Few were those backup bands that are able to gain much fame as the artists they’re playing with. Still, none could come as famous as the ‘Ace in the Hole Band’ which backed George Strait for the length of his career.
Ace in the Hole Band
Unknown to most of us, the Ace in the Hole Band came before George Strait started his career. During the early ‘70s, a group of skillful students at the Southwest Texas State University, now Texas State University, started a band and named it ‘Stoney Ridge.’ When the band members graduated in 1975, most of the members left the band. Those that remained were Ron Cabal, Mike Daily, and Terry Hale. They decided to continue their quest and created a new band that focused entirely on traditional country music.
The band needed a vocalist so they tried looking around the campus. They started passing around fliers with the message that says “country band looking for a singer” with their contact number on it. In came a young science major student, George Strait who eventually became the band’s lead.
For their debut show at the Kent Finlay’s honky-tonk Chatham Street Warehouse on October 13, 1975, the band has officially changed their name to ‘Ace in the Hole.’ After some time of mastering their skill in Central Texas, Strait started to make trips to Nashville. He was accompanied by Finlay and finally signed with MCA Records. This marked a greater beginning for both Strait and ‘Ace in the Hole.’ And even when given the chance to choose from a huge selection of musicians in Nashville, Strait still chose to go with his road warrior band.
The Key Players
Ron Cabal was one of the founding members of the band and the one who also played the guitar. He stayed with the band for 8 years before leaving the group. Sadly, Cabal passed away in a hit-and-run accident in Austin.
Another founding member was steel guitarist Mike Daily. Daily has continued to play for Strait over the years. Mike’s father, Pappy Daily, has also played a very important role in the band’s success in the early days as he arranged the band’s first few songs.
Tommy Foote, who was originally Stoney Ridge’s drummer, returned from Houston in 1975 to rejoin the new band and stayed until 1893. He stepped up as the band’s road manager and still is today.
In 1987, Mike Kennedy joined and played until his recent passing. He played the drums for 30 years before his unfortunate death due to car crash.
Another person that played a vital role during the band’s earlier days is Terry Hale, the band’s bassist. Hale remained as Strait’s bassist even to this day.
All throughout the ‘80s, the group has added some more key players including keyboardist Ronnie Huckaby, Rick McRae, and Benny McArthur on lead guitar and Gene Elders who played the fiddle. All of them played for Strait for more than 30 years.
George Strait's— A George Strait Fan (@naturalgeorge) April 20, 2015
Ace In The Hole Band pic.twitter.com/9MomOuAMEM
Where Are They Now?
The band has continued to record singles with Strait in the studio. The band even recorded some songs without Strait doing the vocals. One worth remembering was the 1994 record which featured guest vocals from the legendary Mel Tillis and Darrell McCall.
In 2015, they took off on ‘The Cowboy Rides Away‘ tour along with George Strait’s retirement. About 100,000 fans attended their last gig in June 2014. That was the highest recorded attendance for a concert.
Even with George Strait not making any tours, the ‘Ace in the Hole Band ‘has continued to do other projects. Even with some members going in and out of the line-up, they’ve developed a reputation of sticking together as a family.