George Strait is Texan through-and-through. From his early days in Gruene Hall to his legendary mega-concert finale at AT&T Stadium in Dallas, he’s owned the state. In between, he’s owned the rest of country music. He is the undeniable “King of Country Music,” with a career spanning more than 30 years. Strait’s curriculum vitae includes 60 No. 1 singles, more than any other artist in any genre, and 33 platinum or multi-platinum-selling albums, more than any country artist and third across all genres behind only The Beatles and Elvis Presley. Strait is the only act in history to have a Top 10 hit every year for more than three decades and has sold more than 70 million albums and earned more than 60 major entertainment industry awards. A member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, he’s still putting on shows—in Las Vegas—in fact. He took time to answer questions about the new show, his place in country music, his love for his home state, and a little bit of horse trading
It seems as if your 2017 (five weekends at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas) is a perfect step-down from a full tour schedule. What has made this new slate of performances work for you?
It sort of just fit exactly with what I had in mind: to be able to still do my shows and not have to do a full-blown tour. I’ve always loved playing Vegas and have my whole career. I’m making five trips there over the course of this year.
Vegas is more cowboy than people realize.
Yes, it’s the perfect spot for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. I’ve been going to the rodeo for years and will be back again next December. When you fly into Las Vegas, if you look down, you can see many arenas in backyards of little ranchitas everywhere. There are lots of cowboys and cowgirls in that town.
What can fans expect at these shows? Any special format changes or new songs?
I’ve been working on as many new things as I’m comfortable doing. It’s hard, because there are certain songs that I feel like I have to do. I’m doing a small tribute to Merle Haggard, as well. It was so sad to have lost him last year.
You’ve never changed your style—singing or look. Alan Jackson once said you didn’t have to follow trends because you’re just naturally cool. Can you describe the George Strait magnetism?
That’s a hard question to answer. I don’t think of myself like that. I doubt if many people do. I am who I am. If there is such a thing as “George Strait magnetism,” you’ll have to find out what that is from someone else. Sorry.
That answer might reveal some key elements of that magnetism. What are the important things you’ve tried to hold to throughout your career?
Just to be true to myself. To try and do the best music I can and do the very best shows I can. I love great singers and musicians and most have their own niche. They know what they do best. I’m not saying you can’t do other things, but maybe just not quite as well. I’m a country singer. I can sing a Tom Petty song, but it ain’t going to rock like Petty. I also have other interests that I love when I’m not in a musical mood.
Many would say you’ve had the greatest country music career of all time. What factors combined for you to become the most decorated country musician ever?
Well that’s flattering to hear, considering all of the artists who came before me. I don’t even know if that is a factual statement or not. I never have thought in terms of defining my career by decorations and awards. Those kinds of things just come sometimes. It’s not something that I ever pursued. I did really want to sell records, though. I wanted Gold and Platinum records. However, I never started a year and thought, “I’m really going to try and be the Entertainer of the Year this year.” I just did my shows, made my records and the fans did the rest. I’ve always said I have the greatest fans in the world, and I truly believe it. I love and really appreciate the fact that along the way, I’ve been awarded at the shows and truly never dreamed I would be in the Hall. I take that back–I did dream about it, but it was always just a dream to me.
I heard someone say you have carried the torch for country music. Do you think so? Is that something you feel obligated to do?
If some people think that I carry the torch for country music, I’ll take that and carry it proudly. There were a lot of people before me carrying it and there will be more after I’m gone. Country music is an art form that will never die. It lives forever. I’m sure of that.
I love the fact that I’m from the great state. Texas is in my blood from the toes to the nose. That might be a song there, ha! I’ve been influenced by Texas music all my life. There are so many legends here. There’s such great music here and it’s very diverse. From San Antonio to Austin, even though that’s not very far, there’s a big difference in the music.
What sets the Lone Star State apart?
Its size. It’s huge and very different. From south Texas to North Texas, east Texas to West Texas. Take a couple months and drive it and you’ll see. There’s one flag other than the U.S. flag that everyone knows, and that’s the Texas flag.
You’ve got no less than a dozen songs about Texas. What makes it a fertile field for songwriting?
Any time I find a song about the great state that I like, I do it. I love singing about my home state. It’s easy to be inspired by it. There are just so many great songwriters and singers and musicians here that inspire you by their talent. I’m just proud to be a small part of it.
I’ve been to your team roping a half dozen times writing for Spin To Win Rodeo magazine. Have you taken more time to rope since riding away from full-time tours?
This was year 35 for my team roping event. I don’t rope anymore. I just got to where I couldn’t rope the way I wanted to anymore. Not that I was ever great, but I could at least be competitive at times and those days have passed. I miss it terribly. I have some great memories of the many roping events I went to and friends that I made in that world and the great horses that I have been able to ride. So much fun.
I’d be remiss to not follow up on the filly Dean Tuftin presented you with that has had some success in the arena since.
Dean has the filly. He wanted to show her and I didn’t, so it made sense for his breeding program to take her back. She’s done fantastic. I made a deal with Dean that whenever my grandson was old enough and needed a good horse, he would take care of that. It’s a good deal all around.