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George Strait: "I Don't See A Lot of My Influence in Country Music Today"

George Strait doesn't have to do much to be the life of the party. Showing up is pretty much enough to convert men into slack-jawed idiots and women of nearly any generation into star-eyed groupies. 

The country music superstar doesn't tour anymore, but he's making the rounds on a cross-country swing to promote Codigo 1530, a premium tequila brand of which he's an investor and spokesman. So last Thursday, the 64-year-old country singer breezed into Dallas for a round of golf at Preston Trail Golf Club during the day and a tequila tasting soiree at night. Professional hockey players hosted the evening's event, held at a $9.9 million private home in Inwood-Northwest/Bluffview.

This is how well-balanced icons retire: Living comfortable lives, pursuing hobby investments with golf buddies and playing just enough live shows to be revered and financially viable. And Strait wore the part well by being deeply tan, physically fit, softly spoken, effortlessly charismatic and enigmatically friendly. His perfect teeth enable easy, unblemished smiles.   

Strait is one of the best-selling music artists of all time, set the indoor venue attendance record for most people at his final show of a farewell tour in Arlington in 2014, and is right behind Elvis in terms of Gold and Platinum records. So it's not surprising that people around him exude a steady buzz of nervous energy, from the valet parking drivers loitering in the driveway to the professional athletes loitering inside.

And it turns out that Strait's pretty active for a retired guy. The country icon will release Strait Out of the Box: Part 2 on Nov. 18. The set includes new music he says he recorded this year. He's also got shows planned at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas this year and in 2017. So King George has not totally abdicated his throne. 

Besides music, he has golf and entrepreneurial adventuring to keep him busy, including this trip to Dallas. The tasting involved media and social media gawkers, trying not to stare at George Strait as tequila makers Federico Vaughan and Ron Snyder held forth on steaming agave, Spanish Crosses, French White Oak wine barrel and private family recipes.  

The pair met Strait on the links at the El Dorado Golf & Beach Club, a self-described "exclusive, gated golf and beach club community with over one mile of stunning coastline along Mexico’s Baja Peninsula." They would bring along unmarked bottles of tequila to sip on, and Strait got a taste for the Añejo over rocks. "I would ask where I could buy it. They would always answer that they just made it for family and friends," Strait tells the crowd. "I was thankful that I was a friend."
Now the brand is heading for the U.S. market, and Strait is an investor in the venture. He's fallen into well-heeled company; Snyder made a bundle steering the Crocs business and Vaughan's family owns the El Dorado. Former St. Louis Blues defense man Barret Jackman is also an investor.  

So if Strait's tequila play doesn't work, at least he'll be in good company. And this isn't the first spirit company the country singer has backed: a moonshine company crashed after a promising start, as we'll hear from the man himself. 

[Editor's Note: The company made sure to let the media know the party would continue well after the tasting, and it did. We only got to speak to Strait after he had time to mingle, well after the tasting. So the questions below have been edited to remove some tequila-induced rhetorical fumbling. Strait's answers are as he gave them, with light editing for clarity.]

Dallas Observer: So I've been enjoying the tequila tonight, mostly the Añejo. This isn't your first involvement with a spirit company, right?

George Strait:
I actually thought that the moonshine thing would really go. It was an opportunity to get involved with something that would be successful. And it kind of was for a little while. But I think, you know there's probably moonshines out there that are doing pretty well, but I think it was a fad thing for a lot of people.

And so the tequila. I've been friends with these guys for a long time and drinking this tequila in Mexico. Honestly, there is a lot of tequila out there. If you go to the tequila section of the store, there's so many labels. I really didn't even know how many there were, but there are tons. And I haven't been a big tequila drinker for a lot of years. I started drinking it in 2008. Now, I'm not saying I never had a shot of it before then ...
[Due to human error related to the quite delicious tequila, the recording of the conversation hereabouts cuts out. When it resumes, Strait is discussing the feeling he had when he thought he lost some information on his phone, and lamenting the unreliability of technology — charitably since this disruption was caused by human error.]

GS: You can't trust this [phone technology]. I tell my son, please. Write stuff down. You need it on paper, on a pencil. That's how I wrote and I still do it that way. But I find myself, when I'm writing with somebody, I'm actually pulling my phone out and going to my notes. And I thought I lost them one time. I might have an idea when I walk into the hotel tonight about something and I'll jot it down in my notes. That's what I lost. And I thought it was gone forever. I could have tried to recreate them, but it would have been really, really hard. Some of it was a year, even two years old.
Those notes are the creative spark that you build the rest of the song on?

