George Strait Keeps Carrying On (1997)
George Strait knows he has his work cut out for him, despite an amazing track record of 16 years worth of hit albums.
"There's a lot of new artists out there," George says as he acknowledges the competition facing his latest release, Carrying Your Love With Me.
"Every day it seems like there's a new artist. It gives the audience exposure to a lot more music. You hear a lot of good music on the radio today."
This month, fans will get a chance to hear a lot of good George Strait on the radio, thanks to a syndicated radio special aired by SJS Entertainment and hosted by Lon Helton who asks George about the time since his first single, "Unwound," in 1981: "How do you look at the last 16 years -- does it seem like 116 years or 16 minutes?"
"It's more like 16 minutes," George declares. "It's just really flown by -- really has. A lot of great things have happened. Time flies when you're having fun."
He's been having fun choosing tunes for the new album. George says his process of picking songs is similar to the way fans decide if they like a song or not. It's all a matter of attraction.
"It's the melody mostly that attracts me to a song -- that's what catches my ear. It catches a lot of people's ears, and they just don't know it -- and then you start kind of listening to the lyrics. That's the way I found that I do it anyway. If the melody sounds really good, then I start listening to the lyrics and see what they say.
"I try to have a lot of input in the song selection. It's important for an artist because you're the one that has to go out and sing it every night.
"The song-finding process is pretty simple actually. All of the publishers keep up with who's going in the studio and when -- and as soon as they find out you've got a date booked, they start sending you all kinds of material. You start getting tapes and tapes and more tapes, and you listen and listen and listen, trying to find the best ones you can. I go through hundreds of tapes because I'm very involved in the process early on."
Not that George has to do it all himself, because his manager, Erv Woolsey, and famed Nashville producer Tony Brown are also helping out.
"When they hear something good, they send it to me. We're going to start looking for the next album here pretty quick. We were talking about it yesterday -- that we need to start listening to songs."
The title track of the new album has been with him since the beginning of the project, he says. "'Carrying Your Love With Me' was the first song I kept when I started to listen to songs for the album, so I was able to really live with it for a long time. Sometimes when you do that, after a while they don't hold up and you end up passing on them. This one is still holding up for me.
"I love this song, and I sang it pretty much like it was written. The melody is really good, and the chorus is what grabs you."
The first single, which in typical George fashion is already racing toward the top of the chart, is "One Night at a Time," a slight departure for the normally traditional sounding singer.
"It's real different. It's not a traditional sounding country record by any means. It's more in the vein of 'Marina Del Ray.' " he says, referring to his 1982 Top 10 hit.
"It's got some neat little gut-string picking on there, and a real catchy chorus and bridge. It's an addicting type of chorus -- you'll want to sing along with it right after you hear it, I think. I did anyway -- that's what drew me to it.
"Sometimes I think about how a song will sound live, but that really doesn't have anything to do with whether I pick it for an album or not. Anything we do in the studio we can pull off live as well."
Another track, "Round About Way" is, says George, "a fun song. It's very uptempo -- and the melodies got me. It's got a real different chorus -- 'Yeah, I still miss her in a round about way/Around about the time that midnight rolls around.' "
The album's fourth song, "She'll Leave You With a Smile," says George, "was written by a guy named Jackson Leap. Now can you believe that name? You did good, Jackson.
"It's a slow ballad about a girl -- she's a devil, she's an angel, she's a woman, she's a child. She's a heartache when she leaves you, but she'll leave you with a smile."
Carrying Your Love also contains "Won't You Come Home (And Talk to a Stranger)," a minor 1968 hit by Wayne Kemp, who co-wrote Strait's 1994 hit, "Lovebug." "I love to hear his records," George says of Kemp, whose biggest hit was the 1973 "Honky Tonk Wine."
"I've done other songs of his. He's a great writer and singer, and there's so many of his songs that I can do and would like to redo. I love that old style and feel of music. If I can find those that have never been recorded, I'd rather do them than remake something."
