The Cowboy Rides Away: Retiring or No, George Strait Announces Last Tour

Holly Gleason | September 26th, 2012

georgestrait39_photobyVanessaGavalya_v_pIt’d be too easy to be cynical given the way legendary country acts of the last 30 years – see the Judds eternal farewell tour or Alabama’s three trips through many markets final trek – have cried wolf about “last” tours. But something  about iconic Hall of Famer George Strait – known to many as “King George” – feels like his Cowboy Rides Away 2013-2014 Tour marks the end of an era.
Oddly, the man, who has always been the poster-superstar for dignity and class in a genre known for more more more, has made more of a personal investment in his music over the past year. Here For A Good Time, which featured Strait co-writes on seven of the eleven songs, may have been prescient: it included a ruminative take on Jesse Winchester’s wages of star-making “A Showman’s Life.”

Turning 60 this year was obviously a milestone. Also the seeming rush to younger, more contemporary acts saw the man who has had 59 #1 hits, including 44 on Billboard’s Country Singles chart, being shut out as a nominee for this year’s Country Music Association Awards. Speaking to a packed press conference at the Country Music Hall of Fame, the reticent Texan explained, “I had it in the back of my mind that when I turned 60 it might be the time to start thinking about [getting off the road]. I also didn’t want to book a tour and nobody came. It was important to me to pick that time, rather than go that long when something like that started happening. I believe I made the right decision.”

Always the man with dignity, he is not one to stand around begging people to look-at-me, look-at-me. Having anchored the film Pure Country, been the first country artist since Willie Nelson in the late 70s to put Country Music in stadiums and had 33 platinum or multi-platinum albums, Strait has become one of country music’s most enduring artists. Alan Jackson and Garth Brooks have both cited his kind of country, traditional, occasionally leaning into Western swing, and always grounded by his smooth vocal style as an influence. Whether it’s resuscitating a classic like “Shores of Old Mexico,” exploring the work of progressive traditionalists Bruce Robison and Jim Lauderdale or iconic songwriters like Winchester or John Prine, his focus has remained on the quality of song and strength of performance.

And up until recently, it has always set the standard for what is Academy of Country Music and Country Music Association Awards nominee material. He has won Entertainer of the Year, Male Vocalist, Album, Single and Event – and his performances, never big on production, just the man and his music, remained some of the various awards show’s most anticipated performances.

Maybe it is time. How many genres allow artists to have thirty-year runs of viability? Since releasing Strait Country in 1981, the man who shifted from rock to country during his time playing in a band in the Army has come to be a posterboy for the real thing. Certainly Bruce Springsteen in rock, who’s approaching 40 years as an icon, faces the same challenges, but remains as revered as ever. Mind you, Strait was quick to stress, he’s not retiring. He will continue to record, to make random appearances, to do the occasional show. But the time has come for one final two-year 40 date run – and as always he intends to leave in style.

Hard to believe someone who’s music is as timeless as the man whose given us “Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind,” “All My Exes Live In Texas,” “Run,” “Give It Away,” “The Chair,” “Murder on Music Row,” “Carrying Your Love with Me,” and “Check Yes Or No” would ever not be a part of country music. Yet, with many older acts falling from favor, once again George Strait may be ahead of the curve. What it says in a genre where two-dimensional lyrics about truck beds, tan lines and cold beers have replaced the plain strong, silent poetry of something like “Fool Hearted Memory,” Strait first #1, is hard to reckon. But as Rodney Crowell once wrote in his “You’re Supposed to be Feeling Good”:

Your new love has made you feel better
But look out for later when she makes you feel worse
Times change, in day dreams and flashes
A taste of the past is all that I’ve seen
You’re supposed to be feeling good now
‘Cause everybody said you would
Honey, does it blow your mind
That the prophets would lie

In the rush for something newer, wilder, louder, bigger, it’s easy to write down integrity, classicism and what was. It’s not the quickest or the shiniest, but how often – as Crowell’s song explains – does it fall apart before it gets very far? And in the wake of what we wanted, how hard is it to get back to where we were?

After all, George Strait, like Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson and Emmylou Harris, isn’t phoning it in. Country fans still make him one of the most bankable acts in the genre – and a star whose marquis value is up there with Nelson and Dolly Parton. Not that Strait will ever close the door. With the tour kicking off Jan 18 in Lubbock, Texas, there is music to make and fans to entertain. Over the next two years, he can think about what else he wants to do – beyond cowboying, fishing, playing golf and enjoying a life that doesn’t include the smell of diesel in the morning. Never say never, right? Or else like frequent singing collaborator Lee Ann Womack suggests, “Never Again, Again.”

  1. Robin Royster
    September 26, 2012 at 8:01 pm

    Great article! George Strait is great and so classic. Current popular country music just can’t compare. Wish it did – but it doesn’t. I will be seeing him on this tour for sure!

  2. Adam Sheets
    September 26, 2012 at 11:12 pm

    Great article. Always loved George’s music and this is one tour that I’ll be catching if I can.

    As much as I hate to say it, if this show passes my way the same night as George Jones’ tour, I’ll be seeing Strait. I think Jones was a much better singer and was much more important in the overall scheme of things, but Strait is going out at the top of his game. I don’t think I can say the same of the Possum.

  3. Rick
    September 27, 2012 at 5:55 pm

    George just needs to find a look alike stand-in the way Dusty did in “Pure Country”! Price the beer cheap enough and with trick lighting effects no one will even notice the difference! (lol)

  4. Leeann Ward
    September 27, 2012 at 6:27 pm

    Nice article. Sad to see King George going on a “farewell” tour, but I’m not surprised, because I’ve gotten the impression that he hasn’t been as fond of the road as some have been, like Willie Nelson. It does seem like an end of an era though. I am happy that he plans to continue making albums, since his work since the It Just Comes Natural album has been some of his strongest, in my opinion.

  5. luckyoldsun
    September 27, 2012 at 8:30 pm

    “It’d be too easy to be cynical given the way legendary country acts of the last 30 years – see the Judds eternal farewell tour or Alabama’s three trips through many markets final trek – have cried wolf about “last” tours. ”

    I’d cut the artists of the past–including the Judds and Alabama some slack in that area–comparing them to Strait is unfair.

    Those other artists probably needed the money! Alabama didn’t roll up platinum album after platinum album and didn’t do year-after-year of huge stadium tours–and they had to split their take four or five ways!

    Strait’s gotta be rolling in so much dough that he won’t be under pressure to do anything other than whatever he feels like.

  6. Nick S
    September 27, 2012 at 10:05 pm

    Great article, it will be sad to see the Cowboy Ride Away [tour]. But its great to hear George will continue to record and make great albums!

  7. J. Burke
    March 6, 2013 at 7:29 am

    Willie Nelson deserves all the credit he gets and more but I think that Waylon, with Willie, played a big part in getting country music into stadiums.

    June 11, 2013 at 9:53 am

    If George were to ever venture into starting a country music mentoring/talent search, Id be the first to sign up. I have been to many George Strait concerts in my lifetime, and each one reminds me of why this man is so revered as the King of Country. Congrats to you George for doing it right and showing all of us how true country really should be done, both onstage and off. You are an admirable man of character and values. Sad to see you leave the stage, but I know you are far from gone from the music business. Best wishes for your continued success in your retirement. May the road rise up to meet you! Thanks for the many great songs you have written, sung, produced and ever been a part of.

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