A list of the most influential artists in history chosen by country stars themselves, another honoree is named each week on CMT Hot 20 Countdown .
Nicknamed King George, Strait is beloved for his traditionalist country music and genuine cowboy persona. Born and raised in South Texas, he is credited with helping to reintroduce classic country to the genre at a time when smooth, easy listening styles were more prominent. With over 30 years in the business, his musical style has barely changed.
Strait’s professional career began in 1981 when his first single, “Unwound,” was released and climbed into the Top 10. His first No. 1 came a year later with “Fool Hearted Memory.” Some of Strait’s best-known hits include “Amarillo by Morning,” “The Chair,” “Check Yes or No” and “All My Ex’s Live in Texas.” He has sold more than 100 million records worldwide and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2006.
In 2014, Strait stepped away from touring following a two-year run of shows called the Cowboy Rides Away tour but has promised to continue recording and performing at select events in the future.
“He is just the coolest dude ever and has been for as long as he’s been around,” Aldean said. “A guy that’s been able to deliver hits like that for 30-something years, that says a lot about what a great artist somebody is. When you get into the music business as an artist, you just hope you have a career that lasts 10 years. So to be around for 30, that’s unheard of. … He’s the guy we all look to pattern our career after and go ‘Man, that’s what I want.'”
“His consistency of songs through the years, he never crossed you up or threw you a curve ball,” Bryan said. “He always progressed with his music, but he was always singing … songs that were so good that George could just walk out there and sing ’em, and that’s all he needed to do. He didn’t have to shake his butt like I have to every night. He could just step up there and tip that hat and flash a smile at the girls and start into another amazing song.”
“He really put the rudder in the water and to me, just kind of kept country on course,” Kix Brooks said. “Even through when Garth (Brooks) hit and all the craziness of the ’90s, George was always right there. You always felt like if you fell overboard, you could grab a hold of that … something that was undeniable that was always going to be there. I think he’s a great security blanket for country music fans.”
Many artists talked about what a stand-up person Strait is.
“George is one of my favorite people in the world and he just sets such a good example of how to be humble, gracious and just so classy and loved,” said Swift, who toured with Strait early in her career. “I get a text message from him just checking in every once in a while just to see if things are well. And, you know, he doesn’t have to do things like that. That’s why people love him.
“I think George has stood the test of time because good things don’t really go out of fashion,” she continued. “Really good things, really authentic people, never seem to get old. You don’t ever really get tired of seeing someone who loves what he does, loves his fans and comes from a real good place.
“And George has always known what his fans want, and I think that’s an important quality in an artist. It’s not about what you want all the time. It’s not about playing the song that you want to play because it’s the newest. George will play the songs that everybody else wants to hear even though he’s played them 50 million times. He knows what his fans want to hear, so that’s what he plays in concert.”
“His persona, he’s such a class act, and he always carries himself well,” McBride said. “You never hear him say a cross word. He’s just something I think we all kind of aspire to be like — females and male artists. I think we all kind of want to be like George Strait.”
“If you are from Texas and you don’t like George Strait, they will kick you out of the state,” Lambert said with a laugh. “Talk about somebody that’s absolutely timeless and never fails, never misses, doesn’t age. I’m going to have to get whatever face cream he uses because he just gets hotter and hotter as time goes on.
“It’s incredible to see a career like George has had,” she added. “I think we’re all amazed by it. I got to sing a duet with him recently, and I just looked at his face onstage. And I could see, genuinely, that he was having so much fun after all these years. And it’s so encouraging to me, as a performer myself, that the fire will still be there.”
“George is the guy,” Garth Brooks summed up. “He’s the modern day cowboy king, so growing up, that’s who you wanted to be. That’s who you want to be now because every time you see him, he never disappoints. He’s always George, and he’s always straight down the middle. If you can have a career like George Strait, then you’re one of the luckiest guys in this business there’s ever been. He deserves it.”