as strong as your latest release. Creating art that moves and endures isn't easy when critics, fans and accountants stand ready to crucify you at the first sign of weakness.
Strait has navigated his career as well as any solo act in history, putting up staggering numbers which stand up among all-time greats such as Sinatra, Elvis and the Beatles. Consider this: everyone of his 24 albums has gone Gold, Platinum or Multi-Platinum; he has 43 number one singles; has the biggest selling boxed set in Country music history and, according to Billboard Monitor, he is second only to pop diva Mariah Carey as radio's most played artist over the past five years. Every minute of every day, a George Strait song is playing somewhere on radio.
Strait's continuum of hit making and chart busting has been unwavering despite shaky surroundings. For the past two decades, country music has been constantly trying to reinvent itself. The musical institution known as Nashville is a wildly dysfunctional family whose members have very different views as to which direction the body as a whole should take. Crossover to pop? Embrace the edgy attitude of rock? Remain embedded in its Opry roots? Those are questions for others to ponder, because George Strait ain't changing.
The secret to George Strait's success lies deep within South Texas. An hour south of San Antonio, where Strait was born, the land is flat, dry and uncompromising. It does not bend willingly, but properly farmed, it produces crops in prodigious numbers. Ranch life and the honest nourishment it provides is proudly celebrated; indeed, in the downtown square of Pearsall, Strait's hometown, a giant peanut monument salutes the area's primary crop.
It is a place where Anglo and Hispanic cultures are fully intertwined, where in any direction hardscrabble plains give way to verdant hills, endless desert or coastal marshland. People here tend to be stubborn and committed, for the land demands it.
"Texas is home, and I love it here," says Strait, who is often accused of being reclusive for eschewing a Tennesse address. "I love it, every part of it, from the South Texas brush country, the Hill country where I went to college [Southwest Texas State University], to mountains of West Texas, the piney woods, the high plains and the coast. We've got it all. But at heart, I'm a brush popper."
Taught to ride and rope as a child, Strait grew up in the cowboy way. His math teacher father also taught him a sense of precision, a quality that would later serve him well as a vocalist. And like scores of other ranching boys, Strait married his high school sweetheart, a petite blonde named Norma. The pair eloped down to Mexico, the first chapter in a storied marriage which has lasted nearly 30 years.
Strait's path to country music's inner circle has been well-chronicled: first garage bands then a stint in the Army where he fronted a country combo, then back to college in San Marcos, Texas where he joined the fledgling Ace In The Hole band.
Four years of working a cattle ranch by day and honkytonks by night honing his Texas Swing sound. Two heaping helpings of Nashville rejection. Then, just as he was ready to quit, a pep talk from Norma followed by "the big break:" he met up with MCA exec Erv Woolsey, who brought him to the label. His first single, "Unwound", shot to number six on the country charts in 1981 and began a string of 35 consecutive top ten hits. "Fool Hearted Memory" became Strait's first number one song the next year.
Perhaps the most important part of the Strait history occurred during those first heady days in Nashville. Faced with a chance to launch the career he had dreamed of, he was told to "lose his Western look, especially the hat." He refused. "I said 'what you see is what you get' or words to that effect," he laughs. "The minute you start changing yourself, you're on the road to screwing up completely."
In a town where so many starstruck kids arrive and say "mold me into whatever you want me to be", it was a dangerous move; "ornery" as they say in South Texas.
For the next three years, critics and image makers would try to dissuade him from hiding his striking good looks under a hat and sticking to his traditional sound, but Strait's stubborn forswearing of all things trendy only added to his burgeoning charisma.
"He's always had that sense of style, a certain presence," says Tommy Foote, Strait's drummer for eight years and his tour manager for the next 16 years. "Even when he drove an old beat up car, he looked cool. I remember the year he showed up at the CMA awards wearing blue jeans and a tux. The next year, everybody was doing it! That's just the way he is and it's unintentional. He is just George and he has real style."
"Yeah, he definitely has 'it', whatever 'it' is," agrees MCA president and producer extraordinaire Tony Brown. Brown knows a thing or two about fame after spending three years as the piano player for a guy named Elvis. "People compare him to Elvis and it's true. George can walk into a Nashville restaurant wearing a baseball cap and no one recognizes him. Then he walks onstage with that cowboy hat on and people go crazy! They just adore and idolize him."
For all his personal appeal, Strait is the first to admit that in his business, it all begins with the songs. "George has an uncanny ability to pick top-quality material," says Clay Blaker, one of Nashville's best songwriters and fellow Texan. "He has his favorite writers, but he also looks for writers on the cutting edge." The second ingredient for Strait has been his rapport with some of the town's best producers, including Jimmy Bowen and Tony
Brown, who both admit that Strait has surprised them on numerous occasions with his song choices and his knack for consistently picking winners. Third, Strait has an excellent management team both behind him (Erv Woolsey, manager) and in front of him (Kay West, publicity). When it comes to the music business, he says, "I love the music, and thanks to Erv and his staff, I don't hate the business as many artists do. I usually check in with Erv once or twice a week to see how things are going. We don't have many power meetings!"
