I typically abhor overused expressions, but these days I find that I’m turning to one old adage for comfort: “all good things must come to an end.” The King of Country, Mr. George Strait, is currently on the final leg of his farewell tour, “The Cowboy Rides Away,” a 47-date odyssey that finishes, fittingly enough, in Texas on June 7.
Few musicians have enjoyed the success and popularity Strait has—and fewer still deserve it as much as Strait does. To commemorate his grand exit from the touring stage, Texas Monthly senior editor John Spong, who has been a Strait fan for more than thirty years, has written a heartfelt profile of the legendary country star for our upcoming June issue, and photographer Joe Pugliese has taken some handsome portraits to illustrate our cover (the above photo is an outtake—if you can call it that—from the cover shoot).
It’s not every issue that we anticipate will be hard to keep on the newsstands (sorry, Ted), but the allure of Strait—whether that be staring a little longer at his Wrangler ads or singing along unabashedly to “Right or Wrong” when it plays on the jukebox—typically proves too hard to resist. To that end, I suggest you pre-order a reserved copy (and maybe a copy for your cousin who kept a cardboard cut-out likeness of George Strait in her apartment and referred to him, somewhat seriously, as her boyfriend). This commemorative issue promises to be as timeless as the lyrics to my personal favorite GS song, “You Look So Good in Love.”
And to further whet the appetite, an excerpt from Spong’s upcoming piece:
George Strait’s eyes are green, somewhere between the color of a Granny Smith apple and pool table felt. He’s got the bright white, worry-free smile of a country club golf pro, somebody who makes his living flirting with older women. His face is quietly handsome and friendly, and he usually looks like he’s enjoying himself. His expression often suggests he’s open to a little mischief, nothing too dramatic, maybe a beer or two too many. He’ll always leave room to charm his way out of trouble. In truth, none of that is too terribly extraordinary. He probably reminds you of someone you had a crush on or looked up to in high school.
So move onto his music. In the thirty-three years he’s been a major label recording artist, he’s released twenty-seven studio albums, every one a collection of old-fashioned, meat and potatoes country music. The songs are barroom weepers and cheaters, balanced with story songs about true love, family and faith. He delivers them with a warm, expressive voice that is more comfortable than remarkable, keeping to the straightforward style of Merle Haggard, rather than the vocal acrobatics of George Jones or vibrato of Ray Price. The melodies are often poppy and sometimes they swing, but they always come dressed in fiddle and steel guitar.
Those sounds were distinctly out of favor when Strait started recording in 1981. As that decade wore on, he managed to pull traditional country music back into vogue, then stuck with it through every trend that has surfaced in the meanwhile. Improbably it made him the most successful singles artist in history, owner of more number one songs than any other artist in any genre—forty-four on the Billboard country chart, or if you use his publicist’s math, which adds in Mediabase’s measure of country radio airplay, an astounding sixty number ones. There’s no hyperbole in saying that his loyalty to the old sound is the single most important reason it stayed alive and on the radio.