Press-shy trad-country giant goes On The Record for a no-bull Q&A

Over the past decade, country-music fans have experienced the frantic energy of Garth Brooks, the videogenic va-va-voom of Shania Twain, and the down-home girl power of the Dixie Chicks. But right now, kicked back in an office just off Nashville’s famed Music Row, George Strait is doing something that’s considered just as riveting within true-blue country circles: He’s talking.

George Strait doesn’t tend to gab much — at least not to magazines — and he doesn’t really have to. Over the past 20 years, the classy, unwrinkled 49-year-old baritone from south Texas has sold more than 57 million albums of vintage-style, modern-spun tunes, and he’s done it without making most of the usual concessions to the star-making grind. Still, when Strait sat down for a rare interview to chat about his platinum-selling The Road Less Traveled, there was no hint of hesitation; he was funny and ready to go. Despite having notched up 36 No. 1 country hits since 1982 (a dozen of which are freshly gathered on The Best of George Strait: The Millennium Collection), a certified masterpiece in his 1984 album Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind, and made a run at Hollywood as a longhaired honky-tonker in the 1992 hit film Pure Country, the pride of the town of Poteet doesn’t think of himself as a Nashville titan. Legends, for him, are the folks who inspired him—Bob Wills, Lefty Frizzell, George Jones, Merle Haggard, and Frank Sinatra. Even so, for such a quiet guy, George Strait sure has made a lot of noise:

Entertainment Weekly You haven’t granted an interview of any duration in six years. Were you always so dead set against talking to reporters, making TV appearances, filming videos, being photographed?

Strait In the beginning, I wanted to be successful. I wanted to make and have hit records. And I wanted everything that went along with it….[So] I did all that stuff earlier in my career. I did tons of interviews, and I went on The Tonight Show….[But] I have other things that I enjoy. Country music is important to me, and I love it, but it’s not my whole life….I like to be outdoors, I like to hunt, I like to fish, I like to play golf. I guess that through trial and error I found some [media-associated] things that I didn’t really like a lot.

EW Like doing interviews and making videos?

Strait I’m not big on doing interviews. And yeah, videos—well, I’ve never cut one that I really liked. But I’ve probably never gone and, you know, started [making] a video and been fully committed to it. I’ve probably always done them a little halfheartedly. [Laughs] That’s probably why they came off [unspectacularly]. You know, you get pretty much what you put into it.

EW By that reasoning, it sounds as though you put a lot of time into The Road Less Traveled. It’s a great George Strait album.

Strait I just think it’s one of my better efforts in quite a while. It’s like 10 strong moments. There’s not one song in there I could toss out. It’s something that, probably, every artist tries to do on every album, ’cause you’re always striving to make the best thing that you’ve ever done. But it just doesn’t always work out that way, for whatever reason. [Laughs] And you don’t ever know that until you get it done and finished, and you sit down and listen to it. At least I don’t.