Nearly 30 years after Strait Country (1981) and Strait from the Heart (1982) introduced him to the music-listening public, and 15 since the release of partial career retrospective Strait Out of the Box, George Strait is still just as enthusiastic as ever about discovering cute new ways of inserting his last name into common phrases.
The continued relevance of 57-year-old Strait is a bit of a puzzle to some critics. His wholesome, straitlaced image and strait-shooting demeanor make him an anomaly among contemporary country acts, yet his albums and singles continue to shoot strait to the top of the charts. His success continues even as the record industry as a whole seems in dire straits, with album sales slumping and media conglomeration running all but the most delusional fans strait to the internet for all of their music needs.
Producer Tony Brown attributes much of his friend’s success to the tireless pursuit of new Strait-related puns which has been the animating force behind his career. “Honestly, I think George and his fans would have lost interest years ago if not for the feeling that the next latest, greatest, Straitest pun might be just around the corner. The music has always just been a vehicle for the cutesy wordplay.”
In fact, Strait’s affection for punning on his last name was what led him to country music in the first place. Known even in boyhood as “that kid who’s always coming up with some new joke about his name,” Strait’s first exposure to the genre that had already welcomed songs like “You Can’t Have Your Kate and Edith Too” and “May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose” felt like a homecoming. He bought a cowboy hat and hasn’t looked back since.
Still, longtime manager Erv Woolsey admits that he has to rein in Strait’s enthusiasm at times. “If it were up to George, every album would include a Strait pun. Usually we manage to talk him out of it. For a long time, the working title of Twang was Strait Up ‘n’ Twangy, just to keep him excited about the project. He finally found out the real title when I showed him the finished album art and, man, he was devastated.”
According to Strait’s website, his next record – his first-ever covers project – will include fresh spins on the songs of heroes and contemporaries like Johnny Cash (“Strait A’s in Love”), John Anderson (“Strait Tequila Night”), Clint Black (“Strait from the Factory”), and country-folk troubadour Todd Snider (a bold mariachi version of “Conservative Christian, Right-Wing Republican, Strait White American Male”). The album will be released as Straitening the Covers in September 2010… or scrapped entirely, depending on whether Woolsey is able to talk him out of it.