George Strait typically doesn’t do extensive interviews. Much more content to let his songs speak for him, the Texas legend has eschewed the personal spotlight while spending an entire career courting it artistically.
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That's why a new profile of him in The New Yorker, online today, is such a treat. "George Strait’s Long Ride,” to be included in the July 24 print issue of the magazine, takes readers on a journey from his early days in Pearsall to his rise up the Billboard charts in the 80s and 90s to where he is today, a country music legend facing retirement and less radio play.
Most of the tidbits in the profile, which can be read in full here, will be familiar to longtime King George devotees, but here are five things from the article that might stand out.
1. “Amarillo By Morning” was one of Strait’s most popular songs, but was never a No. 1 single
“The song was so popular that he sometimes had to play it twice in a set, back when he was playing as many as four sets a night in Texas roadhouses,” according to The New Yorker. The song peaked at No. 4, probably due to some radio market's resistance to play it:
Strait’s longtime manager, Erv Woolsey, noticed that some otherwise reliable radio stations declined to put Strait’s version into heavy rotation; he suspects that, especially in the Southwest, the modest success of the earlier recordings had made the song too familiar. “It was kind of wore out in certain places,” Woolsey says.
2. Strait likes to load his Las Vegas residency pre-show playlists with modern country songs that reference him
Songs like “Take a Back Road” by Rodney Atkins, “Girl in a Country Song” by Maddie & Tae, “Rewind” by Rascal Flatts and “Might Get Lucky” from Darius Rucker all contain some reference to Strait, and they’re all played before he takes the stage in Las Vegas.
Strait is an arena headliner, not a lounge act, and every night the preshow playlist pays subtle tribute to his staying power. Concertgoers hear a selection of recent country hits: “Take a Back Road,” by Rodney Atkins; “Girl in a Country Song,” by Maddie & Tae; “Rewind,” by Rascal Flatts; “Might Get Lucky,” by Darius Rucker. What they have in common is that all of them mention Strait. Rucker sings, “Dance around the kitchen to a George Strait song”— hoping, like the others, to borrow some of Strait’s unimpeachable country credibility.
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3. Strait may still perform live, but he still wants the songs to sound like they did when they were first recorded, out of a respect toward his fans
There’s not much in the way of improvising or riffing at a George Strait show, and he has always considered himself as an entertainer first and foremost:
Some members of his band have been playing with him since the nineteen-seventies, and they know him as an easygoing but exacting leader who wants his songs to sound just the way fans remember them. “A lot of times, maybe I’m the only one that notices,” Strait said. “But sometimes not.”
Related: George Strait says country music is ‘trending towards traditional’
4. Strait’s status as a sex symbol caused some interesting problems early on in his career
Women would throw flowers on the stage at Strait so often during his shows that his tour crew at first didn’t know how to dispose of them.
Strait’s popularity was driven by his status as a sex symbol. Women deluged the stage with flowers, so many that disposal became a serious problem. At first, the bus would stop by a dumpster on the way out of town; later, the crew devised a system for donating them to local hospitals. Reba McEntire, who was also conquering country music at the time, once recalled a show that she played with Strait in Oklahoma. “The girls was gettin’ after him so bad,” she said, “that the club had to stack bales of hay in front of the stage.” (She added her own honest appraisal: “He’s a sexy little rascal.”)
5. Strait decided to not film a kissing scene in “Pure Country” out of a fear of embarrassment and because he felt it was not necessary to the script
“Pure Country,” Strait’s 1992 film in which he played a slightly rougher version of his own persona, was a hit with fans, but not with critics. (It also starred a fresh-faced Kyle Chandler in the villain role).
Strait read a script and agreed to make the film, with some caveats. In the part where Dusty, having absconded from his own tour, takes refuge at a ranch, Strait wanted to do his own roping. And although the script had him falling in love with a humble woman from his home town, he thought that a proposed kissing scene was unnecessary (and potentially embarrassing), so he and his co-star, Isabel Glasser, made do with meaningful looks.
Read the full profile here.
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