Born on May 18, 1952, in Poteet, TX; son of a high school math teacher; married Norma Voss; children: Jennifer (deceased), George, Jr. Education: Bachelor's degree in agriculture, Southwest Texas State University, 1978. Addresses: Record company--MCA Records, 70 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, CA 91608. Fan club--P.O. Box 2119, Hendersonville, TN 37077, (615) 824-7176. Website--George Strait Official Website: http://www.georgestrait.com.
A vocalist blessed with good looks and a vibrant personality, George Strait has dominated the country music scene since the early 1980s. Strait was on the verge of quitting the entertainment business in favor of a job in agriculture when he managed to wrangle a contract with MCA Records. Since then he has arguably been MCA's biggest pure country performer with more than 57 million albums sold. Of his more than 30 albums, 26 have been platinum-certified, meaning they sold more than 1 million copies each.
Strait's work is classic country and honky tonk--the kind of fiddle and pedal steel guitar-laced music that has been called "country" since the days of Hank Williams and Ernest Tubb. To quote Montgomery Brower in People magazine, Strait's "throwback blend of lilting guitar licks, keening fiddles, plaintive pedaled steel and taut, lonesome cowboy vocals has put him in the vanguard of country music's counterrevolutionaries, those performers who have refused to abandon old-time simplicity for Nashville slick." Strait has never--and probably will never--set his sights on a crossover hit. According to Andrew Vaughan in Who's Who in New Country Music, the clean-cut Strait has proved "that country roots [are] still preferable, even in the age of compact disc."
Strait was born on May 18, 1952, in Poteet, Texas, but grew up in Pearsall. He was the second of three children of a high school math teacher. His childhood on a small Texas ranch was rather conventional, and like most teenagers in the 1960s, he gravitated to rock music and thought little of country. After high school Strait tried college, but he dropped out, married his high school sweetheart, and joined the U.S. Army. Only then did he begin to respond to the music of the artists who have become his idols--George Jones, Merle Haggard, and Hank Williams.
Strait was stationed at the Schofield Barracks in Hawaii in 1973 as part of his military service. While there he auditioned for an Army-sponsored country-and-western band and was made lead singer. The band entertained at Army functions, presenting hours of Jones and Haggard songs, and gradually Strait's style began to echo that of his favorite country stars. When he was discharged from the Army, Strait formed his own band in Texas and continued to perform. The singer told Vaughan that he never really tried to be original when he did club work. "When you're a local act, and you're doing Merle Haggard and George Jones songs, people want you to sound like the records. So that's what you do; you sing like Merle or George and pretty soon that's just the way you sing."
The prospects did not seem brilliant for Strait and his band, despite their popularity in Texas. Several trips to Nashville in pursuit of a recording contract came to nothing, so Strait returned to college and earned a degree in agriculture. He was just on the verge of accepting a job with a firm that manufactured ranch equipment when his wife persuaded him to give Nashville one more try. With the help of a former MCA promotions man, Erv Woolsey, Strait managed to arrange a recording session with the MCA label. One of the songs from that first session, "Unwound," went to number four on the country charts. MCA was quick to sign Strait after that, and Woolsey became his manager.
Hardly a month has passed since 1981 in which a George Strait song has not appeared somewhere on the country top 100. Indeed, Brower suggested that Strait "has ridden the ... country singles chart like a broncobuster with Krazy Glue on his jeans." Strait's albums are almost always guaranteed to be a hit. Though he generally does not write his own material, he is a whiz at choosing which songs to perform off of demo tapes. In April of 1998, One Step at a Time debuted at number one on the country album charts, and in May, Strait got his fifty-fifth top ten single when "I Just Want to Dance With You" moved to number seven. Strait does not describe himself as a talented songwriter, although he has written a few original compositions. Instead he is able to find songs that are right for him and a core of backup musicians who play with him exclusively. In People, Brower described Strait's sound as "hot as a fresh-baked cathead biscuit." His 1995 release Strait Out of the Box is among country's best-selling boxed sets.
In the days when "crossover hit" was on everyone's lips in Nashville, Strait had the courage to resist the glitz. He stuck to his strengths--honky tonk and heartache--and won fans with his impeccable appearance and pine-fresh voice. Some critics scoffed, calling him a "yuppie-billy," but Strait made no apologies for his style. "If you start messing around with changing yourself," he told People, "you'll end up screwing up." By the mid-1980s Strait was playing more than 250 live appearances per year. He told Newsweek: "Everywhere I go, people tell me, 'Keep it country--don't change it.'" An article by Ryan Craig on the University Wire claimed that even into 1998, Strait did not stray from the formula, explaining that his album One Step at a Time contained the usual kind of country song that "reaches in and rips out your heart, kicking it around on the ground. You know, the good stuff." Craig added, "It's like that old joke: what would you get if you play a country song backwards? You'd get your trailer, truck, and wife back and your mamma wouldn't be in prison." Strait is not, however, a scruffy rough-rider: David Gates in Newsweek called the singer "clean-cut, almost preppy" and compared the atmosphere at his concerts--with their legions of swooning women waving undergarments--to those of the late crooner Frank Sinatra.
Strait has also not succumbed to the Nashville tendency to make a star's life an open book. Offstage he is intensely private, living on a secluded ranch in San Marcos, Texas, with his wife, Norma, and son, George, Jr, who is nicknamed "Bubba." (Their daughter, Jennifer, died in a car crash in 1986.) A dedicated husband and father, Strait has been known to fly his family from their home to meet his tour bus at various locations around the country. And in April of 1998, he announced that he would introduce a new approach to touring in order to be able to spend more time at home. Though his 1996 concert attendance broke records set by Hank Williams, Sr., Elvis Presley, and himself, he began a national tour in 1998 that saw him only performing on weekends. He also planned to be done by summer so that he could get back to the ranch full-time. The arrangement increased touring costs and cut down on ticket receipts, but Strait was willing to make the sacrifice. He continued to do well regardless: the first four spring dates sold out, drawing between 44,000 and 63,000 fans. Other dates were near sell-outs, even in cities like Detroit, where promoters were not aware that country was so popular. Though his large stadium shows boasted five video screens, Strait remained true to his style. "You're not going to see George spit fire or blood; you're not going to see him on strings flying across the stage," commented tour promoter Louis Messina in the Los Angeles Times. "It's all about the music and what he represents. If you're a George Strait fan, it's pure country."
In addition to releasing One Step at a Time during the 1990s, Strait also released Lead On, Blue Clear Sky, Carrying Your Love with Me, and Always Never the Same. The early 2000s saw the release of George Strait and The Road Less Traveled. During the late 1990s, Strait founded the George Strait Music Festival, which features a collection of artists on a Lollapalooza-like tour. Strait made his silver screen debut with a starring role in a film called Pure Countryin 1992. The singer's album of the same name had become one of Strait's most successful studio records.
Strait's greatest ambition is to see himself enshrined one day in the Country Music Hall of Fame. The interest in country traditionalism has given him a good chance of achieving that goal. Vaughan wrote that when the history of country music is written, "Strait's albums will rank alongside Haggard, Patsy Cline and George Jones. His voice is pure old-time country, the band, rough and rural but as good as any hand-picked Nashville session band, and Strait himself may just be the finest country music performer since Hank Williams."
Strait's phenomenal record sales suggest he is indeed one of country's all-time finest. As of 2003, Strait had produced 30 gold-certified albums, meaning they had sold at least 500,000 copies each. Of those 30, 26 were platinum-certified, meaning they had sold more than one million copies each. Fans line up not only for his records, but also for his concerts. In 2002, Strait teamed with Jo Dee Messina for 24 shows, grossing more than $19.6 million. In 2003, he played at 19 arena venues, grossing $13.8 million.
In 2003, Strait delivered his 31st album, Honkytonkville. As the name suggests, the album harkened back to his jukebox roots. "It's hard to imagine anyone doing it better," Alanna Nash wrote in Entertainment Weekly in critiquing the album. "Behind the new songs that evoke the neon angst of Twitty and Jones, there's a singer of Sinatra-ish elegance, especially on 'Tell Me Something Bad About Tulsa.'" The album included a great mix of traditional country heartbreak, as well as a gospel tune, called "I Found Jesus on the Jailhouse Floor." In addition, "Four Down and Twelve Across" was a little lighter, with Strait singing lyrics lifted from the pages of a newspaper lifestyles section, referring to dishwashing soap and Dear Abby.
Strait has not tired of the music business, though he has been involved in it for more than 30 years. His favorite part is choosing songs for his albums. Strait is not a gifted songwriter; the bulk of his songs are written by others. He does, however, have a knack for noticing a song's potential. Listening to demos for songs is his favorite part of the process. "It's kind of like hunting Easter eggs," he told USA Today's Brian Mansfield. "When you find it, you really feel like you've done something."
