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Erv Woolsey, George Strait’s Manager of Nearly Five Decades, Dies at 80

Erv Woolsey, the manager who discovered George Strait and took him to the heights of country superstardom, died Wednesday at age 80. He died in Clearwater, Florida while under doctors’ care following complications from surgery, a representative said.

One of the most famous managerial names in Nashville, Woolsey was also known for his role in the careers of Lee Ann Womack, Dierks Bentley, Ronnie Milsap and Clay Walker.

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Strait mourned his partner in a statement: “My manager for around 45 years and most importantly my friend for even longer, Erv Woolsey, passed away this morning. He had complications from a surgery and just couldn’t overcome it. He was a very tough man, and fought hard, but sadly it was just too much. We will miss him so very much and will never forget all the time we had together. Won’t ever be the same without him.”

Kyle Young, CEO of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, celebrated Woolsey. “Without the savvy and determination of Erv Woolsey, we may never have heard of George Strait,” Young said in a statement. “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 determination 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.”

Prior to becoming a powerhouse manager, largely due to his desire to steer Strait into the big leagues, Woolsey served as a label exec, first at ABC and then MCA.

Eugene Ervine “Erv” Woolsey was born Feb. 15, 1944 in Houston and graduated from Southwest Texas State University in 1969 with a degree in business. He broke into the music industry working in Decca Records’ promotion department, climbing the ladder at different labels until he was appointed head of promotion for ABC Records’ then-new country division in 1973.

While still working at ABC, Woolsey started booking Strait in his function as owner of the San Marcos, Texas country club the Prairie Rose. By 1981, the exec had moved over to MCA and convinced label head Jim Fogleson to sign Strait. The artist’s first single, “Unwound,” went top 10. Three years later, Woolsey exited the label system to manage Strait full-time.

“Shortly after I was signed in 1981, he quit the MCA job and became my manager,” Strait said in an interview with Billboard in 2013. “We’ve been friends and business partners ever since. We’ve had one contract that expired back in the ’80s sometime. We’re still together, even though we’ve never signed another contract.”

The manager even had a songwriting credit on a handful of Strait hits, including the 1996 No. 1 smash “I Can Still Make Cheyenne.”

Woolsey continued to work with Strait through the singer’s putative retirement from touring, which has turned into a series of annual fixed engagements that sell out stadiums every year.

Woolsey served on the board of directors for the Country Music Association and the Tennessee Museum of History, and his love of racing saw him become a lifetime member of the Texas Thoroughbred Association.

He is survived by his son Clint, ex-wife Connie, brother David and sister Beth, and was preceded in death by his parents, John and Mavis Woolsey, and brother Johnny Woolsey. Memorial service details are to come at a later date.

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