Another remake on the album is "Today My World Slipped Away," originally recorded by Vern Gosdin in 1982. "We were sitting around the office one morning during the middle of the session, and Tony Brown brought this song in and said, 'Do you remember this song that Vern had?' I said I didn't think so. He stuck it in the player and played it. I did remember it, but it had been so long ago that I had totally forgotten all about it.
"What a great song it is! I immediately wanted to go cut it, but Vern sings the heck out of it. I didn't know if I could sing it and pull it off quite as good as Vern did. But I tried.
"Vern is such a great guy. He was on the very first tour that I did -- with Ray Price back in '81 or '82. They needed another guy, and I had a couple records out. The booking agency called and said, 'You're going on the road with Ray Price.' I flew to California and met Ray and Vern.
"Me and Ray and Vern and the band -- Vern and I used Ray's band -- we were all together on the bus and I'm thinking, 'Here I am playing the Cheyenne Social Club in San Marcos, and now I'm out here in Fresno with Ray Price, one of my heroes, and Vern Gosdin.' It turned out pretty good, and I enjoyed it."
Jackson Leap makes another contribution to the new album with a tune he co-wrote with legendary Nashville writer Harlan Howard called "I've Got a Funny Feeling."
"Kind of an uptempo song -- and I love it," George says. "It's got that old flavor to it. I'd rather cut one that had the old flavor that had never been done before than remake one. This is one like that."
Another of Nashville's top writers who makes a contribution to Carrying Your Love is Bobby Braddock, who wrote "He Stopped Loving Her Today" and "Time Marches On."
His new song is "The Nerve." "It certainly is different and a well-written song that has some deep meaning and thought put into it," George says. "Bobby Braddock is an incredible writer. Some of these writers who can find different ways to say things, like Bobby, are very gifted people.
"This is a song that I thought about a while because it was a great demo and I wanted to be able to pull off a song like this. When you write a great song, you don't want somebody taking it and screwing it up. I didn't want to be the one to do it. I was very careful with this."
After the fun, uptempo "That's Me (Every Chance I Get)," Strait presents "A Real Good Place To Start," written by his old friends Dean Dillon and Gary Nicholson.
"Dean had been over to my office during the time I was cutting the album. I go over stuff in the mornings and my sessions are usually at about 1 o'clock. I'm going over what I know I'm going to do, and I'm still always looking for something else. Dean had been over a couple times and played me songs but nothing was just really clicking for me. I like all of Dean's stuff, but a lot of it doesn't fit me, so I had passed on everything.
"Dean was wringing his hands when he came in the last morning of my last session. He and Gary had written this song the night before, and they hadn't made a demo. They came in and played it on guitar. I said, 'Yep, that's a good one -- we'll do it.' They put it down on a guitar and vocal and dropped it by the studio and it was the last song we cut. That's taking it to the wire there."
Ironically, "A Real Good Place To Start" brings an end to George's new album, but not an end to his observations on the recording process and a state-of-the-art look at his incredible country music career.
He recalls that Dean Dillon co-wrote his very first hit "Unwound." "They took a chance giving me that record -- I think they wanted to give it to Johnny PayCheck, who was having a lot of hits at that particular time. But, instead, Dean and Frank Dycus gave it to me. Once that song became a hit for me, then I started recording more Dean Dillon and Frank Dycus songs -- and they started writing a bunch more for me."
Along with the new album will be a new video -- most likely. "I probably will do one for this new album," says the man whose "Check Yes or No" received a CMA nomination for video of the year in 1996. "I might do one for 'Carrying Your Love With Me.'" While there are no plans for a follow-up movie to his Pure Country silver screen debut, George hints in the radio special that he may return to films. "If I'm going to do another movie someday, I'd want to do a western. I'd really like to do that, but I don't have any plans for a movie in the near future."
Despite all the platinum and gold albums and top awards, George has one more goal. "I want to do a totally swing album. I still like to listen to the big band swing -- the Sinatra-type stuff. I thought the Natalie Cole album, the tribute to her dad, was really, really great.
"Maybe someday I'll do an album of old Sinatra-flavored swing with a big huge band. I'd love to do it."