Finally, if you're gonna make it in Nashville, "you gotta have a show" as Willie Nelson says. Unlike their rock counterparts, country acts are expected to play up to 250 dates a year in support of their records, and that's the grueling schedule Strait and his Ace In The Hole bandmates undertook in the early '80s. No fireworks, but tight sets with great music and musicianship. As the venues got bigger, so did the performance anxiety.
"Even today, I still get the same feeling any person gets before they have to do something in front of a large group of people," he says. "Some call it 'butterflies' but for me it feels a lot bigger than that. I get so intense sometimes that I don't hear what people around me are saying. Then I go on and everything is normal again."
From their first show in October of 1975 to today, Mike Daily has been the band's steel guitar player and Strait's compadre. "For the first eight years, we had no lights, no special effects, just us," he recalls. "George got up to sing and it was totally real from start to finish, and I think that's a big part of his appeal; he's not afraid to be himself."
Which is the exact storyline of his highly publicized 1992 film debut, Pure Country.
Conceived by movie mogul Jerry Weintraub as a 'star vehicle' for Strait, George essentially plays himself - a country singer named Dusty Chandler who becomes a superstar and almost loses his identity amid the smoke and lasers of arena-style country rock. He goes AWOL from his tour and finds redemption in the simple joys of ranch life: a girl, a guitar and in true Strait style, a roping pen. The film grossed less than $20 million domestically, but it did big video rental numbers and most importantly, spawned a Tony Brown-produced soundtrack that sold more than 5 million copies. Nashville was now officially in awe.
"I loved making Pure Country," says Strait with a nostalgic air. "It was a great learning experience for me, seeing another part of the entertainment industry. Plus we had a lot of fun, made some new friends, and I think we made a pretty decent movie." While Brown and others contend that George should do another film, the singer himself is not so sure. "Something would have to come along that really blew me away," he states. "I spent so much time away from home early on in my career, so to commit to [a film] would be tough, especially now that I've been trying to scale back on touring so I can spend more time at home."
And he can afford to scale back. While other country acts grind it out all year long just to break the one million mark in ticket sales, last year Strait's concerts grossed $32 million in just 18 days.
"I'll tell you, this guy does it right," says Brown. "I mean, he has a family life. He has a great career as a recording artist and as a performing artist. He flies around in that G4. He's handsome, he has a gorgeous wife and a cool son. He also has a great reputation, is easy to work with, and when he comes to town to do his records, the Nashville musicians just feel blessed to be asked to play on the sessions. He is the role model for this whole industry."
Yet for all his success, Strait would trade it all to erase one terrible moment in 1986. A tragic car crash took the life of the Straits' beloved 13 year old daughter, Jenifer. Songs of urgent sorrow took on a new meaning for an intensely private man who truly understands the meaning of the words "quality time". That's what Norma and George spend with their immensely likable son, George Jr., a spotlight-savvy young man who goes by the nickname "Bubba" and is his dad's team roping partner and best buddy, even now that he is headed off to college.
Now 47, the man who is credited with launching the New Traditionalist movement in country music and was the inspiration for dozens of notable "hat acts" which followed like Alan Jackson, Clint Black and yes, Garth Brooks, might be looking for a new challenge. Feeling the aches and pains after a long hunt or a rodeo, he realizes he isn't getting any younger. He looks around and sees the young cowboys with lightening speed out of the chute, or the new country acts with their squealing teenage fans, and because he's a regular guy he wonders: have I lost a step? Will I keep playing these same songs forever?
"When you talk aobut my 'classic hits', that's kinda scary," he says. "I'm just glad that I've been fortunate to have a few hits. There are very few songs that I wish I hadn't cut, so I pretty much enjoy doing all of them." And his favorite? "Of all the songs I've recorded, 'Amarillo By Morning' always sticks out in my mind."
Go listen to "Amarillo By Morning", and you've got a window into the heart of a sure bet for the Country Music Hall of Fame. It is the wistful tale of Texas cowboy who has lost everything but his freedom, and because he has that - and another rodeo at dawn - he feels rich beyond measure.
George Strait isn't looking for new challenges or worrying about his orbital path in Music City's universe. That's why he is 2,000 miles and many worlds away, far from TV cameras, concert grosses and image making. As the hard-working folks of South Texas know, life has a way of leading you back to the things that are important. The King of Country Music knows that the songs he sings are true.
Tomorrow, there's a rodeo.
Country Weekly, 2001
One Night At A Time
How George strait's storybook marriage has withstood the test - and the temptation - of timeTwenty Years ago in San Marcos, Texas, a struggling George Strait decided to pack it in. He was sick of the road, tired of the honky-tonks and fed up with being broke. George and His Ace In The Hole Band had slaved in a slew of Texas beer joints on their way to becoming regional favorites. But national fame seemed out of reach, and every demo recording George sent to the Nashville record labels ended up in the reject pile.
