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Texas Troubadour: Strait talk

Texas Troubadour: Strait talk

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A Conversation with Country Music Legend George Strait.

For a performer who has sold more than 100 million albums and racked up 60 number-one hit singles, the man fans call “King George” remains surprisingly modest– and protective of his private time. “Country music is important to me, but it’s not my whole life,” Strait said. “I like to be outdoors, I like to hunt, I like to fish, I like to play golf.”

Strait may have grown up idolizing hard-living country greats like Merle Haggard, George Jones and Johnny Cash (along with Western Swing king Bob Wills), but he’s managed to steer completely clear of the kind of controversy his heroes often found. Anyone looking to write a warts-and-all, Walk the Line-style tell-all is going to be seriously disappointed.

“George Strait is the ultimate family man,” says Strait’s longtime songwriting companion Dean Dillon. “Every time I’m ever around George, it’s not long before his son Bubba’s there. George, Bubba and Norma are closely-knit a family as you’ll ever find.”

What’s most remarkable about Strait’s career isn’t just the hits and the record-breaking sales feats, it’s his longevity and ability to remain relevant in a genre that is ever-changing. When Garth Brooks was flying on a wire over the heads of sold-out-concert goers in the 1990s, George Strait was having equal success playing traditional country tunes and letting his music essentially speak for itself. While younger acts were goofing around with pop-rap hybrids of the genre, the easy-going Texan reminded fans of his stature in the game by releasing a collection called “50 Number Ones” (For a frame of reference, Elvis Presley recorded 18 number one singles. The Beatles had 27 number ones.).

If you have a tee time or a brunch reservation at the renovated Resort at Tapatio Springs, don’t be surprised to see Strait out there following his bliss. He’s there often and gets in plenty of golf and revelry with his family, staff and members.

On The Links: You’ve worked with many talented songwriters, but can you describe what it’s been like to have had a songwriter like Dean Dillon (collaborator on more than 50 of Strait’s hit songs) in your camp? What’s the magic between you guys?

George Strait: I don’t think there’s been but one album I’ve ever cut with no Dean Dillon songs on it. Dean and I have had a very special relationship for many years. I really love his melodies and his lyrics ain’t too bad either (laughs). I think the thing that catches my ear first is the melody. Dean’s songs have such interesting, different melodies and a lot of really pretty chord changes.

OTL: Is there a particular process when you two work up a new song together?

GS: Our process, pretty much, is to set aside some dates to get together, then we all show up with our ideas and throw them out there and see what sticks. It’s fun but also gets pretty intense at times. A lot of times, Dean comes in with new songs for me and he’ll sit down and play them on guitar. We’ve gotten a lot of songs that way.

OTL: From ages nine to 90, you have tremendously loyal fans. Can you describe what it’s like getting energy and love from the fans at a live arena show—like those old, incredible Astrodome shows at the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo?

Strait and his son Bubba on the course.

GS: I’ve been very fortunate in my career to have such loyal fans. I still see some at shows that I remember from the 80s. That’s amazing! To try and describe what it’s like to play a big stadium in front of all of those great fans is impossible. It’s a lot of adrenaline and it’s just a heck of a lot of fun. When the audience is really with you, there’s nothing better than that. I’m just glad I get to experience it.

OTL: You’ve been compared to Frank Sinatra quite often. You have career longevity and that “seemingly effortless” quality to your singing in common. 1) Do you like that comparison? 2) Is the “effortless” description maybe a misconception—is it harder than we think to sound so smooth and easy?

GS: I have always been a big Sinatra fan, so when someone compares me to him, it’s a huge compliment. He was so smooth and it always seemed so effortless but, sure, some songs do require a little more effort than others. What comes off sounding comfortable or easy (on the finished song) might have been something that was difficult to do in the studio. It’s a trade secret, though. I can’t give it away. Singing is just fun, even the hard ones.

OTL: In your song “Troubadour”, you sing “I still feel 25 most of the time.” That’s probably the way most of us feel in those moments we’re doing what we truly love. Is that a good way to describe how you feel when you’re singing, roping, fishing or playing golf?
GS: Sure, I love doing all of those things, and when you’re doing something you love it makes you feel good. It makes you forget about those little problems or aches and pains that you sometimes feel. I don’t rope as much as I used to since Bubba quit going. We golf a lot more now. I just went out fishing yesterday and caught a sailfish, three Dorado, and two tunas. Not a bad day offshore…

OTL: Not bad at all. Let’s talk about another of your passions, golf. What did you and Tom Cusick see in the Tapatio Springs property that made you want to rescue it?

GS: Our goal has been to make the vision that Clyde Smith saw when he developed it become reality. It’s been a thrill to give new look, feel and flavors of Tapatio. Tom and I have worked hard to create the perfect Texas Hill Country resort for golfers, families and friends and the community.

OTL: What are your ultimate goals for Tapatio?

GS: We hope to make The Resort at Tapatio Springs a spot where you would want to take your family for a golfing vacation or a business would want to come have an annual meeting and golf outing. We will have great facilities for golf, lodging and food and beverage. We also want to welcome local golfers back out who maybe have, at one time or another, given up on Tapatio, and show them what it has and will become. It has the convenience of beautiful Boerne nearby, with all that it has to offer, which is amazing. Then, of course, you have the great city of San Antonio, also. What more could you want?

OTL: Where are some of your favorite places ever to play golf?

GS: I’ve been very fortunate to have been able to play some of the greatest golf courses in my travels. I’m not going to mention names because it would sound like I’m bragging, but sometimes I just have to pinch myself. We have some great golf courses here in Texas, so you don’t have to travel too far for a good challenge on a world class golf course.

OTL: Do you try to emulate any pro’s swing when you’re on the course?

GS: I like to imagine Fred Couples’ tempo when I’m swinging. I love to watch Freddie Couples play golf, too. Like most everyone else, wish I could swing the golf club like that. It seems like I play a little better– for a couple holes anyway– after I watch him play. He’s like the Sinatra of golf.

OTL: Do you look at golf as escape or a passion?

GS: Golf is a definite passion for me. I wish I could have started playing earlier in my life and hope I can play it until the day I die.

OTL: Are you competitive on the golf course?

GS: I play a lot with my son. He has become a very good golfer. We’re very competitive, but he usually beats me these days. I still get him every now and then, though. I really can’t remember playing golf with anyone who wasn’t very competitive, though, come to think of it. Everyone wants to win, right?

OTL: What’s your best 18-hole score ever?

GS: It’s a 75. I have had some days when I thought I was going to break that, but 18 has always done me in.

OTL: How did your “Tough Enough to Wear Pink” charity golf tournament come about?
GS: I’ve had a great relationship with Wrangler for many years. They are such good folks and, of course, I love to wear Wranglers. They started having the tournament a few years back without me. Later on, I was asked to host it along with my long-time friend, Butch Harmon. It was a no-brainer for me. It’s for a great cause, also, which is to research and find a cure for breast cancer.

By Carl Mickelson
On The Links



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