Inspired by a late-night drive and a FedEx commercial, “Amarillo By Morning” is George Strait’s most famous song — but Strait’s 1982 version was not the first.
The song was conceived by Terry Stafford, a musician famous partly for having an Elvis sound-alike voice. On the way home to Amarillo after his band played a rodeo in San Antonio, the title was cinched when Stafford heard a FedEx commercial on the radio as he drove. Stafford stopped to call his songwriting friend Paul Fraser to convey the idea, and by the time Stafford arrived in the morning, Fraser had completed the song.
Stafford recorded the song on his Say, Has Anybody Seen My Sweet Gypsy Rose album, released in 1973, and it reached #37 on the Billboard Country charts.
Strait’s version was recorded for his 1982 album, Strait From the Heart. The single was released in January 1983, and it reached #4 on the Billboard Country charts. Despite never hitting #1, it has become Strait’s signature song, and an enduring classic.
Strait’s version woke up Amarillo-born astronaut Rick Husband on the Columbia shuttle the morning the shuttle blew up over Texas on re-entry, killing all aboard. It was played again when the shuttle Discovery took off 29 months later on its “Return to Flight” mission — NASA’s version of getting back up on the horse.