When songwriter Sanger D “Whitey” Shafer and his wife of the time, Darlene, came up with a song called ‘Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind’, it was an affectionate reference to his home state. Country star Moe Bandy heard its potential and released it as a single in 1977. But when George Strait not only covered it, but made it the opening single and title song of his fourth album, the attention of country’s hottest new star guaranteed it a new audience. If Fort Worth hadn’t crossed their minds before, it would now.
Listen to Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind right now.
Shafer was from Whitney, Texas, an hour or so’s drive down from Fort Worth, while Strait hailed from a small town even further south in the state, Poteet. But the song was sure to appeal to a proud southerner such as the country entertainer, who was always on the lookout for songs about real life and relationships in his distinct style. He knew that a number in which the narrator is wondering about his old flame, and her new love in Dallas, would have universal appeal.
Sure enough, ‘Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind’ served as the flag-bearer for the new album, and extended Strait’s already formidable stretch of No.1 singles. Released in early September 1984, the single set up the album’s 26 September release, and went on to spend the first week of 1985 at No.1. It was George’s fifth country chart-topper in a row, and already his sixth in total.
Three years into his hit career, Strait was now recognised far and wide as the modern-day representative of an older, more traditional country sound, in which fiddles, pedal steel and a frequent Western Swing feel were not only welcome but essential. It paired him for the first time with his co-producer Jimmy Bowen, the former recording artist whose Nashville reputation as a record man was second to none, both in the studio and the boardroom.
The pair’s approach was disarmingly simple: find George the best-sounding material, record it with Music City’s top musicians, keep it quick and simple and watch the results. Reggie Young on electric guitar and Randy Scruggs on acoustic were among the studio dependables, as was master fiddle and mandolin player Johnny Gimble and pedal steel man Hank DeVito. Does Forth Worth Ever Cross Your Mind runs for precisely 28 minutes and ten tracks, but it knows its audience perfectly. What’s more, those ten tracks include three that are among the best-loved of Strait’s entire distinguished reign.
An ever-expanding reputation
Just after the title track spent its week at No.1, MCA Nashville went to country radio with an irresistible and typical depiction of the end of a relationship, ‘The Cowboy Rides Away’. Written by the prolific Sonny Throckmorton and Casey Kelley, it rose to No.5 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart and, to this day, remains the song with which Strait closes his live set.
The album’s third single, also a No.5 hit, was another signature Strait tune, ‘The Fireman’, a lively number written by the late duo of Mack Vickery and Wayne Kemp. Vickery’s songs were also recorded by the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash, while Kemp brought his own experience as a recording artist who went on to a total of 24 chart entries, the most successful being 1973’s ‘Honky Tonk Wine’.
Kemp also contributed ‘I Should Have Watched That First Step’ to the album, which made frequent references to dances, honky tonks and the other accoutrements of Strait’s singing world. John Porter McMeans and Ron Moore’s romantic ‘You’re Dancin’ This Dance All Wrong’ was another highlight, while “Whitey” Shafer also offered ‘I Need Someone Like Me’.
In the days when non-pop albums were often marginalised in the mainstream charts, Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind only reached No.150 on the Billboard 200. But in the country world, where its predecessor, Right Or Wrong, had spent five weeks at No.1, the album not only managed three at the top spot – and 70 weeks in total on the chart – but went platinum and won the CMA Award for Album Of The Year.
As Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind burnished George Strait’s ever-expanding reputation, the home state he honoured in its title repaid the compliment. On 3 November 1984, his alma mater, Southwest Texas State University, in San Marcos – from which he had graduated in 1979 with a degree in agriculture – presented him with the school’s President’s Excellence Award.
Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind can be bought here.