WHAT IS IT ABOUT GEORGE STRAIT?
I've never before written about George Strait. It's like trying to write a Merle Haggard missive ~ what's left to say? I've penned articles about George Strait singles, George Strait albums; but never about why the artist himself made such an impact on me. As a novice music journalist, I don't know any of the tricks to make my writing compelling; thus, I rely on things I can relate to; snippets that have relevance to my own life.
As the seventies wound to a close, I abandoned country music completely. That may sound like a capricious decision, but ever since I became old enough to recognize music I'd been consumed by it. So, no, it wasn't a random impulse, like deciding to paint my living room purple, it was a long contemplation. I told myself, just give country another month; maybe it'll turn around. "You wouldn't want to regret this decision!"
I don't necessarily remember the exact song that made up my mind; it was more a conglomeration. The Kenny Rogers singles, Dolly Parton's pop releases; but it may have been Charley Pride's remake of a current pop hit (I can't even remember what it was) that was the final straw. I asked myself how long I was willing to put up with all this. And that's when I permanently tuned my car radio to the rock station and didn't look back. MTV was just becoming huge, and I began watching rock (pop?) videos. Huey Lewis and The News, Robert Palmer, WHAM, Genesis, even that cartoon video by A-Ha. I loved 'em all. The artists may have been synthetic, but at least they didn't pretend to be something they weren't.
Then one Friday evening, when I was in the neighborhood after doing a bit of shopping, I decided to stop by my mom and dad's house. They were sitting in their living room watching a VHS tape of some country guy I'd never before laid eyes on. I sat down and caught a bit of his act, contemptuous. Yea, he was okay, but I didn't know him ~ didn't even know his name ~ and besides, country music was so passe. I became irritated when my parents couldn't even manage to tear their eyes away from the screen. "Who's this?" I finally asked, and my mom said "George..." somebody. I didn't catch his last name. "Isn't he good?" she asked, "Yea...he's okay," I said, to spare her feelings. Soon, as no other conversation seemed forthcoming, I excused myself and went home. And that was that. I never gave the guy another thought.
At work I still tuned my desk radio to Y93 and bathed in the familiarity of the Top 40 hits. Then one day as I pulled into a parking spot in front of my kids' elementary school and waited for the bell to ring, Y93 queued up something I didn't care for, so I punched the radio button to the country station. And I heard this:
I had no idea who was singing, but I swooned. When the song ended, I was desperate to hear it again. The disc jockey said, "George Strait" and suddenly it all clicked. "Oh, this is that guy! The one my parents couldn't take their eyes off!"
This was what country was supposed to be! Not that pseudo-country that Kenny Rogers croaked. This had steel guitar and upfront drums and Wow! That voice! When he scaled all the way up on the last chorus, I was thunderstruck. What the heck had I missed on that VHS tape?
It took a while ~ it was a slow transformation. I didn't want to give up my MTV, and anyway, how did I know if other country music was as good as this George guy? Maybe most of it still sucked and Strait was an anomaly. But I dipped my toe in the water. I tuned to the country station more frequently and I heard singles that didn't make me queasy. Truth be told, though, I was just waiting to hear "The Big One" again. But I stopped into Musicland and picked out a couple of country cassettes at random ~ The Sweethearts Of The Rodeo and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. I'd never heard of the first group and didn't have a favorable impression of the second, but it turned out I liked the tapes, especially NGDB. And that turned me. I was firmly back into country. And it was all thanks to "that George guy".
I had some catching up to do. I wanted to acquaint myself with his older songs, but he had so many good new ones coming out that it was a frenzy just trying to keep up.
Why do I like him so much? Above all is The Voice. George Strait isn't simply a stylist; he's a singer. There are guys with range ~ not many, but some. George has range. Maybe he doesn't employ it as much anymore, but if you listen to a ballad like "Last In Love" from the Pure Country soundtrack, he's amazing. It's actually easier to hit the high notes on a two-stepper like "The Big One" than it is on a ballad, where the singer's voice is laid bare. I recently listened closely to that track and George doesn't strain; he's a natural.
Number two, he can pick songs. I know Strait has begun writing again in recent years, but his real talent lies in spotting a perfect song and envisioning just the right way to record it. Of course he recorded a lot of Dean Dillon songs, but my favorites are those written by another writer he seems to have a fondness for, Jim Lauderdale.
Three, he doesn't let you forget real country. Some of my favorite George Strait tracks are album cuts, where he includes a classic country song you sort of remember, but never done like this.
Four, The Ace In The Hole Band. These guys are tight, and right at home with George. They should be, since they've all been together since the seventies when Strait was the lead singer of the band then known as Stoney Ridge. There's a lot to be said for continuity, not to mention loyalty. And I don't know who the background singers are, but kudos to them. They add meat to those recordings!
Five ~ Let's face it, Strait's voice is as comfy and cozy as a fleecy blanket. That's what happens when somebody's been your constant companion for more than forty years. How many singers even last that long? I'll give you a minute....
I've had a few favorite singers throughout my life. Merle Haggard will always reign supreme, well, because he's Merle Haggard. For the longest time if anyone asked me which singer I liked the best, I answered, Faron Young. Thinking about it, he had a lot of the same attributes as King George. (I always had good musical taste.)
But if I am in need of some musical sustenance, something to comfort me, make me feel happy and warm, I'm picking George Strait.
There's no one in country more perfect.
Here ya go: