68 Years Ago: George Strait Is Born in Poteet, Texas
Happy 68th birthday to George Strait! The singer was born on this day (May 18) in 1952.
Strait was born in the small town of Poteet, Texas, just south of San Antonio, to parents John and Doris. His father was a math teacher and also owned a 2,000-acre ranch, where Strait and his siblings -- brother John Jr. (known as Buddy) and sister Pency -- worked on weekends and during the summers. However, when Strait was in fourth grade, his parents divorced, and his mother moved away with his sister, leaving the future country star and Buddy to live with their father.
By the time Strait reached high school, he had developed both an interest in and a proficiency for music. He formed his own band in his garage ... although he says he uses the term "band" loosely.
"I had a couple of friends, and we knew a couple of songs, "Gloria" and "Louie Louie,"" Strait tells Billboard. "Calling us a band is really a stretch. I hadn't really gotten into country music back then. It was all rock 'n' roll.
But it didn't take the young man long to get drawn into the local music scene.
"The great thing [in Texas] is that you can hear live bands in every town," Strait tells USA Weekend. "Live music is very important in Texas. It was good for me to go through that. I may not have been ready to play big arenas without that experience. Hell, I still get nervous about performing."
Strait joined the Army and waited until he was honorably discharged to enroll in Southwest Texas State University, majoring in agriculture. While in school, he formed the band Stoney Ridge, later renamed Ace in the Hole, which performed all over the Lone Star State.
"Our first gig was at a place in San Marcos, Texas, called Cheatham Street Warehouse," Strait recalls. "It sits right up against the railroad track. When the train came through, you just had to ignore it and try to play louder. We later played most every honky-tonk in South and Central Texas. Those were fun days, and I believe that gave me a good foundation for what would come later."
"Later" was when Strait earned the attention of Erv Woolsey, who at the time owned one of the Texas clubs that Strait and his band played in from time to time. Woolsey had been involved in the music business in Nashville, before getting out of it to return to the clubs in Texas. But once Woolsey heard Strait, he went back to the music industry, taking a job with MCA Records, believing that he could get Strait signed to the label.
"He thought I had a chance at getting a record deal and started trying to get some of the execs to come down and hear me sing," Strait explains. "That eventually led to me getting a chance to make a record."
LOOK: George Strait's Best Live Shots
Woolsey quit his job to become Strait's manager. Strait's debut album, Strait Country, was released in 1981 and included his debut single, "Unwound," which landed in the Top 10. His sophomore album, Strait From the Heart, gave the singer his first No. 1 hit, "Fool Hearted Memory," and kicked off an unprecedented career in country music that includes 60 No. 1 hits and more than 69 million albums sold worldwide.
Strait has also dabbled in acting: He has appeared in several films, including The Soldier in 1982 and Pure Country in 1992, the latter of which cast Strait in the starring role.
In 1971, Strait eloped with his high school sweetheart Norma, before he joined the Army. Together they had two children: Jenifer was born in 1972, and George Jr., known as Bubba, was born in 1981. Tragically, their daughter was killed in a car accident when she was only 13 years old; a fund, the Jenifer Strait Memorial Foundation, was established in her memory.
Throughout his illustrious career, which has spanned almost 40 years, Strait has continued to use his original band for his live shows.
"I like people who are loyal to me, and I like to be loyal, too. Plus, they're great players," Strait says. "We didn't make much money. One time we left a club with $7 apiece in our pockets. But we always got the beer free."
Strait launched his farewell The Cowboy Rides Away Tour in 2013, choosing to focus on making albums but staying off the road. Strait performed his "final show" at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on June 7.
“It is a lot of hard work and traveling. It gets to you,” Strait says of his decision. “I don’t mind traveling that much when I can go somewhere and stay there for a while, but touring is different. You rarely see anything. You get there early in the morning and you’re resting all day, and you go in and do a sound check, and you do the show, and then — bam — you’re gone. So it’s not like you’re getting to go out and see the sights and all the cities you go to.”
LOOK: A Look Back at George Strait's Career in Pictures