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Farewell, King George

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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.

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  • Jan

    Very much looking forward to the entire article. The sample above is intriguing and different. So much has been written about Mr. Strait through the years, and something with a new twist is welcome. Thank you!

  • Courtney

    Great picture! Who took it?

    • Rodknee

      The second paragraph below the great picture reveals the photographer.

  • Nice Ride

    Mr.George Straight has is a class act and should be the opitomy of every musician/entertainer.

  • Big Dog9MM

    Long live the king….

  • Ampitup87

    Man George Straight it’s sad to read that you will no longer be singing. I have listened to you for a very long time and I even drew a photo of you. I hope I can get to meet you and have you sign the photo I drew of you! May your ride be pleasant and smoothe and hope many great and wonderful years of laying back and taking it easy! Signed one of your biggest fans!

    Ashley Payton-Polcyn

  • Jim C

    Back in the 80’s, just after one of his CMEof the Year awards, George did a concert in Nacogdoches at SFA. I have a son, Sean, who is mentally handicapped, but he had
    no handicaps when it came to operating the tape player with George’s songs. We managed to get tickets for the concert. My wife was bold; so she wrote to George’s personal manage (Irb Woolsey?) In return she received a backstage pass for our son to meet George before the concert.
    When my son got to the meeting, he was so excited. It was a private meeting- just Sean and George. They talked for ten of those valuable pre-concert minutes. Our one snapshot of Sean and George together will always be up front in Sean’s room.
    Needless to say, George will always be at the top of our hit artists. What a really great and humble professional. We’ll miss him!

  • Zeek

    The thing I will most remember about George Strait is his steadfast support of the Wounded Warriors. When I was at Brooke Army Medical Center, Strait did so much for our wounded and our veterans. I choke up a bit when I think about it. He lives in the Dominion area of San Antonio, and he would frequently stop in to see the troops. Great guy — the real deal.

  • Earl Meredith

    George Strait and his family lived just out side of the town of San Marcos, Tx. where I worked in the 80’s. George graduated college in San Marcos, and stayed on after college. He was known around town as a “local” and new most everone. He spent a few Saturday mornings playing basketball with old classmates in the SWTSU gym. You could run into him at the local Chevy dealer’s while waiting for his pick up to be serviced. He was the family man and the good ole neighbor you hoped he was every time you listened to his songs or saw his smile.I’ll miss him too.

  • Fletch

    Truly the greatest. His music accompanies most of my good memories from childhood.
    Thanks George.

  • rocko66

    Went to Gerorge Straight in 1984 because Chris Ledoux Was opening. Walked out halfway through his set but he now is my favorite. I love pure country. get rid of the bs and give us counrty music Straight! This new stuff sucks!

  • Heartland Patriot

    Even younger folks (who like country) like George Strait. That says something.

  • muttkat1 .

    Article scared me for a minute. I thought he had died.