George Strait: “We Were Just a Band Like Hundreds of Other Bands”

Guests on an All-New CMT Hot 20 Countdown

When George Strait returned Wednesday (Nov. 16) to Gruene Hall in New Braunfels, Texas, he got that familiar feeling most grownups get when they go back to their old schools.

“It looks exactly the same,” Strait told Katie Cook on the 200th episode of CMT Hot 20 Countdown. “It looks a little smaller.”

The cover charge back then to see the rising King of Country play his first gigs at the historic honky-tonk was a steal.

“We were just a band like hundreds of other bands,” Strait said. “Every honky-tonker out there wanted to play Gruene Hall, and so we talked [the owner] into letting us come on a Sunday afternoon. He said, ‘Let me hear ya, and we’ll charge 25 cents at the door or 50 cents.’ We made seven bucks.”

Thirty-four years, millions of albums sold, many hit singles and multiple award wins later, he’s releasing the new Strait Out of the Box: Part 2. The three-disc, 56-song compilation includes material from 1996 to 2016, plus two new Strait originals “Kicked Outta Country” and “You Gotta Go Through Hell.”

His son Bubba and the legendary songwriter Dean Dillon co-wrote “You Gotta Go Through Hell.” Strait said he co-wrote “Kicked Outta Country” with Jamey Johnson over text about legends like Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard and George Jones getting phased out of country music toward the end of their careers.

“I knew that was gonna happen at some point, and I still don’t like it,” Strait told Cook. “But I wrote it with Jamey. He said, ‘I’m gonna pitch you some songs for your new … .’ I said, ‘That’s great. Jamey. I’d love to hear them. We probably won’t get them played.’

“He goes, ‘Yeah, they kicked me out of country, too.’ And so, the next day I texted him. I said, ‘Look, either I’m gonna write that, you’re gonna write it or we can both write it.’ So we just started texting each other ideas and ended up writing the song.”

The rest of Strait Out of the Box: Part 2 is made up of his personal favorites.

“I just went and picked my favorites out,” he said. “I picked songs that I thought could have been singles and just we couldn’t get a round to all of them, you know. Some of the songs seem to get kinda lost in the shuffle so to speak. And so this was a good way to get out some of my favorites that I felt like were probably just as strong as the songs we released.”

Strait will headline a limited engagement — billed as 2 Nights of Number 1’s — at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas in 2017 with special guest Cam. The shows are two-night stands starting April 7, July 28, Sept. 1 and Dec. 8, and tickets go on sale Dec. 2 via the Strait To Vegas website.

The full Strait interview airs on the 200th episode of CMT Hot 20 Countdown, airing Saturday (Nov. 19) at 9 a.m. ET/PT and again on Sunday (Nov. 20) at 9 a.m. ET/PT.

Strait Out of the Box: Part 2 is exclusively available at Walmart.

Lauren Tingle is a Tennessean and storyteller who eats music for breakfast, lunch and dinner. When she’s not writing or rocking out, she enjoys yoga and getting lost in the great outdoors.