Dubbed as the “King of Country,” George Strait rings a bell when it comes to country music. In fact, he is one of the most influential and famous artists of all time. Serving a career of over 50 years, he is an artist who deserves to be reckoned with.
King George, as he is popularly called, is well-known for his neotraditionalist country style, mixing the traditional country sound with the elements of contemporary music. Also, he was among the few country artists who brought country music back to its roots.
One of the most distinguished feats ever achieved by him was when he broke Conway Twitty‘s previous record for the most number one hits on the Billboard Hot Country Songs in 2009. He surpassed Twitty’s 40 number ones with his 44 smash hits. In addition, he amassed a total of 60 number one hits, making him the artist to have the most number one songs in any genre of music.
With all these, there is no doubt that George Strait truly deserves to be known for everything he has achieved for true country music. Pure country it is!
The Birth of a Superstar
Born on May 18, 1952, George Harvey Strait Sr., more popularly known as George Strait, is a native of Poteet, Texas. His father was John Byron Strait Sr. and his mother, Doris Jean Couser.
Growing up, George had a colorful childhood as his father was a junior high school mathematics teacher and they own cattle ranch that was 2,000 acres in area. On the weekends and in the summers, George and everyone in the family worked at the ranch. Unfortunately, his parents got divorced when he was I fourth grade. His mother moved away with his sister, Pency. Meanwhile, George and his older brother John Jr. were left with their father.
While attending Pearsall High School, George started his interest in music. In fact, he played in a rock and roll garage band. During that time, The Beatles were big and famous. He even confirmed their popularity and affirmed that they became one of his influences.
“The Beatles were big. I listened to them a lot and that whole bunch of groups that were popular then.”
Soon, his musical preference switched to country as he was influenced by the big names in country music. Admittedly, he considers the legendary singers like Hank Thompson, Lefty Frizzell, Merle Haggard, George Jones, and Hank Williams influencing his style.
George’s break in country music was a little bit rough. While most artists started by airing on the radios, George got his introduction by mostly live performances. As a matter of fact, according to him, it could be heard in every town in Texas.
His Marriage and Joining the U.S. Army
In 1971, George eloped with his high school sweetheart, Norma. Eventually, they got married on December 4, 1971, in Mexico. Not long ago after the couple tied the knot, Strait entered the United States Army. As a part of the 25th Infantry Division, he was stationed at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii. There, he started performing Rambling Country, a U.S. Army-sponsored band. He played off-base using the name “Santee.”
On October 6, 1972, while George still in Hawaii, Norma gave birth to their first child and named it Jenifer.
In 1975, he was honorably discharged from the Army. He then enrolled at Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos and graduated with a degree in Agriculture.
His Rise to Stardom
The ‘70s was a break for George’s talent. While in college, he took part in a country band known as Stoney Ridge. When he finally took over the band, he changed its name to Ace in the Hole Band. He became the lead singer and started performing at different honky-tonks and bars across South and Central Texas. Soon, the band caught the eyes of bigger groups, gaining a regional following. In fact, they have even opened for some national acts such as The Texas Playboys.
With this exposure, George and his band were granted the opportunity to record several singles that George himself had written. These include “That Don’t Change the Way I Feel About You” and “I Can’t Go on Dying Like This.” Unfortunately, these did not reach huge success as it received little recognition. Hence, George went back home and continued managing his family cattle ranch. This was where his main income came from.
Even though he was managing the ranch, he still continued playing with his band. One time, George met Erv Woosley whom he became friends with. Woosley operated the bars in which Ace in the Hole band played. Also, he had previously worked for the major label MCA Records. Convincing some of his Music Row (Nashville) connections, he invited them to Texas to listen to George and his band play. The guests were really impressed with the performance. However, they were concerned that the band could not market the Western Swing sound that they featured in their songs. Hence, they left without any deal.
Later, George and his band encountered several unsuccessful trips to Nashville in search of a record deal. With most turning them down, George thought of giving up music altogether. A different job was offered to him and it was designing cattle pens. He took the job and paved his way to his band to tell them that he was leaving. However, his wife, Norma, convinced him to give music a shot for one more year.
In 1981, MCA Records finally signed Strait to a recording contract. Initially, the deal was for him to record only one song. If it did well, the label would then reconsider doing him an album. Together with George, the Ace in the Hole band stayed, performed backup and toured with him.
His Career Peak: The Road to Success
While the previous decade was rough for him and his band, the ‘80s gave George the chance of a lifetime. In the spring of 1981, George finally got to release his first ever single for MCA. It was called “Unwound.” After its release, it immediately charted and peaked at no. 6 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs that year. With its success, MCA granted him to record his debut album, Strait Country.
The album was then considered by music critics as a traditionalist breakthrough. It broke the trend of the pop-influenced country that became prevalent during that time.
