George Strait is less an elder statesman of country than a pure force of nature. The Texas-born traditionalist continues to enjoy an unbelievable run of success that spans four decades of country music. Strait grew up on a ranch, so his cowboy hat is no affectation. He gravitated to music early on, playing rock in high school and switching to country during a stint in the military. He and his band Ace in the Hole played honky tonks and dancehalls throughout Texas in the 1970s, releasing two independent albums and honing a sound that combined lean Honky-Tonk and hard-hitting Western Swing. Strait scored a major Nashville deal in the early '80s and immediately appeared on the country charts. Amazingly, he has stayed at the top of the charts through the turn of the century, with shelves of gold and platinum records to his credit. Although he records some of his own material, he has relied on top-notch songwriters such as Sonny Throckmorton and Jim Lauderdale throughout his career. Strait has done what few artists have: he's remained wildly successful through a number of sweeping changes that have beset country music, playing primarily in a traditional style.