A little-known George Strait played every beer joint in south and central Texas leading his Ace In The Hole Band through Bob Wills, Hank Williams and Merle Haggard hits in the mid-1970s. Little has changed for Strait regarding his dedication to Texas swing, traditional honky tonk and story songs. Except now, gearing up for the release of his 23rd album, he’s touring giant stadiums across the U.S. leading one of the best road bands in country music.
The former cattle rancher has become a bona fide country superstar, with several million-selling albums, dozens of major industry awards and even a starring role in the 1992 Hollywood flick, Pure Country. The reigning Academy of Country Music Top Male Vocalist is in contention for four ACM’s–including Entertainer of the Year–at this year’s ceremony on April 22. The 45-year-old Texan sold over 65,000 tickets on the first date of his ’98 stadium tour at Sun Devil Stadium in Phoenix, Arizona on March 14. According to an MCA Records press release, even the Rolling Stones did not come close to drawing that many fans when the legendary British rock combo played there recently.
A hillbilly music fan who listened to, and learned from, sophisticated pop stylists like Frank Sinatra, Strait found public favor with an ear for great songs, a strong, warm voice and clean good looks. Refusing to chase trends, Strait played a considerable role in leading the re-emergence of straight ahead country that came about in the ’80s following the Urban Cowboy fad. With roughly a half-decade head start on celebrated neo-traditionalists Randy Travis and Dwight Yoakam, Strait steered his own streamlined course with such signature tunes as “Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind,” “The Chair” and “All My Ex’s Live In Texas.”
A noted poll ranked him in the Top 10 of America’s favorite singers–joining the ranks of Sinatra, ’Ol’ Blue Eyes’, himself. But Strait’s not one to rest on his laurels.
On the heels of his multi-million selling album Carrying Your Love With Me, without missing a beat, Strait has just put the finishing touches on his next album. One Step At A Time, set for release on April 21, is another collaboration with producer Tony Brown (who also runs Strait’s label, MCA Nashville). The new album’s first single is “I Just Want To Dance With You.” The seasoned country star is currently performing the song on the road, and it looks like Strait’s still got the ability to pick a great song and the vocal goods to deliver it. Fans at his opening concert in Arizona were said to be singing along with the new tune as if it were a treasured Strait classic they’ve listened to for years.