Strait began playing with a rock band in
Strait was honorably discharged from the army in 1975. He chose to return to his studies, enrolling at Southwest Texas State University (SWT), now
While attending SWT, Strait joined the Ace in the Hole Band, who had been advertising for a new lead singer. Beginning October 14, 1975, the band started playing at Cheatham Street Warehouse in
In the late 1970s, while Strait continued to manage a cattle ranch during the day, the band recorded several singles in a Houston studio that were released under the Dallas, Texas based "D" record label, but they never achieved wide recognition. Strait became friends with Erv Woolsey, who operated one of the bars in which the band played, and who had previously worked for MCA Records. Woolsey convinced some of his Music Row connections to come to
"Unwound," Strait's first single, was released in the spring of 1981 and climbed into the Top Ten. The follow-up, "Down and Out," stalled at 16, but "If You're Thinking You Want a Stranger (There's One Coming Home)" reached number three in early 1982. The song sparked a string of Top Ten hits that ran well into the '90s. During that time he had an astonishing 31 number one singles, beginning with 1982's "Fool Hearted Memory". Strait was one of the best-selling country singers of the 1980s, and one of the few from that decade who survived the influx of rock-country singers such as Garth Brooks in the early 1990s.
In 1985, he won CMA awards for album of the year (Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind) and male vocalist. In 1986, he repeated his win as male vocalist, but his year was marked by tragedy when his 13-year-old daughter, Jenifer, was killed in an automobile accident. (His other child, George Jr., was born in 1981.) Strait capped the decade by winning the CMA entertainer of the year award in 1989. A year later, he won the award again.
Throughout the '80s, he dominated the country singles charts, and his albums consistently went platinum or gold. Strait rarely abandoned hardcore honky-tonk and Western swing — towards the beginning of the '90s, his sound became a little slicker, but it was only a relative change. Strait was also one of the few '80s superstars to survive the generational shift of the early '90s, which began with the phenomenal success of Garth Brooks.
His long-time producer Tony Brown, who has collaborated with Strait on more than 15 albums, attributes Strait's success to his understanding of what types of music work best for his voice and his fans, and his insistence on remaining true to his own style of music without trying to constantly reinvent himself. His signature style consists primarily of hardcore honky-tonk and Western swing.
Strait released a four-disc box set career retrospective, Strait Out of the Box, in 1995. By the spring of 1996, it had become one of the five biggest-selling box sets in popular music history. Blue Clear Sky, his 1996 album, debuted on the country charts at number one and the pop charts at number seven. In 1997, he released Carrying Your Love with Me, following it with One Step at a Time in 1998. Always Never the Same appeared a year later, as did the seasonal effort Merry Christmas Wherever You Are. In 1997, he released Carrying Your Love With Me, which also won a CMA award. Strait repeated as male vocalist in 1997 and 1998. All in all, Strait scored 17 No. 1 hits on the Billboard country airplay charts in the 1990s, including "One Night at a Time," "I Just Want to Dance with You" and "Write This Down."
Strait out of the Box became the 2nd best selling box set ever with shipments of 8 million in the
May 2001 saw the release of The Road Less Traveled, which qualified as an experimental album of sorts for the veteran performer. While it didn't stray very far from his new traditionalist country sound, Road did include a foray into vocal processing that was about as country as a pair of stiletto-heeled cowboy boots. But the experimentation was welcome, for it revealed that Strait was still hungry, even after millions upon millions of records sold. Strait issued two projects in 2003. For the Last Time: Live from the Astrodome chronicled his headlining set at the last Houston Livestock and Rodeo ever held in the big Texas dome, while Honkytonkville was a fiery set of hard country, lauded by critics for its mixture of the old Strait with his modern, superstar self. Somewhere Down in
On October 3, 2006, Strait marked his 30th year in the music industry with the release of a new album titled It Just Comes Natural. It contains 15 songs from Strait's long-time friend and songwriter, Dean Dillon. The album received positive reviews from critics. People Magazine, in their four-star review, remarked that "If ever there was a natural in country music, it's Strait," while USAToday raved that "He continues to make such consistent quality look easy." The first single off the album, "Give It Away" reached #1 and the title track, "It Just Comes Natural" became his 42nd Billboard #1. In 2007, "Wrapped" reached No. 1 on the Mediabase 24/7 country music charts, giving Strait his 55th overall number-one single.
Strait released a new album titled Troubadour on April 1, 2008. The CD contains 12 tracks, including a duet with Patty Loveless and another with long-time songwriter Dean Dillon, who wrote many of the songs on It Just Comes Natural. The lead single off the album, "I Saw God Today", debuted at #19 on the Radio and Records and Billboard charts. It is the highest debut ever for a single from Strait. Troubadour debuted at #1 on the Billboard Top 200 album charts, selling over 160,000 copies in its first week of release.
"I Saw God Today" has become Strait's 43rd Billboard Hot Country Songs number-one single and his 56th number-one single overall.