MCA Wanted George Strait to Lose The Hat, Go By ‘Cain Cooper’

photo: David McClister

George Strait doesn’t leave his house for much these days since announcing his retirement from the road in 2014. There’s the occasional residency out in Las Vegas, or a one-off stadium show or two with tickets that usually go for $200+ a pop. He’s earned the right to make his public appearances very selective. But he did put the effort out to find a clean shirt and travel to Oklahoma City to accept a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum on Saturday, September 18th.

In a rather under-reported engagement, Strait received the award alongside Robert Duvall who was bestowed his own Lifetime Achievement Award as a holdover from the 2020 event that was postponed due to the pandemic. The two men received commemorative three-piece Western buckles as part of the ceremony that honors individuals who have made significant contributions to Western heritage through their lives and careers.

Upon receiving the award, George Strait took the podium to give a four-minute speech. In the address, he talked about growing up in small town south Texas on a ranch, and how he came from cowboy culture, just like his father. After Strait served in the military and went to college in San Marcos, TX, he continued to manage the family cattle farm as he started his country music career.

Eventually Strait hit it so big in country, he had to hand off his cowboy affairs to others. But of course, George Strait continued to contribute to cowboy and Western culture throughout his career, including songs such as “Amarillo By Morning,” and “I Can Still Make Cheyenne,” and many others.

During his speech to the black tie National Cowboy & Western Heritage crowd, George Strait told a story about when he first signed a major label deal and landed in Nashville, and what MCA Records tried to get George Strait to do to make him more marketable.

“I want to tell you a funny story. When I first signed with MCA Records in 1981, all the people were going, ‘Take the hat off!’ Now can you would imagine if I would have done that!” George Strait said laughing. “I mean really.”

“And then I had a producer early on and he was trying to get me to change my name … to Cain Cooper,” Strait continued, laughing along with the crowd. “I would have been one of the Coopers! My dad was so glad I didn’t do that.”

Strait went onto dedicate his Lifetime Achievement Award to his dad, who he gave credit for instilling in him his Western heritage. “I tried to take that Western heritage through my life and my career, and pass it on to my family.”

Can you imagine a parallel universe where George Strait didn’t wear a cowboy hat, and went by the name Cain Cooper? Luckily, George Strait couldn’t ever be anything but himself, and that’s how became the steady hand and the rock of country music for now four decades. That’s also how when he showed up to Nashville in 1981, he became one of them men who helped reverse course in country music into a more neotraditional direction.

Cain Cooper. Is there anything that Music Row can’t figure out how to try and bungle?

See George Strait’s full acceptance speech below.

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