The "Ace In The Hole Band" has been associated with George Strait since 1975.  From the original group Mike Daily is still on the pedal steel guitar, and Terry Hale is still Mr. Bassman.  Tom Foote was the original drummer before he took on the responsibility of Road Manager and Security for George.  They are one of the best Bands on the road today, solid as a rock, tight as a musical group, comprised of some very talented individuals.  They are one of the greatest Western Swing Bands ever!   It is impossible to sit still when the "Ace in the Hole" are playing.  
 
Based in the great state of Texas these individuals are the talents that together form the current awesome "Ace in the Hole" Band:

From the original band:
Tom Foote- Road Mgr., Security (past Drummer)
Mike Daily - on Pedal Steel Guitar
Terry Hale - on Bass

Gene Elders - The Fiddlemeister/classically trained
Benny McArthur - on Electric Guitar & Fiddle/Fine vocalist
Rick McRae - Lead Guitar &  Fiddle
Ronnie Huckaby - on Keyboards
Mike Kennedy - on Drums
John Michael Whitby - Keyboards,Guitar
Joe Manuel - Acoustic Guitar

Background Vocals; Thom Flora & Marty Slayton, Nashville TN

The Road Staff: 
Sound: "The Wizard" -Paul Rodgers,
Souv: "Man with the Goods"-Max Benoit,
The Men with the "Rhythm of the Road," Drivers: LeeRoy Eichler, Jimmy Spivey

Past Band Members:
David Anthony - Acoustic guitar,vocals,stopped touring. We wish him the very best, he is missed.
Jeff Sturm - Acoustic Guitar, keyboardist, Mandolin
Jeff will be teaching college students now. As of 2008 he will no longer be touring the the Band.
Wes Hightower - Background Vocals
Wes stopped touring in 2008,and is based in Nashville,
and David Latimer, Keyboards.
George Strait received a Grammy nod for Best Country Album for his recent release HERE FOR A GOOD TIME. This marks his 4th album in a row to be nominated for the prestigious Grammy award.





~ currently editing/adding new photos, updated on: 9/7/2012
Return to Straitfever
Featuring The Ace in The Hole Band,
from their "Ace in the Hole" Album
Welcome to my website tribute to and for the awesome
"Ace In The Hole Band."

I'm always looking for articles & photos on this very talented group of musicians.   If you have any you would like to share please contact me: Straitfever@aol.com 
- Thanks, Linda
The awesome "Ace In The Hole" Band in concert with George - in the round - in 2002.
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Please leave a message in the "Ace In The Hole" Guest Book for the band members, they'll appreciate it.
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The Early Days ~ 1970's-1980's
The 1990s brought "Pure Country" fame in 1992  & the
"Ace in the Hole Band" Album on Texas World Records, San Marcos Texas, 1-800-5-4-AN ACE (542-6223) ~
Louisville 2001, in concert at the George Strait Country Music Festival
--  In process of adding new concert tour photos.  If you have any photos of the Ace in the Hole members to share - please e-mail to me @ Straitfever@aol.com.   Thanks.
History:   Ace in the Hole Band

Ace in the Hole Band: The Ace in the Hole Band has been country superstar George Strait’s back up band since 1975. The original members, which included George Strait (vocals and guitar), Ron Cabal (lead guitar), Mike Daily (steel guitar), Terry Hale (bass), and drummer Ted Stubblefield, who was replaced early on by Tommy Foote, met while they were students enrolled at Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State University) in San Marcos.

The Ace in the Hole Band rose from the ashes of Stoney Ridge, a group that had included Daily, Hale, Cabal, Foote, and vocalist Jay Dominguez. In July 1975, Dominguez left the band, and Foote moved to Houston after graduating from the university. The remaining members began posting flyers across campus, advertising for a new vocalist. George Strait, at the time a young agriculture major, auditioned and was quickly hired as lead singer. The band played its first show as Ace in the Hole on October 13, 1975, at Kent Finlay’s Cheatham Street Warehouse in San Marcos. Ted Stubblefield, who also was a member of Kent Finlay’s group, High Cotton Express, played drums for both bands for a short time. Foote returned to San Marcos to replace Stubblefield in late 1975, and the core Ace in the Hole lineup was formed. In 1983, Foote relinquished his position as drummer to become the band’s road manager, a job he continues to hold today.

