Editor’s note: Watch the interview on the new episode of CMT Insider airing Saturday and Sunday (Sept. 29-30) at 11 a.m. ET/PT.
George Strait fans know he rarely grants interviews, yet he did find some time to meet with CMT Insider host Katie Cook just moments before announcing plans for his final tour that will run in 2013 and 2014.
In an interview at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, King George talks about making the big decision, writing his set list and keeping his tried-and-true approach to performing live.
Cook: I can’t imagine you would have come to this decision lightly. What are the main reasons for closing this era of your career?
Strait: Well, I think that it’s been in the back of my mind for quite a while. And trust me, it wasn’t easy. It wasn’t an easy decision to make. I’ve lost a lot of sleep over it, but I just feel like I’m not really retiring. I’m just not going to tour. One point I want to get across to everybody is that I’m still going to make records and I may still do some events. It’s not the last time I’m onstage. It’s been a part of my life for too long to just quit everything. I just have done it since the ’80s, and I think it’s time now to maybe see if I can live without that part.
You say it kept you up some nights. It sounds like there was a lot of soul searching.
There was. I mean, like I said, it’s been a part of my life for 35 years and … right now, I’m still having second thoughts about it, but I know that come about the middle of the tour, I’m going to think I made the right decision.
People hear “retirement” and freak out. So we are clear here? Not a total retirement?
No. No, I’m not. It’s just a part of my career that I’m kind of retiring from. Like I said, I can’t imagine never being onstage again.
You’ve always planned your tours very carefully, playing select markets and not too many dates. I do have to ask, do you like touring?
Well, I like the part where you walk up on the stage and you’re up there for the show. I like that part.
Touring is not as glamorous as people might think. It’s a lot of hard work.
It is a lot of hard work and traveling. It kind of gets to you. I don’t mind traveling that much when I can go somewhere and stay there for a while, but touring is different. You rarely see anything. You get there early in the morning and you’re resting all day, and you go in and do a sound check, and you do the show, and then bam you’re gone. So it’s not like you’re getting to go out and see the sights and all the cities you go to.
You’ve recorded so many songs over the years. What are still some of your personal favorites?
“The Chair,” “Amarillo by Morning,” “Troubadour,” “Fireman.” Gosh, a lot of them. They all still mean a lot to me.
Is it still as exciting to play now as it was then?
Yeah, it’s just gotten bigger now. … Back then, you were kind of cutting your teeth playing the honky-tonks. I don’t see how people do it. I’m sure they do it all the time, but the years of me playing the honky-tonks and bars around gave me the experience that I think I needed when the time came for me to out and do bigger arenas. Without those years, it would have been tough.
I have to think that artists come to you often and say, “Come on, what’s the secret?” What do you tell somebody that’s trying to have a career anything like you’ve had?
I don’t know what to tell them because I don’t know what the real key to it is. I’ve just had some great fans out there that supported me for all these years and still continue to support me. I’ve just tried for all of these years to find the best records, the best songs that I could find that fit me, and I’ve had great people to work with all these years. I’ve been fortunate. It’s hard to put my finger on one little thing to tell anybody. I don’t know. I really don’t know.
What are you most looking forward to in the next couple of years?
It’s going to be an emotional thing doing these two years of dates at all these places we’ve played for the last 35 years or whatever it’s been — 31, 30, I don’t know. Who’s counting? But it’s going to be emotional. I’m going to probably do some really fun things during that time as far as the shows go. I’m going to have some great people out there at some of them. Martina [McBride] is going to be out there all the [first] year with me, and she’s great. I love working with her, and we’ll have some other special guests throughout the tour. It’s going to be pretty special.
You pick amazing songs, and you just get up there and perform them. It’s not always about tons of theatrics. But because this is the final tour — and it’s obviously not broken — have you thought about doing anything different to surprise people?
Well, you never know. I don’t want to give away any secrets but … I’m just kidding, we haven’t planned anything different. Like you said if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. We’ll certainly try to put on the best show we can, like we always do.