George Strait is one of the biggest stars in country music. Some might even say he is THE biggest star in the genre, as he has achieved massive success through the years, including scoring 60 No. 1 hits. And all that success has earned him many monikers, including “The King of Country Music.”
So when Parker McCollum heard that people were comparing his star to that of King George, the 30-year-old fast-rising country artist was not only pleasantly surprised but also in disbelief that he was on the receiving end of that high level of praise. So much so that to him, the compliments seemed a bit disproportionate.
“There’s only one king,” McCollum told Billboard in a recent interview. “Maybe one day, there’ll be a prince of country music,” he added.
McCollum’s humble attitude toward the comparison doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve a high level of recognition, though. If there were a “prince” in country music, he would be a reasonable choice for the title. After all, he has consistently been working his way up the country music ladder.
Recently, the 2022 ACM New Artist of the Year scored back-to-back hits on the Billboard Country Airplay chart – first with “Pretty Heart” and again with “To Be Loved by You.” And, judging by his most current single, “Handle on You,” it seems as if he has a handle on writing hits, as the tune is bound to take him to the top of the charts for the third time in a row.
McCollum co-wrote “Handle On You” with Monty Criswell (“I Saw God Today,” “Five More Minutes”). Inspired by his now-wife Hallie Ray Light, the mid-tempo track tells the story of a man who turns to the comfort of alcohol to help numb the pain he is experiencing after a recent breakup. “Since you poured our love down the sink / I think I’ll just stay here and drink,” McCollum emotionally sings the song, which features a lyrical twist on the word “handle,” and a simple chord progression that calls to mind the sounds of Strait.
But, while McCollum says his career is heavily influenced by Strait, and he appreciates being compared to the icon, he adds he isn’t looking to follow in anybody’s footsteps but his own and is insistent on making sure his individuality stands out in the country format.
“I certainly love all the comparisons that I’ve been getting recently to him, but I certainly don’t want that to be my identity. I’m incredibly influenced by his sound and his records. He is the standard for me and country music,” McCollum, who released his major label debut Gold Chain Cowboy album in 2021, said. “But I’d just like to have my own thing going, and I want people to know that I’m Parker McCollum and always have been and always will be. There’s only one George.”
According to Billboard, in order to shine in contrast to his musical hero, McCollum worked with producer Jon Randall (Miranda Lambert, Dierks Bentley) at Nashville’s Blackbird Studio to bring down his Strait-laced sound. Together, they turned a more traditional demo into a modern take with a slightly quicker tempo.
But McCollum isn’t all that far from Strait in terms of proximity. In fact, the fellow Texan is labelmates with Strait and also recently got to open a show for the King. The concert, which took place on July 30 in Kansas City, Missouri, saw him on the bill alongside Chris Stapleton and Little Big Town.
“Thank you to George Strait and The Ace In The Hole Band for having us!” McCollum wrote via Instagram, sharing a slideshow of photos from the show. “Truly an honor.”
Additionally, McCollum’s next scheduled tour date is Saturday, September 17 in Nashville, Tennessee at Ascend Amphitheater.