During the mid-1970s, Cheatham Street Warehouse provided a particularly fertile environment for the development of such groups as Ace in the Hole. Finlay booked a variety of dynamic young acts, including Asleep at the Wheel, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jerry Jeff Walker, Alvin Crow, and others, and the bands that played at Cheatham Street often came by on their nights off to listen to each other and engage in a spirit of friendly competition. Ace in the Hole’s main hometown “competition” at that time was Joe Bob’s Bar and Grill Band, led by Joe Bob Burris, a talented singer-songwriter who continues to perform locally. Ace in the Hole played nearly every week at Cheatham Street for six years during the mid to late 1970s, before it broke into the national market in the early 1980s.

From the outset, Ace in the Hole played mainly traditional country music, including honky tonk and western swing, by such artists as Bob Wills, Hank Williams, Johnny Bush, George Jones, and Merle Haggard. In fact, the group had difficulty finding work in Austin venues, which were caught up in the “Progressive Country” movement at the time and had little interest in hiring a more traditional country band.

Around 1976, Mike Daily’s father, Don Daily (son of Pappy Daily, founder of “D Records” in Houston), decided to record the band. He arranged for the group to go to Doggett Studios in Houston Heights and cut the Dallas Frazier tune “The Honky Tonk Downstairs.” On the flip side was Strait’s own composition, “I Just Can’t Go on Dying Like This.” The single was released to regional radio stations throughout the Southwest, and it received airplay on stations in Houston and Oklahoma. Approximately one year later, the band had added Bill Mabry on fiddle, and it recorded the Clay Blaker song “Lonesome Rodeo Cowboy,” along with another Strait tune, “That Don’t Change the Way I Feel About You.” Within a year, the band cut Blaker’s “The Loneliest Singer in Town” and another Strait composition, “I Don’t Want to Talk It Over Anymore.” During this session, the band also recorded “Right or Wrong” and an instrumental version of “Little Liza Jane,” neither of which have ever been released. The three George Strait compositions were later released on the multi-platinum MCA box set George Strait: Strait Out of the Box.

In 1977, Cheatham Street Warehouse owner Kent Finlay, local songwriter Darrell Staedtler, and George Strait drove to Nashville in hopes of making connections for Strait in the Nashville music scene. At the time, most Nashville record executives were promoting a pop-oriented country sound and were not interested in Strait’s more traditional approach. Nevertheless, Strait did record several good demos in Nashville and made some initial contacts that would eventually lead to his first record deal.

The most important contact Strait made in Nashville was reconnecting with MCA Records A&R man, Erv Woolsey, who had once owned the Prairie Rose night club in San Marcos, where Ace in the Hole had performed. Through Woolsey, Strait would later sign his first record deal with MCA in 1981. By 1984, he had become one of the most popular entertainers in country music, and Woolsey left MCA to become Strait’s full-time manager. Strait’s commitment to more traditional country music would revolutionize the mainstream country market and inspire legions of younger “neo-traditional” artists.

The 1980s brought several changes to Ace in the Hole, as Strait began touring nationally. In 1983, piano player Rondal Huckaby joined the group, and drummer Roger Montgomery replaced Tommy Foote, who became road manager. In 1984, Ron Cabal left the band and was replaced by Rick McRae and Benny McArthur on guitars. Fiddler Gene Elders joined the band in 1985, and, in 1987, Mike Kennedy became the group’s newest drummer. In 1990, Cabal wrote a book entitled A Honky Tonk Odyssey, My Eight Years with George Strait. Cabal was later killed in 1996 in a hit and run accident outside of Austin.

