In 2019, George Strait received The President’s Keystone Award from the Nashville Songwriters Association International, or NSAI. It was a bit strange for Strait to earn a songwriter’s award since throughout his illustrious career, he’s been known more as a great song picker as opposed to a great songwriter. Strait has somewhat famously written very few of his own songs, though there are a few he wrote scattered throughout his catalog, especially his latest releases.
But the NSAI wasn’t recognizing George Strait for his own songwriting efforts. The President’s Keystone Award was given to Strait in “recognition of his contributions toward the betterment of all songwriters.”
This betterment of songwriters has taken form in many different ways throughout George Strait’s career. There are many songwriters who may never have been successful or had a career, or excelled in the profession as they did if it wasn’t for Strait recording their songs, and being so prosperous with them. This is a testament to Strait’s excellence as a performer and singer.
Songwriter Dean Dillon is one of the few pure songwriters in the Country Music Hall of Fame. This would have never happened if it wasn’t for George Strait selecting so many Dean Dillon songs to record over his career, and those songs doing so well. Because of that success, Dean Dillon wasn’t just able to make a career out of it. He was able to become one of the most successful songwriters in country music history. George Strait was there to personally induct Dean Dillon into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2021.
Jim Lauderdale might be one of the most under-appreciated songwriters and performers in country music in the last few decades. The fact that radio and major labels weren’t paying attention to Lauderdale is one of the reasons the Americana Music Association was founded. Independent and grassroots-minded people in the music business felt they needed to open up an alternative to mainstream country if people like Lauderdale were slipping through the cracks.
George Strait recorded over a dozen of Lauderdale’s tracks, filling up Lauderdale’s mailbox with royalty money, and making fans out of the folks who pay attention to songwriting credits. When the Americana Music Association gave Jim Lauderdale a Lifetime Achievement award in 2016, George Strait showed up to the Ryman Auditorium to personally pay tribute to Lauderdale, singing “The King of Broken Hearts” that Lauderdale wrote and Strait sang for the Pure Country soundtrack in 1992.
Even though George Strait officially retired from touring in 2014 and only takes the bus out these days if he’s headlining a stadium show or a residency in Las Vegas, he still makes the time to appear to support the songwriters who helped ensconce him as modern country music’s “King.”
Keith Gattis was another guy that George Strait helped support over the years. Similar to Jim Lauderdale, Gattis was incredibly overlooked and underrated throughout his career. When he died tragically on April 23rd, 2023 in a tractor accident on his property at the age of 52, performers from across the country music world stepped up to remember him as one of the good guys.
Keith Gattis wrote the song “I Got a Car” on George Strait’s 2013 Love Is Everything album, as well as “Goin’, Goin’, Gone” and “Let It Go” for Strait’s 2015 album Cold Beer Conversation. Keith Gattis was also a beloved producer and musician. In 1996, Gattis signed as a major label artist to RCA Nashville and released a debut self-titled album. But like so many in the country music industry, it never clicked for him as a performer, despite his undeniable talent.
On November 28th, family, friends and fans of Keith Gattis gathered at The Brooklyn Bowl in Nashville to pay tribute to the late songwriter and producer. The 1,200-capacity venue is tiny compared to the places George Strait is used to performing in, but he was there along with a host of others including Jon Pardi, Wade Bowen, the aforementioned Dean Dillon, and others.
George Strait sang the Keith Gattis songs “I Got a Car” and “Goin’, Goin’, Gone” for the crowd.
Some have criticized George Strait over the years for not writing more of his own material. But there is nobody in country music who is more aware of how important his songwriters were to him than George Strait. Whenever called upon to prop them up or pay tribute to them, King George appears, proving he isn’t just an A+ performer, but a stand up guy.