In 1982, George released his second album, Strait from the Heart, which was critically acclaimed. The album featured “Fool Hearted Memory,” his first no. 1 single of his career. Also included on the album was his cover of Terry Stafford’s 1973 single “Amarillo by Morning.” His rendition became very popular and in fact, many fans associate the song to him. To note, the song went to no. 5 on the chart.
Moreover, George first appeared at the Houston Livestock Show Rodeo in 1983. His surprise appearance on the show was due to the headlining star, Eddie Rabbitt, being sick with flu. George was then pulled out to do the show instead of Rabbitt. Since then, George was invited to become a mainstay. He has already made more than 20 appearances at the Rodeo, performing to more than a million fans.
The following years became in favor of George. This decade was the flourish of his career. He eventually got to release 17 subsequent no. 1 hits, including a string of five that went on for two years. With this accomplishment, the Country Music Association (CMA) awarded him the Top Male Vocalist of the Year award.
George was unstoppable as he got to release a series of no. 1 singles almost every year. Sadly, he and his family were struck with tragedy. His 13-year-old daughter, Jenifer, was killed in a car accident. During that time, she was riding in a Ford Mustang driven by Gregory Wilson Allen.
The investigation executed by the Texas Department of Public Safety revealed the cause of the accident.
“The responding trooper determined the cause of the accident to be excessive speed and that the car did not negotiate the turn properly. Jenifer was riding in the front passenger seat, and none of the four occupants was wearing seatbelts at the time. When the vehicle flipped over onto its passenger’s side, Jenifer was partially ejected, killing her on impact.”
With this, Allen, the driver, was subsequently charged with a Class A misdemeanor for vehicular homicide.
Despite this unfortunate incident, George continued to performing earning his 11th straight no. 1 hit by the end of the decade. In addition, he became the CMA Entertainer of the Year in 1989. Interestingly, he again earned the award the following year.
For the next two decades (the 1990s & 2000s), George continued to display his unequaled talent. These decades saw the rise of new, contemporary artists. Country music went on to be a fusion of the traditional and contemporary sound. This era became known as the “neotraditional sound” in country music.
King George’s Bests
For more than 50 years of his career, Strait has released a plethora of tunes that truly represent what “pure country is.” As such, these songs are worth performing and listening to. However, it would take us a long list to include all of them here. Hence, the author has chosen only ten from his biggest hits that have given him a mark in the music industry.
“I Cross My Heart”
“All My Ex’s Live in Texas”
“Amarillo by Morning”
“I Just Want to Dance with You”
“Love Without End, Amen”
“One Night at a Time”
“I Hate Everything”
Recognition & Accolades
It is very interesting to know that George Strait is just one of the few artists to have distinctly marked his name in the music industry for achieving a plethora of awards.
He holds the record for most number one albums and singles in the history of country music. In addition, he has also the record for having the most number of gold, platinum, and multi-platinum albums in country music. Furthermore, he ranks 11th in the most number one albums in all other genres. George ranks only 3rd behind Elvis Presley and The Beatles with the most gold and platinum albums in all of the history of music. Ultimately, he has been certified as the 12th best-selling artist in American history. So far, his career recorded a massive 70-million sales.
Moreover, George is also the artist who has recorded the most number 1 songs and top five songs in the history of music of any kind. Also, he is the only artist to have a top ten hit every year for 30 years.
George also amassed a total of 22 CMA Awards. This includes two consecutive Entertainer of the Year awards which were granted to him in 1989 and 1990. Same honor was given to him 23 years later. To date, he is the only artist to accomplish such a feat by winning the top honor in three different decades. To add, George also holds the most CMA nominations and the most consecutively nominated artist of all time.
In 2006, he got into the Country Music Hall of Fame. During the event, he performed his then-latest no. 1 hit “Give It Away.” Also, he was the second artist (after Eddy Arnold in 1966) to have been inducted into the Hall of Fame while still actively recording and producing hit after hit and albums.
In 2008, the Academy of Country Music (ACM) Awards hailed George Strait their Artist of the Decade for the 2000s. Meanwhile, Billboard named him the top country music artist of the past 5 years in 2010.
He, together with Merle Haggard, has the most male vocalist of the year awards.
With all being said, George Strait earned the title “King of Country,” and it was all worth it, and he definitely deserves it. These accolades just prove how talented and outstanding George Strait is as an entertainer and a person as a whole.
Throughout his enormous career of ups and downs, George never lost hope of finding his true sound and he was successful finding it. No matter how hard and rough it was in the beginning, he never gave up (thanks to his wife).
While country music nowadays is slightly moving to a more pop sound, George Strait’s music is and will always be there that a country fused with a pop sound will always be what country music is.
Hail to the King of Country! Hail to King George!