Although Ace in the Hole is primarily George Strait’s touring band, the members also have recorded with Strait in the studio. Perhaps the most notable of their studio recordings was Strait’s 1987 release, “Ocean Front Property,” which was the first country song ever to enter the charts at Number 1. The band members also were featured in Strait’s critically and commercially-acclaimed 1992 movie Pure Country. In 1994, the Ace in the Hole Band recorded a CD without Strait that featured guest vocalists Darrell McCall and Mel Tillis.   The work received good reviews and showcased country numbers like "I'll Be Waiting Til Then," "Back in the Swing of Things," "My Shoes Keep Walking Back to You," and "What Comes Natural to a Fool." The band, which was working as George Strait's touring band around that time, had already caught the public's attention in 1991 when they walked away as Touring Band of the Year for SRO. "

Today, they are the tightest band in country music.  Each of the members is sought-after to appear as studio musicians on cd's of other artists and several co-produce music for other artists or play with other bands in the off-season.  A few write songs regularly including Bennie McArthur and David Anthony.  Gene Elders performs with Lyle Lovett, and Ron Huckaby, Rick McRae, and Benny McArthur play with a variety of other musicians throughout Texas. Mike Daily records and produces other artists and is active in music publishing with Tommy Foote.






September, 2009 ~ Article added, thanks to Tom Foote

San Marcos musicians discovered Strait; the rest is country music history
Ace in the Hole Band still has many members from San Marcos and Austin.
By Michael Corcoran
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Friday, September 25, 2009

SAN MARCOS — "Country band looking for singer" was all it said, with a phone number. From that seed of torn paper stuck on the cluttered bulletin board at the Southwest Texas State University student center in August 1975 grew a chapter of country music history that's still a page-turner.

The first person to answer the ad, placed by three students who were former members of the band Stoney Ridge, was an agriculture major just back from a hitch in the Army.

"I remember that audition like it was yesterday," steel guitarist Mike Daily said of the day George Strait walked into his life. "George sang two lines, and it was over."

Thirty-four years later, Strait, 57, is an unprecedented country music success story, with 44 No. 1 Billboard singles, more than any other act of any genre. And Daily and original bassist Terry Hale are still in Strait's aptly named Ace in the Hole Band, regarded in the industry as the best touring group in country music.

"They're probably the greatest ambassadors of honky-tonk music ever, in terms of the number of people they've played in front of," said Austin songwriter Monte Warden, who has had a song recorded by Strait.

In June, Strait and the band christened the new Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, performing for more than 60,000 fans. Tonight, they'll open the 8,700-capacity Cedar Park Center, which is a short drive for six of the band members who live in Austin or San Marcos.

"George wants to concentrate on his singing, so he surrounds himself with professionals, " said Tom Foote, who played drums for the Ace in the Hole Band from January 1976 until he switched to tour manager in 1983. "Some acts have a lot of rules for the band, but we have only one: Be on time."

Directed by Austin-based keyboardist Ronnie Huckaby, the Ace in the Hole Band today is an 11-piece marvel of musicianship, with the ability to play both Western swing and lush country ballads. But in the beginning, it was more of a bar band, with Daily, Hale, Foote and lead guitarist Ron Cabal (who died in a 1996 car accident) backing Pearsall native Strait, who had begun performing in the early 1970s when he was stationed at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii and fronted a band of homesick country boys.

Originally, the San Marcos group was billed as "The Ace in the Hole Band with George Strait," but as the frontman's good looks, charisma and pure country voice made him a star, the billing was simplified to "George Strait." But you'll hear no complaints from the band, which released a lone album under its name in 1994.

"We didn't even know what success was in the music business or how to get it," Foote said of the group's early years. "But the first time I heard George sing, I thought, 'Well, this my chance to find out.' "

Ace in the Hole Band played Texas dives, roadhouses and dance halls for six years before Strait got a record deal. Foote's uncle, writer Horton Foote, modeled the upstart band in his Oscar-winning script for 1983's "Tender Mercies" on the band's early days.

The group's first show was at San Marcos' ramshackle Cheatham Street Warehouse on Oct. 13, 1975. A year later, they were regularly packing Gruene Hall.

But breaking into the Austin market was a challenge.

The "outlaw country" movement was the rage in the '70s, but even as major labels were signing just about every singing hippie in a cowboy hat from Texas, Strait refused to modify his traditional country style.

"We had a hellish time getting booked in Austin," said Daily, the grandson of George Jones mentor Pappy Daily. "Finally, James White gave us a shot at the Broken Spoke, and we started building up a following."

Foote recalled that Spoke debut, opening for Alvin Crow and the Pleasant Valley Boys.

"We got everybody from Cheatham Street to cheer us on, so Mr. White would think we were a big draw," he said.

