Just like Merle Haggard with Capitol Records, or Elvis Presley’s legendary run with RCA, the label-to-artist marriage between MCA Nashville and George Strait has been one of the most successful in not just country -- but music history.
Last night, Universal Music Group threw what amounted to a George Strait Family Reunion at Nashville's Schermerhorn Center. Many current and former employees of the label who have been a part of the Strait success story were there -- including Big Machine CEO Scott Borchetta, Flying Island head Sheila Shipley Biddy, former MCA head (and Strait producer since 1993) Tony Brown.
The event was emceed by Lon Helton, who reminisced about an interview he did with the singer where he discussed being fired from an early band he was a part of called Ramblin' Country. Their reason for ousting the future legend? "They said I wasn't country enough," Helton recalled in the words of Strait.
A video screen played messages from acts such as Brad Paisley, Carrie Underwood, and Luke Bryan – who stated that one of the first songs that influenced him to be a singer was "You Look So Good In Love." In one video, Strait recalled getting a second opinion on his smash "Check Yes Or No" -- from his son Bubba, who told him the song was a hit. His prediction turned out to be true, as the song topped the charts for four weeks in the fall of 1995.
The singer was then saluted by several songwriters that have been a part of the Strait legend -- Jim Lauderdale, who sang "King Of Broken Hearts," as well as Phil O'Donnell and Tim James, who wrote the recent "Give It All We Got Tonight," and Dean Dillon, who performed "Unwound," Strait’s first single from 1981.
In addition to his unparalleled streak of recording success, his touring career was celebrated as well. Vince Gill and Trace Adkins shared reflections of seeing him in concert, while Tim McGraw talked about what he learned from watching Strait while opening for him on his successful stadium tours in the late 1990s / early 2000s. Strait was recently named as the 2013 recipient of Billboard's Legend of Live Award – making him the first country performer to ever receive the honor. He will officially be given the award on Nov. 14, and will kick off the second leg of his "The Cowboy Rides Away" farewell tour next year.
Later in the evening, Universal Music Group chairman Mike Dungan commented on some of his sales numbers for the label -- over 68 million records sold, with 33 platinum or multi-platinum certifications -- third only to The Beatles and Elvis Presley across all genres of music. Dungan was in quite the festive mood, saying "Every once in a while, you have to stop and say 'Yeah." He noted that the ceremony was taking place on Aug. 28-31 years to the date of his first chart-topper, "Fool Hearted Memory." Dungan also announced that though Strait might be hanging up his traveling shoes, he’s far from done. The two parties have agreed to a new five-album deal.
The next person on stage was the man himself. Known for his intensely private ways, he jokingly said "Enough about me." He thanked those who have worked on his career over the years, including the songwriters who have contributed to his recordings, and also noted Jim Fogelsong, who signed him to MCA. The music executive passed away last month.
Then, the singer closed out the event by doing exactly what the night was celebrating – performing a few of his hits. He reached back to 2008’s "Troubadour," tipped the hat to Dillon with the 1985 classic "The Chair," and closed out the evening with his current single, "I Believe." He shared the story of being inspired to write the song with his son and Dillon after the Newtown, CT tragedy last December. Joining the singer on the song was a group of students from Nashville’s Eakin Elementary School.