George Strait - New Face To Watch

First published in Country Music People, January 1982

George Strait: The ex-Texas Rancher with the pure country sound.

The way things are happening in country music, it would appear that Texas, or maybe it should be Texans, are set to take over Nashville. Singers, songwriters and musicians from the Lone Star State are beginning to really dominate the music. This, of course, is nothing new. Texans have always played a major role in country, but now there seems to be more of them than ever before making their mark on the music.

The latest Texan to set the country scene alight is 29-year-old George Strait, who broke into the country charts in May with Unwound, his first single for a major label, and one that made it high into the top ten.

Unwound’s fresh, traditional influence and Strait’s honest vocal performance gave the unknown singer instant credibility with country fans. His music relies on a clean, fiddle-dominated swing line, reminiscent of conventional Texas arrangements. The first time I heard the single I was forced to sit up and take notice. I thought at the time that George Strait was destined to be a one-hit wonder, but having played his debut album, naturally titled STRAIT COUNTRY, literally dozens of times, I’m convinced that he is set to become one the major country talents of the 1980s.

Before he signed with MCA Records in February, Strait had seriously considered giving up music. He has been working at a musical career for the past ten years without any notable success. Six years ago he formed his own band, Ace In The Hole, and together they had worked every beer-joint and honky-tonk throughout Texas.

It was through his friendship with Erv Woolsey, MCA’s vice-president of promotion, that George finally got his big break. He had met Woolsey several years previously down in Texas and they had kept in touch. The promotion man had shown interest in George’s music, so the singer tried once more to gain a recording contract before packing it all in and taking a job building cattle auction barns.

Woolsey decided to give George a chance—just one single—and if it clicked, a full recording contract. He came up to Nashville and met up with producer Blake Mevis, another newcomer trying to make his mark in country music. They went into the studios with a bunch of talented session players, including Sonny Garrish on steel, Fed Newell on lead guitar, Buddy Spicher on fiddle, and guitarists Jimmy Capps, Jerry Shook, Dave Kirby and Bobby Thompson.

They emerged with one of the finest 'country' singles of the year. The success of Unwound forced George to abandon his cattle-ranching duties in Texas in favour of a full-time recording and singing career. With his Ace In The Hole band he ventured out of Texas for the first time as an entertainer, whipping up rave reviews at the Fan Fair in Nashville, and following up with a highly successful tour with fellow Texan Ray Price. 

George Strait is, to put it succinctly, an extraordinary guy. Brought up on a ranch, and so tall he must be nearly on nodding terms with giraffes, he’s as ungainly as a rugby team on an ice-rink. Yet he is a natural on stage, singing his own distinctive blend of country music. 

Country music surrounded his upbringing, and with his inflections and straightforward approach to his music, it’s easy to see why he cites Hank Williams, Bob Wills and Merle Haggard as his strongest influences. His debut album, which is destined to become a country music landmark, was released in September, and is one of the most talked about albums for months.

There’s some of the finest straight country music you’re likely to hear, highlighted for me by several Dean Dillon songs like Friday Night Fever, Her Goodbye Hit Me In The Heart and I Get Along With You. But rather than waste words, I just recommend that you take a listen for yourself, and discover George Strait, the best new country voice to emerge in quite some time.