GS: Right. 

Do you know where those sparks come from?

GS: I have no idea. I might go a month or so without any idea but I'm not really worried about it. You know, I went for years in my career and didn't write at all. But now I'm kind of into it again and so it's important to me. It's something I've said: If I have a regret, that's one I have, that I didn't continue to write through my whole career.   

I imagine there are lots of people reaching out to collaborate. 
GS: Oh yeah. I write a lot with my son, and I write with Dean Dillon who's written many, many songs for me. I just recorded a song last week with Jamey Johnson. We're releasing my second box set in November. So I did a couple new things for it, and one of them was that.

Do you miss playing on the road?
GS: I never said I quit playing; I quit touring. And I don't miss touring. This Vegas thing sort of worked out perfect for me. It's not like a residency thing. I did two shows three weeks ago, and in December I'll go back and do two more. Next year I'm going to do five weekends. So I get to scratch that itch. I still love to perform, but I got tired of the tours and stuff. 

What was the worst thing about touring?

GS: Just the fact that I know for this six months I'm gonna have to be going somewhere different every week. I've been doing this since 1981. [Chuckles.] So I figured it was time for a change.
Was there a reason Dallas was the final place of your touring career?

GS: Obviously, I'm from Texas. We wanted to have the biggest indoor show; we wanted to set a record. And so where is the place you can go and do that? So we came here. Plus, I opened it up, too. I remember doing my sound check in there with a hard hat. They weren't ready, really, so the whole band had to wear hard hats. Jerry had me a hard hat with a Dallas Cowboys star on it.

So what are you listening to these days? Anyone catching your ear?

GS: Well I'm playing the Vegas show with Kacey Musgraves. She's great. We're doing a couple songs together in the show. She's a very good songwriter, very good performer, singer.

Does the younger generation ask you for advice? What does a Kacey Musgraves ask you, and what do you tell them?

GS: [Laughs.] No, she doesn't need any advice from me. She's got it wired.

How's Las Vegas for country?

GS: Well, you can see anything you want to in Vegas, right? I've been playing Vegas my whole career. I started playing there at the Frontier, like two shows a night. Then I played the Hilton for a year, where Elvis performed. When we did the movie Pure Country, we filmed some in the Mirage. It's a great city to play.  

You get so much credit for bringing country music back to its roots in the 1990s. Do you think about your influence?

GS: I don't see a lot of my influence out there in country music today, out there being played on the radio. [Chuckles.] The country music scene is always changing, and the music is always changing. I've seen the pendulum swing this way and back this way. It's very country, and then not so country. I think right now it's kind of trending back to more traditional country music, which is what I like and I like to do. So I'm glad to see that. But I can't put anybody down for having success in the business, which is just tough. And for someone to go out and have some success in the music business, more power to 'em. I'm not saying I have to like it, but I just know how tough it is.    

Do you think something specific prompts these pendulum swings or is it some sort of natural cycle?

GS: I think it's just a natural thing, I don't know why it is. When I got signed at MCA records in 1981, you had all kinds of things going on, shows like "Pop Goes the Country." The thing was to get a crossover hit, and that would sell more records. They wanted a pop sounding country song to get the pop music lovers and country music people to buy it. And I never was into any of that. But I came around at the right time. Traditional country music kind of came back and there were a lot of artists who started doing it, like me, Alan Jackson, Randy Travis.

How do you listen to music these days? With satellite radio you're not as beholden to radio trends.

GS: I listen to the older stuff. If I listen to [Sirius XM] I'll listen to Outlaw Country or Willie's Roadhouse. There are other stations out there that play the kind of music that I like to listen to. Just got to search around for 'em.

Have you heard "A Girl in a Country Song" by Maddie and Tae? The lyrics say that women are treated like props in country music today, as opposed to your songs. You're held up as the gentleman cowboy singer who respects women.

GS: Well, good for me! I don't think I've heard it. I'll check that out, though.  

Do you have any great memories besides 2014 of notable time you spent here? When you think Dallas, what memories get jogged?

GS: Well, you know...

[Female voice,  delivered from a face tight with botox.] I'm so sorry to interrupt. Um, I'm sorry to interrupt! This is my friend's house and I'm just wondering if we can get a picture.

GS: Sure.

Female: Woo, let's get a picture with The George Strait!

[Shaking hands as he's pulled away.] Thanks, George.
GS: Good to meet you.

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Joe Pappalardo is the former editor-in-chief of the Dallas Observer.
Contact: Joe Pappalardo