By mid-1984, Texas honky-tonk heartthrob George Strait was on a hot streak at country radio. Since his first Number One hit, “Fool Hearted Memory,” in 1982, he’d had four more chart-toppers, all of them in a row. Thirty-five years ago today, on June 25th, 1984, he was at Nashville’s Sound Stage recording studio on Music Row, recording another. But had circumstances been a bit different, the song could have been a major hit for the artist Strait first heard singing it.
Although the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth are just 30 miles apart, the late songwriter Sanger “Whitey” Shafer was actually inspired to write “Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind” based on a line he often heard uttered by his then-wife Darlene (who’s credited as co-writer on the song). “I lived in Fort Worth for a long time and it seemed like Fort Worth was always in the shadow of Dallas. I just wanted to do something about the two cities,” Shafer told Tom Roland, creator of the country music website RolandNote.com and author of The Billboard Book of Number One Country Hits.
While Moe Bandy was the first artist to officially record it, and even Reba McEntire had considered recording it, the voice Strait heard singing it first belonged to aspiring singer Keith Whitley. But plans for him to put it on his first album when he signed with RCA were changed when producer Norro Wilson decided against putting any songs about Texas on the record. A few months later, Whitley told the Chicago Tribune in 1988, his mother had called to tell him she’d heard him on the radio singing the song from his demo tape, a copy of which she had in her possession. Whitley explained that it was George Strait and not her son she’d heard, and that the song, which Strait cut with his new producer and MCA Nashville label head Jimmy Bowen, was purposely recorded to sound as close to Keith’s demo as possible.
The resulting LP, which took its title from this track, was Strait’s first co-production, affording the singer the opportunity to do things the way he wanted them to sound on record. That actually makes his close adherence to Whitley’s demo a bit ironic – and frustrating for Whitley, who was accused by some of trying to sound like Strait. With 1992’s Pure Country, Strait began co-producing his albums with Bowen’s eventual successor as MCA president, Tony Brown.
Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind was released in September 1984. The title tune was issued as a single that same month and would become the first Number One hit of 1985. Two additional singles, “The Fireman” and “The Cowboy Rides Away,” would be issued from the LP that year, yet surprisingly, considering their now-classic status, neither topped the country chart. But later in ’85, he was back at Number One with “The Chair.” Strait would also be named Male Vocalist of the Year in 1985 by both the ACM and CMA.
Keith Whitley’s version of “Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind” was eventually released on the 2000 Rounder Records compilation, Sad Songs and Waltzes.