Country king George Strait says adios to touring as he lands in St. Paul Friday night on his final concert swing.
Like Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley, George Strait does it his way.
From being the first modern country act to wear a cowboy hat to pulling the plug on concert tours in his prime, Strait calls his own shots.
At 60, the King of Country Music —who performs Friday at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul — will stop touring after his Cowboy Rides Away tour ends next year, but he will not cease making music. He plans to record more albums, hoping to add to his unprecedented run of 44 No. 1 hits on Billboard’s country chart.
“He does everything on his terms,” said Twin Cities country radio programmer Gregg Swedberg of K102. “He’s worried about his life, not his career. The length of time that he’s been successful is completely unprecedented. How many artists are popular for 30 years in one [radio] format? There’s nothing like George Strait.”
Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder have been making music since the 1960s but when was the last time any of them had a No. 1 single? Elton John and Bruce Springsteen emerged in the ’70s and still fill arenas but can you name either’s last big hit?
Dolly Parton, George Jones, Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson have been stars much longer than Strait but they’ve been missing from the upper reaches of the country charts for a long time. Alabama and Ricky Skaggs both launched their careers in Nashville at about the same time Strait did, but when was the last time they made a noise on radio?
Strait keeps going strong — in 2011, he landed “Here for a Good Time” at No. 2 and “Love’s Gonna Make It Alright” at No. 3, and all of this year’s tour dates are sold out.
And he doesn’t just appeal to old-timers.
“It’s as cool at 18 to say you’re a George Strait fan as it’s ever been,” Swedberg said, “and he’s grandpa age.”
Natalie Beavers, 21, of Cannon Falls, grew up listening to Strait with her parents and grandparents.
“It’s really classic country music,” said Beavers, who also likes new stars Eric Church and Brantley Gilbert and will see Strait for the first time in concert Friday in St. Paul. “Everybody can enjoy it. You can relate to him. His lyrics are just really simple, about everyday-life issues.”
Strait writes a lot of relationship songs in a straightforward way. “He doesn’t do a lot of fluff,” said Swedberg, pointing to Strait’s “Lovebug” as one of his few lightweight hits. To be sure, the singer is fond of using the occasional cute turn of a phrase (“All My Exes Live in Texas,” “Where Have I Been All My Life”) but he usually travels the tried and true (“I Cross My Heart,” “I Just Want to Dance With You”).
While Reba McEntire (who started before Strait) tries to modernize her sound and Garth Brooks (who modeled himself after Strait) tries to experiment, Strait is about as consistent as his outfit: Resistol cowboy hat, starched button-down shirt and creased Wrangler jeans.
“He’s Gary Cooper cowboy,” said longtime country music journalist Michael McCall, now an editor at the Country Music Hall of Fame. “You can rely on him.”
Unlike other country superstars who take a couple of years between albums, Old Reliable “puts out songs every single year,” Swedberg said. “They’re high-quality, well-written songs. He doesn’t vary much. He’s old-school.”
Home on the ranch
Ranching is the first love for the Texan who toiled as a kid on his dad’s 2,000-acre cattle spread and eloped with his high school sweetheart.