HOT DISH: George Strait Is a Modern-Day Troubadour

Trace Adkins Goes to Hollywood, and I Have Lunch With Music Royalty

(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

Upon learning that George Strait's latest CD is titled Troubadour, my mind began wandering back to the days of my youth when the Texas Troubadour, Ernest Tubb, was one of music's hottest acts.

I barely remember talk of gasoline rationing during World War II, but Mama and Daddy would load us kids up in the old blue 1940 Ford on Saturday night and drive the muddy (or dusty) red dirt mile to Uncle Wade and Aunt Georgie's to hear the Grand Ole Opry on their battery radio. Although I was just a tiny kid, I recall tears in the eyes of the women when Tubb sang "Rainbow at Midnight," "Filipino Baby" or "Seaman's Blues." Songs of the war made women cry. It was a time when nearly every family's teenaged son had gone to fight.

"Walking the Floor Over You" was Tubb's breakthrough hit in 1941, and he became an Opry member in 1943. One of country's most beloved stars, Tubb named his band the Texas Troubadours, and he was adored by band members like Jack Greene, Cal Smith and Jack Drake who played with him through the years. Frowned on at the time, Ernest brought the electric guitar and drums to prominence in country music. He was country's reigning honky-tonk hero until Hank Williams crossed the Tennessee border from Alabama in the late '40s.

Today, there's a 2008 troubadour who can sing a little honky-tonk music, too.

Of all the stars from Texas -- and there's been hundreds -- only the cowboy, King George Strait, is hauling enough country talent to be called troubadour. Tipping his hat for 27 years since first capturing country radio in 1981 with "Unwound," Strait has continuously recorded hit after hit after hit. Today, he holds the record for the most No. 1 songs of anyone in all music genres. Why? My opinion is the man knows a hit song when he hears it and knows the songs that suit him will also suit his fans. A good example is his latest single, "I Saw God Today." Said Strait, "Anyone who has a kid can relate to seeing them for the first time and know that it is really and truly a gift from God."

Like Ernest Tubb, who appeared in movies, Strait starred in Pure Country, one of the top-requested flicks on CMT. Since the 1992 movie and soundtrack, Tony Brown has produced Strait's records. The method to their success is simple. Tony collects a bevy of songs he likes and sends them overnight to Texas for George to hear and choose from. This goes on and on until they narrow down the original 1,000-plus songs to 15 or 20. For George's 37th album, a dozen of the best found their way onto the tracks.

Naming your favorite George Strait song is like naming a favorite child or a favorite pet. I love "Love Without End, Amen," but I also love the clever "All My Ex's Live in Texas" just as much. A song like the unforgettable "I Saw God Today," one that makes you pull off the road and stop, doesn't happen that often. Not just anybody could sing that song. Only a great family man could sing that song because it had to be sung from the heart, and George knows how to sing a song from the heart. Like Ernest Tubb, George Strait is a troubadour. We need a troubadour every 50 years or so, don't we?

Trace Adkins Becomes the Grim Reaper

Following up The Celebrity Apprentice with the No. 1 single, "You're Gonna Miss This," Trace Adkins has joined the cast of film director David Zucker's new comedy, American Carol, in Los Angeles. Trace plays the Spirit of Christmas Future -- the Grim Reaper -- who uses his musical talent to bring insight to Scrooge to help him prevent a tragic end.

This is Trace's first onscreen acting except for videos. However, he has done voiceovers for several television shows and would like to do more.

Lunching With Royalty at the Pie Wagon

We'd just been talking about Tim McGraw's great new single, "Kristofferson." Lunching again at the Pie Wagon restaurant in Nashville with my friend Chuck Aly from Country Aircheck, I exclaimed, "That's the famous Donnie Fritts over there." I explained Fritts was Kris Kristofferson's keyboard player and quite a songwriter. One of his nicknames is the Alabama Leaning Man.

"He wrote Waylon's hit, 'We Had It All,'" I added, before asking Chuck if he'd ever heard the Jerry Jeff Walker song, "Hairy Ass Hillbillies."

"I can't remember how the song went," I explained, "but I do recall Jerry Jeff was in a motel in L.A. when long about daybreak, he hears a knock on his door. The song goes sorta like: 'It was the Alabama Leaning Man and his good picking buddy Billy Swan/Two old hairy ass hillbillies/Still up and hanging on.'"

When Fritts handed a cell phone across the table, I realized he was having lunch with Billy Swan, another longtime member of Kristofferson's band. When they saw me, Fritts and Swan came over and sat down at the table. We visited like we'd just seen each other last week -- and it had been years. They were in town to appear at the Tin Pan South songwriters festival, and I was the lucky girl at the Pie Wagon.

News and More

I see someplace that Carrie Underwood and Chace Crawford are no longer an item. Who is Chace Crawford, anyway? What does he do? Can he play banjo?

Is Kenny Chesney looking into the possibility of offering his own fashion line of jeans? A spokesperson for Sights Denim Systems in Henderson, Ky., confirmed to that Kenny visited their factory but says plans for a clothing line are still in their infancy. Lordy me, somebody's gonna make some money if Kenny's gonna be selling their britches.

I hear Don Imus loves Jypsi -- the wonderful group on Sony BMG. He played a couple of their songs on his radio show last week. Jypsi group came to the hospital and sang for me April 2007. By the way, thanks to all you praying peeps. I've now been cancer-free for one year. Praise the Lord.

Did Luke Lewis, bossman at UMG Nashville, actually sign Jamey Johnson on the strength of hearing him sing the song "In Color"? Luke, I'd say you got yourself a song of the year right there -- maybe even single of the year.

I'm pulling for the Clark Brothers, who won The Next Great American Band competition. Originally, this was a six-member outfit called the Clark Family Experience when Curb Records signed them several songs ago. There's three in group today. With a hard-nosed preacher daddy who originally hauled them all over the country in a renovated school bus to perform at bluegrass festivals, the lads were more musicians and entertainers than singers when they first hit Nashville. I don't know if it was the song choice or if they were too bluegrassy for radio, but they came and went with me screaming for more. Too few get a second chance, and these guys deserve one.

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Vegetable Casserole.

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