The Songwriter Terry Stafford
Terry Stafford was born in Hollis, Oklahoma. However, he grew up in Amarillo, Texas, the city that would immortalize in his song “Amarillo By Morning.” Stafford made his first appearance in 1964 with “Suspicion.”
Stafford couldn’t find a follow-up to his big record, He soon faded from the rock music scene, but he didn’t get out of the business. The former singer not only wrote for other acts but worked in films and television as an actor. In 1969, Buck Owens took Stafford’s “Big In Vegas” up the charts. Then Stafford began to think about returning to his roots. By 1973 he had signed a country record deal with the Atlantic label and was trying to make his mark in Nashville.
Working with Paul Fraser with the Composition
Meanwhile, another old rocker, Paul Fraser, was offered a chance to earn a draw from songwriting. He took the job and in the process, he teamed up with Terry Stafford to write songs. One night, Stafford was watching television and a commercial for a delivery service came on. The commercial’s tag-line is what got his attention. The delivery service guaranteed that it could “get your package to places like Amarillo by the next morning.” Terry was caught up in the phrase he decided to write a song around that concept.
Minutes later, Stafford called Fraser and told him about his new idea. They decided to meet the next morning and devote some time to it, but Paul couldn’t wait that long. The lyrics started to come to him immediately and he sat down at his kitchen table and wrote the whole thing in about an hour. The next morning, Fraser presented Terry with the finished number. He liked it, and within weeks Terry Stafford’s recording of “Amarillo By Morning” was on the market.
Here’s Terry Stafford’s version of the song. Listen and tell us in the comments section what you think about the original version of the song.
Unbeknownst to Stafford and Fraser was that the song had remained a huge favorite down in Texas long after it left the national charts. Bands in the Lone Star state were playing the song night after night in most of the clubs and dance halls.
History in the Making, the Story of King George’s Success
One of those who heard the fans’ requests for “Amarillo By Morning” each night was a young man from Pearsall, Texas. George Strait had learned to play guitar while serving a stint in the Army in the early 1970s. King George formed his ‘Ace In The Hole’ band while still in school. They quickly earned a solid reputation throughout Southeast Texas. Playing only Texas music, George and his company were producing a sound that was nothing like what was being generated by Nashville at the time. Their act soon caught the attention of the man who had given George Jones his first break. Pappy Dailey owned a Houston record label. George cut a song called “Ace In The Hole for Dailey’s “D Records.”
The record did well in Texas but when Nashville failed to notice, George considered leaving music for good. After making the decision to abandon his dream of a musical career, George started preparing for a return to ranching. Then an old contact stepped in and changed the course of country music history.
Erv Woolsey had managed a club where George and his band once played. Now a promotions executive at MCA Records, Woolsey got George Strait an audition. Although the label questioned if this Texas swing sound would work with modern-day audiences, they still signed him. George immediately notched two top ten hits with “Unwound” and “If You’re Thinking You Want A Stranger.” By 1982, he scored the first of his record-setting forty-four No. 1 hits with “Fool Hearted Memory.”
MCA thought that George Strait would do better if he moved away from the honky-tonk swing sound that was so much a part of his stage show. But, George resisted. So a compromise was struck. If George would cut the pop-oriented “Marina Del Rey,” the label would allow the singer to record “Amarillo By Morning.” “Marina Del Rey” was released first and worked its way into the top ten, peaking at No. 6. MCA executives then waited for “Amarillo By Morning” to bomb. But, It didn’t.
The Success of “Amarillo By Morning”
“Amarillo By Morning” took a seventeen-week chart ride, rising to No. 4. In Texas, it almost became a Lone Star anthem. A host of veteran country stars stood up to applaud the number. The record’s success gave George Strait the power to fuel his career with the kind of music that he had played in his early club dates. Now every concert and recording session felt like a trip home.
Largely because of this music, the country dance craze hit nationwide. Suddenly country bands were looking for fiddle players and songs that folks could two-step to. With his old-fashioned country sound, George Strait would lead the way and become one of country music’s most consistent draws for the next three decades. And the irony of it was that “Amarillo By Morning,” the song that had so much to do with bringing the Texas sound back, had been written by a couple of old rockers and inspired by a commercial. You have to wonder if it all would have happened the way it did if Terry Stafford hadn’t thought so much about a package that absolutely had to be in Amarillo by morning.