George Strait's road manager knows him like few others do

from LexGo on

While a student at Southwest Texas University (now Texas State University), Tom Foote put a notice on a bulletin board looking for a singer to fill out the country band he played drums in.

The favored respondent was a young Texan, fresh from service in the Army, with a devout love of traditional country music. His name was George Strait. Thus began Foote's 35-year alliance — initially as a drummer in what became Strait's Ace in the Hole Band, and then, for more than a quarter-century, as road manager — with one of the most enduring country artists of his generation.

"We were a bunch of kids back then," Foote said. "I was 23 and I think George was 24, maybe. We were playing local beer joints and dance halls and really did that for the better part of six years until he got his record deal with MCA. In fact, until George had his record deal, we had never played outside of Texas. It was a really great time. Some of my favorite memories were when we first started."

The picture, needless to say, became a bit larger for Strait and Foote over the years. The singer has scored more than 50 No. 1 country music hits, issued more than 25 albums (excluding anthologies and concert recordings) and retained a position as one of country's most bankable touring artists. And he has done it all by holding fast to a sense of tradition born out of inspiration absorbed in the music of Merle Haggard and fellow Texan Bob Wills.

"Our band started at the tail end of the first big wave of Texas music," Foote said. "It was when Jerry Jeff Walker was big and when Willie (Nelson) moved back to Texas. But the interesting thing was that George kind of missed a lot of that because he was in the Army and away from Texas. So when we met George, he was very traditional. We played a lot of Merle songs, a lot of Bob Wills and some of the older Ronnie Milsap shuffles.

"That was really George's background. In fact, there were a lot of places that wouldn't hire us back then because we insisted on being so traditional. We were really a dance band. We didn't measure crowd reaction by how much they applauded. You were hired by a lot of these dance halls and clubs to fill the dance floors. If you get a crowd dancing, you get them drinking beer. There was always a direct correlation."

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