CMA: Being George Strait
BY SID FARBSTEIN
Nashville recording artist George Strait.
2007 CMA Close Up News Service
George Strait gave a
memorable lead performance as Country singer Dusty Chandler in the
1992 film "Pure Country," but hasn't been seen on film
since. But with his recent induction into the Country Music Hall
of Fame and with 54 No. 1 hits under his big belt buckle, Strait
confessed he's considering going Hollywood once more.
"I am starting to
get the bug again," he said of acting. "If the right thing
was to come along, I may get serious. I need to do it again because
I really enjoyed it. It was a lot of fun."
In the meantime, Strait
has plenty to keep him occupied on the music side of his career,
with two new albums on the market and a major tour that launched
in January. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame
last November during "The 40th Annual CMA Awards" in Nashville.
Strait released his most
recent MCA Nashville Platinum-selling album, It Just Comes Natural,
his 34th album, Oct. 3, 2006. Its leadoff single, "Give It
Away," gave him that 53rd No. 1 at the same time Strait marked
his 25th anniversary with the label and more than 62 million albums
sold, 32 of which are Platinum. Strait is the third most certified
artists of all genres after Elvis and The Beatles. His second single,
"It Just Comes Natural," was his 54th No. 1 hit. Strait
is Billboard's all-time leader for No. 1 Country singles.
From sophisticated Western
swing and clever barroom anthems to sawdust two-steppers and smoky
neon ballads, It Just Comes Natural, featuring 15 songs, is all
that and more. It's vintage Strait from Bobby Braddock's timeless,
tongue-in-cheek "She Told Me So," to the sensual ballad
"That's My Kind of Woman," co-written by perennial Strait
favorite Dean Dillon. The deceptively simple title track, penned
by Jim Collins and Marv Green, is a perfect fit for Strait's smooth,
unaffected style, as is the easygoing Cris Moore and Lee Roy Parnell
toe-tapper, "One Foot in Front of the Other." The whimsical
"Texas Cookin'," written by the legendary Guy Clark, is
culinary gold mined from the mid-70s Austin folk scene. A trio of
cowboy tunes help round out the album featuring 15 gems from the
Strait also had a new
holiday album released late last year, Fresh Cut Christmas, which
sold exclusively - and briskly - in Hallmark Cold Crown stores for
only $7.95 each with purchase of three Hallmark cards. Hallmark
reported the album sold a million copies in just its first week
on the rack. The retailer also sold special "Say It With Music"
song cards that played Strait's version of "O Christmas Tree,"
as featured on the album.
As for the Hall of Fame
induction, Strait said he was "totally surprised" when
he first got the news. While it was something he aspired to achieve
one day, Strait never thought it would happen at what he considers
to be this early stage of his career. "It's such a huge honor,"
he said, adding that it's an "outstanding idea" to induct
some artists into the Hall at the prime of their careers.
Still, Strait said, it's
only now starting to sink in that he's joined the legends as a member
of the Hall of Fame. "I'm starting to get a little cockier,
starting to treat people a little different, look down on people
a little bit," he quipped with a boisterous laugh."
"I'm starting to
realize that this is the ultimate compliment that can be paid to
an entertainer in the County Music field," he said, more seriously.
"I'm wondering what the hell else am I going to do now?"
Longtime producer Tony
Brown thinks part of the appeal of this five-time CMA Male Vocalist
of the Year winner is that he's not trying to reinvent the wheel.
He has a strong sense of what works for him as an artist, and he
sticks close to what he knows his audience wants. Consequently,
Brown said, "He's still a relevant artist after all these years."
"Unlike some artists
who get bored and try to reinvent themselves, he's never felt the
need to do that," said Brown, who has worked with Strait on
15 albums. "It's fun working with an artist like that because
he's not trying to push the envelope. He just enjoys being George
One secret to Strait's
success, according to Brown, is that "George always comes to
the studio and sings like he was performing in front of 20,000 people,
which inspires the band. He still has that fire in his belly."
Brown said Strait likes
to use the same studio musicians for each album, and "if someone
can't make it, it's always a big deal. His comfort zone is to be
around people he loves working with."
After a quarter century
in the business Strait said he still finds almost everything about
it enjoyable, with the exception of the travel.
"It's still a lot
of fun when I walk out on stage and do the shows," Strait said.
"There's just hardly any words to describe it because the crowds
are just . awesome. The traveling part is not something I look forward
to, but doing the shows I love, and making the records I love."
As a touring act, Strait's
performances have been consistently successful. He holds more than
20 attendance records at venues around the country.
Given the 25 years he's
been on the road, and the number of venue capacity records his shows
have broken, it's hard to image that Strait still gets nervous about
performing. Yet he admitted to getting butterflies in his stomach
as plans for each annual tour ramp up, with the nerves continuing
until the first gig is well underway.
"That first show
is always a little nerve wracking," he confessed. "After
all these years you'd think it would just come automatic, but you
still have those doubts. You just don't want to mess up. But after
I walk out and I've gone through that first song, it's just like
we've been doing it all year long."
Strait kicked off his
next arena tour Jan. 11, at the Cajundome in Lafayette, La., which
meant the butterflies began for him back in October. The tour's
first leg, with Ronnie Milsap in the supporting role, will encompass
more than 23 dates ending March 10. Last year, Strait grossed more
than $15 million from 18 arena dates, according to Billboard Boxscore.
After six months or more
off the road, Strait ramps up for each new tour by rehearsing with
his Ace in the Hole band to "knock the cobwebs off, grease
all the wheels and get back in the feel of it," he said.
Asked what it is about
him as an entertainer that consistently packs arenas, Strait modestly
responds, "I wish I knew." Pressed for an answer, he credited
his "great band," which ensures a show that is "musically
very tight." He also credited the abundance of hit songs he
has to draw on, and the fact that he and the band try to perform
the songs just as they sound on the CDs, something Strait believes
his audience really wants.
"Other than that,
I have no idea what it is," he said of his appeal
Despite the butterflies,
and his jokes about "hanging it up," Strait has no plans
to quit touring anytime soon. "We've had a lot of fans for
a lot of years and they're very loyal," he said. "I'm
going to keep going as long as they keep coming."
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