No musician in history has had more No. 1 singles than George Strait, the country and western icon who has topped the charts 60 times. Only The Beatles and Elvis Presley boast more platinum or multi-platinum albums than Strait, who has sold more than 100 million records.
The “King of Country” first made studio magic in 1976, five years before his first release with a major label in Nashville. Strait and his Ace in the Hole Band recorded two songs at Houston’s Doggett Music Enterprises, a former studio located near the intersection of 11th and Studewood streets in the Heights.
The band formed in San Marcos a short time earlier and had yet to make it big, traveling around Texas and playing at bars, festivals and other special events. Band member Mike Daily said the 7-inch, 45 rpm record produced by his father – with Strait original “I Just Can’t Go On Dying Like This” on one side and Dallas Frazier’s “Honky Tonk Downstairs” on the other – got a little airplay locally and helped Ace in the Hole land other gigs.
“For a local band, if you will, to have an actual record was crazy – crazy good,” said the 64-year-old Daily, who grew up in the Heights and graduated from Waltrip High School. “It gave us some legitimacy.”
It wasn’t long before the band graduated from playing venues such as Memorial Park, Rockefellers at the corner of Heights Boulevard and Washington Avenue or the Beer Barn, which was located near the intersection of Ella Boulevard and 34th Street in the late 1970s. Once Strait signed with MCA Records and started cranking out hit songs and top-selling albums, Ace in the Hole played on some of the biggest stages in the country.
Although it’s not in this year’s concert lineup for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, which runs from March 3-22, Strait’s band has been a fixture there. It has played the rodeo 30 times since 1983, closing out its tenure in the Astrodome in 2000 and ending last year’s rodeo by performing in front of a record crowd of 80,108 at NRG Stadium.
There have been rumblings that it was Strait’s final performance at the Houston rodeo. But Daily, Ace in the Hole’s longtime steel guitar player, said he “wouldn’t bet any money on that.”
“We love doing the rodeo,” he added. “It’s one of the biggest in the world.”
Why did one of the world’s most well-known country music acts make its first recording in the Heights? Daily’s family and its connections in the industry, along with its roots in the neighborhood, had a lot to do with it.
Daily’s grandfather, H.W. “Pappy” Daily, started a Houston-based jukebox distribution business in the 1930s and later had a record distribution warehouse that he used to fill jukeboxes all over the region. The warehouse was located at 314 W. 11th St., which is now C&D Hardware.
At one point the business hosted live performances that were broadcast on local radio. Among the musicians to play there was country music legend Hank Williams. Photos commemorating the 1948 occasion hang on a wall in the hardware store.
Pappy Daily also became a talent scout, record producer and music publisher, starting Starday Records along with Jack Starnes as well as D Records. Among the musicians he discovered or recorded were George Jones, Roger Miller, Willie Nelson and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson.
Nelson is scheduled to play at the rodeo on Wednesday, March 4.
“I’ve heard that Pappy Daily was like the country music guy for Texas,” C&D manager Arthur Buchanan said. “If you were from Texas, you couldn’t go to Nashville without his say so.”
Many C&D customers are not aware of the building’s place in music history, at least not initially. Heights resident Ernest Potts had been buying hardware there for years but did not know about its past until overhearing a conversation between Buchanan and a reporter last month.
The 69-year-old Potts is a professional saxophone player who toured for more than 30 years with Ezra Charles as well as Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band.
“That’s cool,” Potts said of C&D’s origins. “I’m a buff for any place where musicians have been and have done their thing.”
The old Doggett recording studio, at 1045 Studewood St., was owned by Ray Doggett. He wrote and produced the 1958 Kenny Rogers song “That Crazy Feeling,” which was popular locally at the time.
The former studio is now a bakery shop called Red Dessert Dive. Owner Jessica Lusk said there are no remaining relics or signs that the building once was a recording studio.
Mike Daily had a hard time recognizing it during a recent visit, but he remembers the experience and how it came about.
He grew up working at his family’s record distribution business, which his grandfather sold to his two sons, Bud and Don Daily. Don’s son, Mike, became a steel guitar player and joined a band in San Marcos while attending Southwest Texas State University.
The band, originally called Stoney Ridge, needed a lead singer in 1975 and posted a flyer on a campus bulletin board. Mike Daily said Strait, who had served in the Army and was attending Southwest Texas State on the GI bill, called about the opening and asked to audition.
“He didn’t have to sing but about two lines of a song,” Daily recalled. “We were like, ‘I think the search is over.’ ”
After Daily’s father heard Strait’s voice and saw the band play, Don arranged to have Ace in the Hole recorded at Doggett and produced the two-song record. Mike Daily said the band later recorded some songs at another Houston studio and, a few years later, Strait struck a deal in Nashville on his third trip to the Music City.
Four decades later, Strait and the Ace in the Hole Band still play live performances together. They stopped touring full-time in 2014 but recently played in Kansas City and have recurring dates in Las Vegas.
Perhaps the band will one day return to the Houston rodeo, which is close to its roots in the Heights.
“It’s a special place to me,” Daily said. “It’s pretty miraculous the way the whole thing happened.”