George, then 27, felt time was running out. Tired of hearing "no," he said "yes" to a position with a ranch equipment company in Uvalde, Texas.
"I didn't want to be 40 or 50 years old and still playing clubs," relates George in his easygoing Texas drawl. "I didn't feel like I was making any progress, and I actually gave the band notice at one point. I began to have doubts about my abilities."
But one woman had no doubts. The great love of George's life - his wife, Norma - refused to let him give up.
They'd been married since 1971, and were high school sweethearts before that. Norma, who knew the shy man of few words better than anyone, noticed that something was not quite right just days before he was to report for work at the equipment company.
"George was moping around the house so much I couldn't stand it," Norma recalls. "I figured I didn't want to live in Uvalde with him like that. We talked about his hopes in music, and I wanted him to give it one more try. He decided he would give it another year. We called the people who had hired him and said this was something we just had to do."
That "one more try" paid off - big time. And today, with 36 No. 1 singles and a current h it, "Go On," under his belt, George is country's No. 1 current hit maker.
But it's easy to see who's No. 1 in George's life. In an industry known for disposable relationships and quickie divorces, he has traveled a constant path with Norma. They'll celebrate their 29th anniversary on December 4.
It's a love story that began at Pearsall High School in Texas. Young George was unsure of what he wanted in life - but he already had the who figured out. Her name was Norma Voss, a petite blonde two years his junior.
"Norma was the first girl I ever loved," George reveals with his trademark grin. "We knew each other forever, growing up in a small town. I never really even thought anything about her, but then one day I asked her out and we went on a date.
"We didn't see each other for a long time after that. Then one day, I thought, 'I'm missing the boat here,' and we started dating again."
Young love proved too strong to contain. The small-town sweethearts followed their hearts - quickly. They ran off to Mexico and married shortly after George graduated from Pearsall High. Then in December 1971, to please their parents, they re-tied the knot with a "proper" wedding.
The love struck couple started planning their future while George was stationed in the Army in Hawaii. He had formed a group that entertained on base, and as the act grew in popularity, starry-eyed visions of life as a country singer sprouted right along. "I remember Norma and I would lie awake sometimes, dreaming about how it could be," recalls George.
They chased the dream in hardscrabble fashion. After his discharge, George and Norma moved back to Texas with baby daughter Jenifer in tow.
George became a college student by day at Southwest Texas State in San Marcos, and a honky-tonk singer at night. He and Norma lived in a small duplex near the university.
"I was able to go to school on the G.I. Bill, so that gave me some extra money," explains George. "That gave me the opportunity to pursue country music as a career. But Norma and I weren't by any means getting rich. We were really just getting by."
Their fortunes changed in 1981. Erv Woolsey, who ran San Marcos' Praire Rose nightclub where George performed, helped the singer land his record deal with MCA. (Woolsey remains George's manager to this day - another relationship to which George remains unwaveringly faithful.)
With his 1981 debut single, "Unwound," George was hailed a a leader in country's back-to-roots movement. The up-tempo tune landed in the Top 10.
"Unwound spun a tale of love that went slipping away to a toe-tapping tune. The payoff line - That woman that I had wrapped around my finger just come unwound - told the whole story. But it wasn't George's story.
"I think a lot of honky-tonkers out there can relate to that," he once commented. "I'm sure it's happened to a lot of people. But not to me."
In fact, in George and Norma's nearly 30 years of marital bliss, there's never been a hint of separation. And any possibility of straying on the road? Forget about it. But not that opportunity hasn't knocked.
From the time George became a bona fide superstar in 1984, female fans across the nation have fallen for his handsome looks and his quiet charismatic charm. "I don't think much of myself as a sex symbol," confesses unassuming George, chuckling at the notion.
Norma is just as cool with all the attention. "I don't know what it is, " she says, giggling. "But it's good for us."
Most artists' wives aren't so understanding. They know that temptations lie in every crack and corner, a reality that has led to the demise of many a country music marriage.
George admits, "It concerned us both at one time. There I was out on the road where there are plenty of women, and Norma would be at home."
So ... the secret to their romantic success?
"We have managed to keep everything under control," explains George. "Because whatever happens on the stage, it's not me when I'm off the stage. We've coped with the fact that the George Strait onstage is just an image.
"Norma has always been very supportive," he continues. "Success is something she always wanted for me - because she knew how bad I wanted it."
Now George has everything he could possibly want - a superstar career balanced with a normal family life. Along the way they had two children: Jenifer, who died in a tragic 1986 car accident, and George Jr., today a student at Texas A&M University.
George smiles as he recalls the fateful day Norma convinced him to keep plugging. "I was going to quit singing altogether, and then Norma talked me out of goin' to that job in Uvalde," he says softly.
"She has been right there with me the whole time - the good times, the bad times, all of it."
By Bob Paxman Country Weekly