Earlier this month, we revealed that George Strait, the King of Country, would grace our June cover. I won’t torture you with any fanfare; here it is: 

It’s a beaut, ain’t it? And what you’re seeing is the cover that will go out to subscribers (and the people who order a copy of the magazine here). If you buy it on the newsstands (available May 22), we adorned it with a little cover type:

The cover story, penned by senior editor John Spong, is a masterful companion to this stunning image (read an excerpt here). But almost equally enjoyable is the tale of how the cover was made. It’s no secret to the media that George Strait is an elusive subject. It’s not because he’s a diva. In fact, it’s the exact opposite—aside from performing, he’s just not one for the limelight. But this was George’s “Last Ride,” and, as John told me when I asked him what it was like to write this story, “We knew we had to do this story as big as possible. This is George Strait’s farewell tour, and there’s no chance we could do it too big.” Damn straight, so to speak.  

Now for those of you following along at home for the last 41 years, you may remember that George has appeared on Texas Monthly‘s cover twice before—October 1988 and September 1993. But our creative director, T.J. Tucker, didn’t “want this to look like any George Strait cover anyone has ever seen before.” At this point, it’s probably worth noting that T.J., a native of Baird, a small ranching town in that area of Texas we call “God’s Country,” is a HUGE Strait fan. Loving George is part of the DNA of being Texan, but growing up country in Texas means T.J.’s Strait DNA is just a little purer than most. So of course he wanted to do right by George and capture the image that would cement George’s legacy as an icon of Texas music. 

To that end, T.J. and John attended George’s farewell show in Kansas City, sort of to scout the experience for photography for the story, but mostly because they’re two big, geeked-out fans. It was toward the end of the night that T.J. saw it—the perfect shot. Soon after the show, he wrote an email to George’s people, pleading his case to memorialize that moment. 

We’d like permission and access to photograph George as he sings his final song and all of the goodbyes afterward. It was in that small window that I was moved by his clear love and respect for the fans, and his mannerisms were very revealing. This is where I noticed the hand-to-heart gesture which I think is really visually powerful. …My request is a bended-knee plea to have our own photographer photograph George. Picture George, hand to heart, with a contemplating smile, looking slightly off to the distance or down. The very thing that grabbed me when I saw him do it in KC.

George read the email. He agreed. And God bless him for that. 

(Cover photograph by Joe Pugliese.)