Strait, George (1952—)

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Strait, George (1952—)

When George Strait burst on to the national scene in 1981, he was identified with a movement in country music known as New Traditionalism, a return by young country artists to old country styles. Pop music had come to dominate the country charts during the 1970s, and Strait, along with Ricky Skaggs, Randy Travis, and others, were among the dissenters. Before long, Strait went on to become one of music's most commercially successful recording and touring artists.

Born in Poteet and raised in Pearsall, Texas, Strait and his brother lived with their father, a junior high school math teacher and part-time rancher. A true Texas cowboy, Strait helped out on the family ranch. Growing up, he ignored country music in favor of the pop music of the British Invasion of the 1960s, as did many of his peers. In high school, Strait played in a number of garage bands. After graduation, he eloped with Norma, his high-school sweetheart, and after a short flirtation with college, joined the Army in 1971. It was while he was stationed in Hawaii that he began performing country music, as a singer in a band on the base.

Strait finished his military service in 1975, and returned to Texas to study agriculture at Southwest Texas State University. It was there that Strait formed the Ace in the Hole Band, which became a big regional draw. The group released a couple of records on the Dallas-based D Records label and made several trips to Nashville, though they failed to draw the attention of anyone in the music industry there. Erv Woolsey, a Texas club owner and former record-promotions executive, saw the band one night and took an interest. In 1980, Woolsey convinced MCA to sign Strait, and eventually became and remained his manager.

Strait's first single was released in the spring of 1981, and reached the top ten. His 1982 offering "Fool Hearted Memory" was his first number-one single, and since then he has had an amazing string of chart successes, including more than 30 number-one country singles. Every album he has released since 1981's Strait Country (more than 20 in all) has been certified gold or platinum. He holds many concert box-office records, having mounted some of the most successful United States concert tours in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1992, he made his silver screen debut with a starring role in a film called Pure Country. In 1995, MCA released a four-disc career retrospective called Strait out of the Box, which became one of the best-selling box sets in country-music history.

Though country music has become increasingly more pop since the 1980s, Strait seldom strays too far from Texas honky-tonk and the shuffle beat of western swing. He has successfully negotiated the line between commercial and traditional for quite some time. He is a song stylist, greatly influenced by Merle Haggard, known for his subtle phrasing and supple vocals. His style is evocative of such classic country singers as Lefty Frizzell and Ray Price. Though he is not a songwriter, he has proven his skills in song selection. His glitter-free cowboy-hat-and-denim fashion style has helped to spawn a legion of faceless "hat acts" in country music over the years, but Strait has an understated and elegant presence, existing in stark contrast to the bombastic style of Garth Brooks, country music's other giant male country superstar.

—Joyce Linehan

Further Reading:

Bego, Mark. George Strait: The Story of Country's Living Legends. New York, Kensington Books, 1997.

Cantwell, David. George Strait. New York, Boulevard Books, 1996.

Sgammato, Jo. Keepin' It Country: The George Strait Story. New York, Ballantine Books, 1998.