White booked the band once a month for $400 to $500 a gig.

Unlike his bandmates, Strait was married and had a young child to support when he joined the band. Growing up, he loved working on his family's ranch near Big Wells, so Strait had a tough decision to make when he graduated from college in 1977 and was offered a job with an agriculture company in Uvalde.

"He had the ambition to be what he is now," Daily said, "so he decided to give the music business one more shot."

In the summer of '77, Cheatham Street Warehouse owner Kent Finlay, songwriter Daryl Staedtler and Strait drove a two-seat cargo van from San Marcos to Nashville, Tenn., taking turns sleeping on the Army cot in the back.

"George really needed a record deal," Finlay said, "so we loaded up 10 cases of Coors beer and brought a six-pack to each label. You couldn't get Coors in Nashville back then, so it made it easier to get a foot in the door."

Ironically, Strait got his big break in San Marcos, when the band played at Erv Woolsey's Prairie Rose nightclub in the late '70s. After about a year of running the club, Houston native Woolsey returned to his job at MCA Nashville, where he persuaded the other execs to sign the singer from San Marcos. Woolsey eventually quit his label job to manage Strait, who rarely does interviews and could not be reached for this story.

Strait's first single, "Unwound," reached the top 10 in 1981. The first No. 1 hit came the next year with "Fool Hearted Memory." Strait has had at least one No. 1 single a year since. In 2006, Strait was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and he's the only member still recording No. 1 hits.

The Ace in the Hole Band rarely plays on Strait's albums, as his Nashville-based producer Tony Brown prefers to work with session players. But live is where the players, whose training ranges from honky-tonk taut to fiddler Gene Elders' classical background, find room to shine. Like Willie Nelson's Family, formed just a couple of years before the Ace in the Hole Band, there is an almost telepathic connection among the players.

Many of the San Marcos haunts of the band's early years, including the Cheyenne Social Club (formerly the Getaway), the house on Uhland Street where Strait auditioned, and George and Norma Strait's house, directly across Riverside Drive from Herbert's Taco Hut, have been torn down. But the band born from such humble beginnings has kept its musical passion alive. Sometimes during shows, the members will grin at each other as if to say, "Can you believe we're getting paid to do this?"

The hit 1992 movie "Pure Country," in which the band members played themselves, helped keep Strait's career vibrant during the Garth Brooks-led "young country" boom. In the film, Strait plays Dusty, a fame-warped country singer who lost his way, playing his music behind garish special effects. Eventually he returns to his traditional country roots. But Strait's real career path has never been anything but simple and steady.

"If I had to use just one word to describe George Strait, it's 'authentic,' " said Foote. "There's nothing contrived about him. When the label folks wanted George to move to Nashville, he stayed in Texas because that was home. When they wanted him to take off his cowboy hat, he kept it on because it felt comfortable. "

There was also pressure from Nashville for Strait to replace the Ace in the Hole Band with more seasoned Nashville players.

"George resisted, giving everyone the chance to grow into their position," Foote said.

And the Ace in the Hole Band has never stopped growing.



Country Music King Still An Ace
By Brandy McDonnell The Oklahoman  
February 16, 2010

Tommy Foote had given up on his musical aspirations and moved to Houston when he got a phone call from his former bandmates back in San Marcos, Texas.  "They said, ‘Listen, we’ve got this new guy, new singer; you gotta hear him.’ And I’m like, ‘No, I’m gonna go on with my life and get out of the music business,” he said. "The short version is I heard him sing once and quit my job and moved back up here and slept on couches. Because back then, I didn’t really know enough about the music business, but I knew enough to know that this was my shot.”  Thirty-five years later, Foote continues to tour with that promising country singer: George Strait.   Foote will be listening from a chair by the stage when Strait, Reba McEntire and Lee Ann Womack play a sold-out show Saturday at Tulsa’s BOK Center.  "It’s such a kick to be out with Reba and Lee Ann both. We’ve known Reba literally forever; we grew up together in this business,” Foote said, referring to the flame-haired Oklahoma native. "I just can’t imagine a better person to do a show with to give the fans their money’s worth.”

