HOT DISH: George Strait Is Country’s Coolest Guy

Even Hollywood's Rich and Famous Are in Awe of the Cowboy

(CMT Hot Dish is a weekly feature written by veteran columnist Hazel Smith. Author of the cookbook, Hazel’s Hot Dish: Cookin’ With Country Stars, she also hosts CMT’s Southern Fried Flicks With Hazel Smith and shares her recipes at CMT.com.)

Ask anybody in the music business and they will answer without thinking, “Hands down, George Strait is the coolest guy in country music.” Record producer Tony Brown gave me an example of the Cowboy’s cool.

“I was at the Kentucky Derby waiting to meet up with George and his wife, Norma,” Tony said. “The room was filled with big-time money businessmen, as well as actors and actresses from Hollywood, famous singers from all genres. In the door walked George and Norma, and every head turned and stared — everyone in the room. Nobody in that room attracted the attention like George Strait.” Tony laughed, “He’s got it.” Tony has produced all of Strait’s records since 1992, and they have a long string of nothing but success.

George’s annual tour began Jan. 10 with a wall-to-wall sellout in Austin, Texas. Since he’s cut back on touring, George is careful not to play the same cities each year. Like he did in the beginning in 1981 with “Unwound,” his first hit on MCA Records, George starts his concerts by merely walking to the stage. No fireworks, no elevators, no smoke screens. George simply walks from his bus into the venue, wearing his Resistol hat, Wrangler jeans, starched cowboy shirt, wide belt with a huge buckle and cowboy boots. He straps on his guitar and smiles at his audience, and as he sings his first song, the screams from the crowd almost lift the ceiling.

Born in Poteet, Texas, he has scored more No. 1 singles than any other artist in country music history. Among the fans, naming your favorite Strait hit has become a game. The 2007 award-winning “Give It Away” is such a killer song, but so is “All My Ex’s Live in Texas” from 1987. How could you not love “The Chair” from 1985 and last year’s wonderful No. 1, “Wrapped”? Like naming favorite children, “Ocean Front Property” and “The Fireman” are at the top of the list. Bill Lardie, my dear friend down in Amarillo, Texas, would never forgive me if I forgot to mention “Amarillo by Morning.”

With all those No. 1 singles and dozens of other hits and album tracks, it’s hard for me to name all of my favorites. But I love pure country music, so I therefore love every song the Strait man has ever sung. He’s in the Country Music Hall of Fame, his CD won 2007 CMA album of the year, and nobody will ever have to ask if he’s country enough to perform on the CMA or ACM awards. Let’s face it, when you say “George Strait,” you say country.

Past opening acts for George include Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Kenny Chesney, the Dixie Chicks and a bevy of others. This year, he chose Little Big Town and newcomer Sarah Johns. The members of Little Big Town were thrilled, and Kentucky native Sarah Johns was ecstatic.

When Sarah came to my kitchen to tape CMT’s Southern Fried Flicks, she told me her dream had always been to open shows for George Strait. Her dream came true that night in Austin, but 10 minutes before taking the stage, she was pulling on her knee-high boots when the zipper busted — from heel to knee. Luckily, she had another pair that looked like ugly on awful, but she wore those happily. Not to worry, though, since Texas makes boots, so Sarah bought a pair the next morning before the bus departed for Oklahoma City, Little Rock and the rest of America.

Sam Bush and Fried Green Tomatoes
Some things never grow old and frayed, and two of the best things I can think of are my friendship with Sam Bush and the wonderful movie, Fried Green Tomatoes. Sam was my guest in the kitchen this past week during a taping of CMT’s Southern Fried Flicks and the movie was … well, you know. Wow. Sam and I were talking and eating barbecued meatballs, layered macaroni and an asparagus and pea casserole. Whoa! The latter was so hot we both had to grab water. We sputtered and laughed, and some smart aleck yelled, “Great TV!”

Sam started New Grass Revival in 1971 with a band of great musicians playing a fusion of bluegrass, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll and soul. They criss-crossed America, Europe and Asia before hanging it up 18 years later. Next came Strength in Numbers, a supergroup featuring Jerry Douglas, Bela Fleck, Mark O’Connor, Edgar Meyer and Sam.

Session work, songwriting and record production kept Sam busy when he wasn’t on the road with Emmylou Harris as a member of her incredible band, Nash Ramblers. As a session musician, he worked with the mainstream acts like Alabama, Kenny Baker, Suzy Bogguss, Michael Bolton, Garth Brooks, Guy Clark, Neil Diamond, Steve Earle, Alison Krauss, Lyle Lovett, Dolly Parton, Tony Rice, Shania Twain, Doc Watson and Trisha Yearwood. The Sam Bush Band has kept the leader busy. In Colorado, they call him the King of Telluride because Sam has played every festival there for 30-plus years. He’s once again spreading his musical wings by spending time with jazz saxophonist Bill Evans on some new music they call soulgrass.

Sam’s latest solo album is titled Laps in Seven because his dog laps water in time — laps seven times, rests … laps seven more, etc. Sam taped all of this, and the dog’s timing is as true as Sam’s mandolin chops.

Eric’s Wedding Was Not in a Church
The only Church at Eric’s wedding ceremony was him and his family! When Eric Church married Katherine Blasingame on Jan. 8 at the Westglow Spa & Resort at Blowing Rock in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of his native North Carolina, he surprised his bride with a song he’d written about her, “You Make It Look Easy.”

As he sang, the bride cried, the groom cried, the mamas cried, the daddies cried — the whole famn damily cried. The bride wore a gown, and the usually blue-jeaned Eric wore a suit. I am impressed. Sending congratulations from all of us.

News and More News
Kenny Chesney has announced more stadium concerts for 2008, including a show in Nashville.

CBS is set to broadcast Garth Brooks: Live in L.A.! on Friday (Jan. 25). Proceeds from the five planned concerts will be donated to the 2008 Fire Intervention Relief Effort (FIRE) in California.

New act Carter’s Chord has released “Young Love” as their first single on Toby Keith’s record label, Show Dog Nashville. The three sisters, daughters of keyboard player Barny Robertson and singer Carter Robertson, grew up in the limelight of their parents’ employers, Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter.

Miley Cyrus just loves the 2-pound puppy her dad Billy Ray Cyrus got her for Christmas. Says Miley, “He is so cute, and I love him so much. I named him Shooter — for Shooter Jennings.”

By the way, look for Shooter — the musician — on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno on Wednesday (Jan. 23).

Tim McGraw is filming Four Christmases, a film featuring Reese Witherspoon, Robert Duvall, Dwight Yoakam, Vince Vaughn and Sissy Spacek.

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Asparagus-Pea Casserole.