In October 2004, Strait treated fans to a compilation titled 50 Number Ones, which contains 51 tracks on two CDs. As the title suggests, 50 of them are Strait's previous Billboard hits, including "The Chair" and "I Can Still Make Cheyenne." By the time 2005 rolled around, the compilation had sold 62 million albums. Interestingly enough, the new track on the CD, "I Hate Everything," also became a chart-topper, giving Strait his 51st number one hit--the most by any artist in any genre in music history. It is a record that may stand the test of time.
by Anne Janette Johnson
George Strait's Career
Country singer, 1973-; joined the U.S. Army, 1971; began singing with an Army band during military service in Hawaii; formed Ace in the Hole Band after discharge, 1975; signed with MCA Records, 1981; had first top-ten country hit, "Unwound," 1981; began George Strait Country Music Festival, late 1990; released retrospective CD, 50 Number Ones, 2004.
George Strait's Awards
Academy of Country Music, Male Vocalist of the Year, 1984-85, 1988, 1997, Album of the Year for Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind?, 1985, and for Carrying Your Love with Me, 1997, Entertainer of the Year, 1989, Top Male Country Vocalist of the Year, 1991, Tex Ritter Award for Single of the Year for "Pure Country," 1993, Single of the Year for "Check Yes or No," 1996, Male Vocalist of the Year and Album of the Year for Blue Clear Sky, 1997; American Music Awards, Top Male Country Vocalist, 1991, Favorite Country Album for Blue Clear Sky, 1996; ASCAP Voice of Music Award, 1995; Billboard magazine, Male Album Artist of the Year, 1981, Male Single Artist of the Year, 1983, Male Vocalist of the Year, 1984, Top Male Artist and Overall Top Artist, 1986, Number One Top Country Artist of the Year, 1987, Hot Country Singles and Tracks Artist, 1995-96, and Top Male Country Artist and Overall Top Artist, 1996; Country Music Association, Male Vocalist of the Year and Album of the Year for Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind?, 1985; Male Vocalist of the Year, 1986, Entertainer of the Year, 1989-90, Album of the Year for Blue Clear Sky, Single of the Year for "Check Yes or No," Male Vocalist of the Year, all 1996, Album of the Year, Male Vocalist of the Year, 1997, Vocal Event of the Year (with Alan Jackson), 2000; Country Music Television/The Nashville Network, Song of the Year, Single of the Year, and Collaborative Event of the Year (with Alan Jackson), for "Murder on Music Row," as well as Impact Award and Entertainer of the Year, all 2001; National Medal of Arts Award (given by President George W. Bush) and Induction into the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame, 2003.
- Selected discography
- Strait Country , MCA, 1981.
- Strait From the Heart , MCA, 1982.
- Right or Wrong , MCA, 1983.
- Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind? , MCA, 1984.
- George Strait's Greatest Hits , MCA, 1985.
- Something Special , MCA, 1986.
- Number 7 , MCA, 1986.
- Merry Christmas Strait to You , MCA, 1986.
- Ocean Front Property , MCA, 1987.
- George Strait's Greatest Hits, Volume 2 , MCA, 1987.
- If You Ain't Lovin', You Ain't Livin ', MCA, 1988.
- Beyond the Blue Neon , MCA, 1989.
- Livin' It Up , MCA, 1990.
- Chill of an Early Fall , MCA, 1991.
- Pure Country , MCA, 1992.
- Holding My Own , MCA, 1992.
- Easy Come Easy Go , MCA, 1993.
- Strait Out of the Box (compilation), MCA, 1995.
- Lead On , MCA, 1994.
- Blue Clear Sky , MCA, 1996.
- Carrying Your Love with Me , MCA, 1997.
- One Step at a Time , MCA, 1998.
- Always Never the Same , MCA, 1999.
- Merry Christmas Wherever You Are , MCA, 1999.
- George Strait , MCA, 2000.
- The Road Less Traveled , MCA, 2001.
- 20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection
November 15, 2005: Strait shared the Country Music Association award for vocal event of the year with Lee Ann Womack, for "Good News, Bad News". Source: CMA Awards, www.cmaawards.com/2005/nomWin/, November 16, 2005.
- Newsmakers 1998, Issue 3, Gale Group, 1998.
- St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, St. James Press, 2000.
- Vaughan, Andrew, Who's Who in New Country Music, St. Martin's, 1989.
- Entertainment Weekly, April 19, 2002, p. 36; June 20, 2003, p. 73.
- Los Angeles Times, April 22, 1998, p. F2.
- Newsweek, January 9, 1984.
- People, June 3, 1985; April 12, 2004, p. 108; December 13, 2004, p. 49.
- University Wire, May 6, 1998.
- USA Today, June 12, 2003.
- "George Strait," George Strait website, http://www.georgestrait.com (January 28, 2005).
- "George Strait: Biography," Country.com, http://artist.cmt.com/cmt/art/search/art.bios.jhtml?ai_id=150201 (June 11, 2002).
- George Strait Official Website, http://www.georgestrait.com (July 27, 2002).