George Strait remains the gold standard for country music purity
Once upon a time, the man who would be king declared: “I want to reach the point where people hear my name and immediately think of real country music.”
Since then, that goal has been checked off his bucket list because George Strait, who is widely acknowledged as the “king of country,” and is the genre’s foremost neo-traditionalist, has far exceeded that point.
Should you require statistical backup, well, just tell us when to stop: recorded the most No. 1 songs—61 of them—and top five songs in the history of music of any kind; only artist in any genre to have a top 10 hit every year for 30 years; named top country music artist of the past 25 years in 2010 by Billboard magazine; and as a touring performer, Strait earned Billboard’s Legend of Live accolade in 2013, honoring the concert industry’s most bankable star based on chart and box-office numbers.
Consider those a fraction of Strait’s career distinctions. “If ever there was a natural in country music, it’s Strait,” People magazine wrote, while USA Today observed that he “continues to make such consistent quality look easy.”
All this from a Texas-born dude who first awakened to musical passions as a high school kid by performing in a rock garage band and was weaned on The Beatles. However, you can’t keep a country man down, and Strait’s tastes soon migrated to Nashville legends including Merle Haggard, Lefty Frizzell, George Jones and Hank Williams. Oh, and Frank Sinatra—because some influences transcend genre.
Though his years at Texas State University earned him a degree in agriculture, he jump-started his soon-to-be-storied career as lead performer with the Ace in the Hole Band, performing at local bars and honky-tonks. However, recognition of his talent was slow to come. Several trips to Nashville attracted exactly zero interest from record labels that thought the band’s style of Western swing was unmarketable—a theory whose veracity ranks right up with the one about the world being flat.
Yet in 1981, MCA Records relented, signing Strait for just one song, with the caveat that an album would follow if it was a hit. That tune, “Unwound,” hit No. 6 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, and his debut album, Strait Country, followed. By decade’s end, Strait had pulled off the stunning feat of recording a whopping 17 No. 1 hits, including five from 1983-’84 alone.
Accolades piled up, and the numbers proved that MCA Records—which remains Strait’s label to this day under the name MCA Nashville Records—took the right bet on the right artist. Even his relative failures yield success, such as his starring role in the 1992 film Pure Country, which barely dented the box office but featured a Strait soundtrack producing several more hits.
True to his credo, Pure County told the cautionary tale of a famous country singer who wanders too far from his musical roots—a mistake the man himself has never made.
“Traditional country music,” Strait once said, “is something that’s going to be around forever.” You couldn’t get that from a more reliable source.
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