It was George Strait’s party, but he was the one handing out the gifts. As MCA Records celebrated the singer’s 55 million in career album sales Thursday night (Nov. 30) with a private gathering at Nashville’s Gaylord Entertainment Center, Strait cemented his place in the new Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum by donating a stage outfit — complete with starched jeans, shirt and boots.
“Next you’ll get my underwear and socks,” Strait cracked to Kyle Young, director of the Hall of Fame.
Strait, a Texas native known for his love of steer roping, also offered up one of his championship belt buckles, custom-made spurs and a leather saddle given to him by his fan club when he won the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year award in 1989 (an honor he won again in 1990).
“These are important acquisitions,” Young said. “These items will help us tell George’s story along with stories of Lefty Frizzell, Bob Wills and so many other master craftsmen, past, present and future.”
Strait gets a first look at a new plaque marking his career album sales with MCA’s Bruce Hinton and manager Erv Woolsey.
Strait also received something to hang on his wall. MCA Records unveiled an impressively huge plaque commemorating his 55 million in album sales. Nearly every one of Strait’s albums has been certified platinum (for sales of one million) or multi-platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). His boxed set, Strait Out of the Box, has sold 7 million copies, making it the second most certified title in the MCA Nashville catalog, behind only Patsy Cline’s Greatest Hits.
“It’s breathtaking when you focus on the fact that George is the No. 1 most certified country artist of all time, with 25 platinum albums,” Hinton said.
Strait, usually not one to bask in the glow of his own success, clearly enjoyed his rare Nashville visit. Looking tan and fit in his trademark starched jeans, cowboy hat and sportcoat, he laughed a lot, cracked some jokes, and even planted a big kiss on his wife, Norma, when she was called to the stage.
“Hey look, I’m Al Gore,” he quipped as he surprised Norma with a smooch, recreating Gore’s long kiss with wife Tipper at the Democratic National Convention.
In a rare interview before the party, Strait told country.com he was glad to step into the spotlight for a moment to relish his 20-year career and long association with his record label. Strait signed with MCA in 1981 and has recorded for the label ever since.
“You know, I have got that reputation [of being reclusive], but I really wanted to come,” he said. “I don’t need to be in the spotlight all the time, but I’m excited about being with MCA. When you think about it, that’s a long time to be with one record label. I haven’t done a lot of interviews in the past. I don’t mind it that much sometimes, but I do like my privacy also. I like to do my music stuff, and after I do that, I like to step away from it and do other things.”
Strait’s music continues to anchor one of the most successful country tours of all time — the George Strait Country Music Festival. In its past three outings, the multi-act show has grossed $90 million. While Asleep at the Wheel and Lee Ann Womack are return support acts, first-timers Brad Paisley, Lonestar and Alan Jackson will join the bill on the fourth incarnation this spring.
“I think we’ve got a great lineup,” Strait said. “I’ve worked with Alan before, but it’s been a long, long time, so I’m looking forward to that. We’ll be doing ‘Murder on Music Row’ probably every night that we’re out. I like Alan. I love his music. I always have.”
The singer said negotiations are under way for one more act to join the tour, but he declined to name them until the deal is signed. Strait pointed to the revolving stellar lineup as one key to the tour’s continued success.
“I think it’s a lot of fun for people to come out, and the tickets are pretty reasonable to see six acts that you hear on the radio all the time,” he said. “This festival situation is very nice, but I don’t know how long we’ll continue to do it. We’ll do it as long as we can. It’s the most fun touring that I’ve had, and I’ve been touring a long time. But eventually we’ll start doing arenas again.”
Strait’s latest album, which is self-titled, has produced another hit. “Go On” went to No. 2 on the Billboard country singles chart and now sits at No. 11. After two decades in the business, Strait credits his steady success to long associations with his manager, Erv Woolsey, his band, Ace in the Hole, and his label. But he admits it’s the lure of the crowd that keeps his desire to make good music alive and kicking.
“When you continue to cut new material and you go out onstage to play it for people, and you get that reaction from a new song that you’ve cut, it’s so rewarding,” Strait said. “Sometimes you don’t get that, so that keeps you trying and trying more and more to find those kinds of songs.”
As for his movie career, Strait hasn’t made a film since 1992′s modest hit Pure Country, whose soundtrack has sold some six million copies. It seems for now his music might be enough to keep him from returning to the big screen.
“I thought there for a while I might like to do another one, but I’m pretty happy right now,” Strait said. “If something came along that I just couldn’t turn down, I would, but it’s going to have to be something pretty special.”