1944 – 2024

Erv Woolsey

“Without the savvy and determination of Erv Woolsey, we may never have heard of George Strait. Erv heard Strait in a Texas bar in 1975 and was an immediate fan and proponent, when others said the singer sounded too traditional. Later, as an MCA Records exec, Erv pushed the label to sign Strait in 1981. And when execs urged Strait to change his image and his sound, Erv as his manager backed Strait’s resolve to stay true to himself. You know the rest. Strait became a superstar who filled stadiums, and together Strait and Erv helped lead country music back to its traditions. All of us owe Erv Woolsey an enormous debt of gratitude for leading with his convictions and always supporting artists and new talent.”

—Kyle Young, CEO
Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

Pictured from left: Bruce Hinton of MCA Nashville, George Strait, and Erv Woolsey, 1991. Photo by Beth Gwinn

About Erv Woolsey

Erv Woolsey met George Strait in 1975 after hearing him lead the Ace in the Hole band in San Marcos, Texas, at the Prairie Rose, a dancehall Woolsey owned. Impressed by Strait’s vocal talent and easy-going charisma, Woolsey introduced himself, beginning a relationship that proved crucial to the careers of both men and to the skyrocketing success country music reached for more than four decades.

Woolsey died March 20, in Clearwater, Florida, after a series of medical complications following surgery in December. He was eighty years old.

A veteran music industry promotion man, Woolsey worked for the Decca and ABC labels before joining the promotion staff at MCA Records in 1980. Frustrated by a series of trips to Nashville that resulted only in rejection from Nashville record labels, Strait contacted Woolsey to see if he knew of any labels that might take a chance on him.

Woolsey pushed Nashville label chief Jim Foglesong and A&R head Ron Chancey to give Strait a hearing, and Woolsey even helped arrange demo sessions for the young singer. With Woolsey’s persistent encouragement, MCA agreed to release one song, “Unwound,” as a single. Woolsey hand-delivered the song to a San Antonio radio station. He and Strait sat outside in a pickup truck, waiting to hear the song.

“Erv said they were going to play it, but it was still shocking,” Strait later said. “I mean, hearing your first record on the radio, after trying for so long. I couldn’t believe it. It was emotional for me.”

Fueled by Woolsey’s promotion expertise, the song climbed to #6 on the country charts. The battles weren’t over yet. Some MCA executives pressured Strait to adopt a more contemporary sound and image. “Your songs need to be more pop, that’s the market now,” Strait said he was told. “Take the hat off. Drop the starched shirt and jeans, nobody wears those anymore, they’re too old-fashioned.”

In 1984, Woolsey left MCA to manage Strait’s career. His support and knowledge of the record industry gave Strait the freedom to choose his material and record songs the way he wanted. With time, their close-knit relationship grew tighter as they navigated the growth of one of the most remarkably enduring careers in modern American entertainment.

The Erv Woolsey Company managed other important country music artists, including Dierks Bentley, Ronnie Milsap, Clay Walker, and Lee Ann Womack. Always looking for new talent, Woolsey in recent years managed contemporary artists Kylie Frey, Triston Marez, Ian Munsick, and Leftover Salmon founder Vince Herman, among others.

Woolsey eventually returned to the bar business, launching Losers, a bar franchise that has expanded to four locations, including Las Vegas. Woolsey’s nightclub business grew to include two more Nashville clubs, Winners and the Dawghouse.

A horse-racing enthusiast, Woolsey developed thoroughbreds in a business with Strait. Their horse Super Stock ran in the Kentucky Derby in 2021. “We will miss him so very much and will never forget all the time we had together,” Strait said. “Won’t ever be the same without him.”

Pictured from left: WSM DJ Cathy Martindale, Merlin Littlefield of ASCAP, George Strait, and Erv Woolsey backstage at the Houston Rodeo, 1980s. Photographer Rich Henson.

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