Back in 1975, Strait was studying agriculture at Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos when he answered an ad posted by fellow students looking for a country singer for their group, the Ace in the Hole Band.  Three of the four original band members still tour with Strait. From 1976-83, Foote played drums with the Ace in the Hole Band before becoming tour manager for the King of Country, who rarely gives interviews.   "He had a presence and a vocal ability from day one that just made him stand out,” Foote said by telephone from his San Marcos home.   "He has an uncanny ability not only to pick great songs but to pick great songs that fit him, not only his vocal style but fit his personality.”

After all these years, Foote has no regrets about giving King George top billing over the Ace in the Hole Band.  "I think that worked out pretty well for all concerned,” he said. "It’s been pretty fun. And I look forward to a few more years.”

























Posted on Fri, Feb. 19, 2010
George Strait's Ace in the Hole
The band has been backing the country legend since it began looking for a lead singer in 1975.
By Michael Corcoran
   * George Strait will perform with Reba McEntire and Lee Ann Womack on Feb. 19 at Intrust Bank Arena.      * All tickets are sold out.

"Country band looking for singer" was all it said, with a phone number.

From that piece of torn paper stuck on a cluttered bulletin board at the Southwest Texas State University student center in August 1975 grew a chapter of country music history that's still a page-turner.

The first person to answer the ad, placed by three students who were former members of the band Stoney Ridge, was an agriculture major just back from a hitch in the Army.

"I remember that audition like it was yesterday," steel guitarist Mike Daily said of the day George Strait walked into his life. "George sang two lines, and it was over."

Thirty-four years later, Strait, 57, is an unprecedented country music success story, with 44 No. 1 Billboard singles, more than any other act of any genre. And Daily and original bassist Terry Hale are still in Strait's aptly named Ace in the Hole Band, regarded in the industry as the best touring group in country music.

Tonight, Strait and the band — along with country singers Reba McEntire and LeeAnn Womack — will perform just the second concert at Intrust Bank Arena. It opened last month with a country concert headlined by Brad Paisley.

Directed by Austin-based keyboardist Ronnie Huckaby, the Ace in the Hole Band today is an 11-piece marvel of musicianship, with the ability to play both Western swing and lush country ballads.

But in the beginning, it was more of a bar band, with Daily, Hale, Foote and lead guitarist Ron Cabal (who died in a 1996 car accident) backing Pearsall native Strait, who had begun performing in the early 1970s when he was stationed at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii and fronted a band of homesick country boys.

Originally, the San Marcos group was billed as "The Ace in the Hole Band with George Strait," but as the frontman's good looks, charisma and pure country voice made him a star, the billing was simplified to "George Strait." But you'll hear no complaints from the band, which released a lone album under its name in 1994.

"We didn't even know what success was in the music business or how to get it," Foote said of the group's early years. "But the first time I heard George sing, I thought, 'Well, this is my chance to find out.' "

Unlike his bandmates, Strait was married and had a young child to support when he joined the band. Growing up, he loved working on his family's ranch near Big Wells, so Strait had a tough decision to make when he graduated from college in 1977 and was offered a job with an agriculture company near there.

"He had the ambition to be what he is now," Daily said, "so he decided to give the music business one more shot."

Strait got his big break in San Marcos, when the band played at Erv Woolsey's Prairie Rose nightclub in the late '70s. After about a year of running the club, Woolsey returned to his job at MCA Nashville, where he persuaded the other execs to sign the singer. Woolsey eventually quit his label job to manage Strait, who rarely does interviews.

Strait's first single, "Unwound," reached the top 10 in 1981. The first No. 1 hit came the next year with "Fool Hearted Memory." Strait has had at least one No. 1 single a year since. In 2006, Strait was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and he's the only member still recording No. 1 hits.

Ace in the Hole Band's current members
Terry Hale, bass
Mike Daily, steel guitar
Ronnie Huckaby, keyboards
Gene Elders, fiddle
Benny McArthur, electric guitar, fiddle
Rick McRae, electric guitar, fiddle
Mike Kennedy, drums
John Michael Whitby, keyboards
Joe Manuel, acoustic guitar
Marty Slayton-Jordan, backing vocals
Thom Flora, backing vocals

Return to StraitFever:
Marty Slayton-Jordan, vocals  2012