The Story Behind The Road Trip That Inspired George Strait’s Country Classic, ‘Amarillo by Morning’
This decades old cowboy song remains one of the greatest of Strait’s career.
George Strait – Strait From The Heart
Stemming from a road trip and a FedEx commercial, one of the greatest songs in George Strait’s career – as well as within the country music industry as a whole – was born: “Amarillo by Morning.”
The Original Version Of “Amarillo by Morning”
Contrary to popular belief, “Amarillo by Morning” was not the country crooner’s masterpiece to begin with. Instead, the track was written by Terry Stafford and Paul Fraser, as well as recorded and released by the former for his album called Say, Has Anybody Seen My Sweet Gypsy Rose in 1973.
As for how the song got its start, Stafford was feeling inspired after playing a show in San Antonio, Texas, and then driving back to his home in Amarillo, Texas. That road trip in combination with a FedEx commercial – which is where the title “Amarillo by Morning” came from – was ultimately shared with Paul Fraser over the phone, who had the song written by the following morning.
Fraser dove into the details surrounding this FedEx commercial in The Stories Behind Country Music’s All-Time Greatest 100 Songs by Ace Collins, recalling in the book, “One night Terry called me at home. He had been watching television and a commercial for a delivery service had just run… It got him thinking. This commercial guaranteed they could get your package to places like Amarillo by the next morning [and] he wanted to write a song around that concept.”
Early Success On The Charts
After “Amarillo by Morning” was written, Stafford recorded the track and released it on August 2, 1973 under Atlantic Records. Quickly achieving some success, the song entered the Cash Box Country Looking Ahead chart on November 3, 1973, the Billboard Country chart on December 1, 1973, the Cash Box Country chart on December 15, 1973, the Record World Country chart on December 15, 1973, the Canada RPM Country chart on January 26, 1974, and more.
Despite gaining some traction early on, “Amarillo by Morning” really took off when it landed in the hands of George Strait, ultimately becoming a country classic that has been able to withstand the test of time.
George Strait Releases His Own Rendition
A decade after its initial release, Strait released his rendition of “Amarillo by Morning,” which served as the third single off his album, Strait From the Heart.
Although it is not one of Strait’s 60 number one hits, the song was a huge success nonetheless, entering the Billboard Country chart on February 12, 1983 and peaking at number four. It is currently his only single from the ’80s to be certified 3x Platinum, and it is often identified as Strait’s first or second most streamed song on platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, and more.
In addition to its streaming success, Strait’s version of “Amarillo by Morning” was named the number 12 country song of all time by Country Music Television in 2004, one of the top 100 Western songs of all time by the Western Writers of America in 2010, and more.
The Meaning Behind The Song
The opening lyrics of “Amarillo by Morning” pay homage to the road trip from San Antonio to Amarillo that inspired the song itself. “Amarillo by morning, up from San Antone / Everything that I got is just what I’ve got on / When that sun is high in that Texas sky / I’ll be buckin’ at the county fair / Amarillo by morning / Amarillo, I’ll be there,” Strait sings in the first verse
As a whole, the track tells the story of a rodeo cowboy living a lonely life on the road. Within the song, this rodeo cowboy recounts the hardships that his occupation has caused him – from poverty to divorce to broken bones and beyond – as exemplified in verse two: “They took my saddle in Houston / broke my leg in Santa Fe / Lost my wife and a girlfriend, somewhere along the way / Well, I’ll be lookin’ for eight when they pull that gate / And I hope that judge ain’t blind / Amarillo by morning / Amarillo’s on my mind.”
To close out the country classic, the rodeo cowboy admits that he is content with his lonely lifestyle nonetheless, through lyrics like “I ain’t got a dime, but what I got is mine” and “I ain’t rich, but Lord, I’m free.”
It might be decades old, however, country music lovers can listen to “Amarillo by Morning” by both George Strait and Terry Stafford on their favorite music streaming service now.
Melanie has been writing for Country Now since August of 2023. Originally from Southern California and currently residing in Nashville, Tennessee, she graduated from Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Oklahoma in 2023 with a BA in Journalism. During her free time, she loves going to concerts and music festivals, binging her favorite TV shows, spending time with her friends and family and cheering on the Oklahoma Sooners (of course).