There are a select few acts who become so famous everybody knows their band too. Garth Brooks and his longtime band certainly meets that mark. But perhaps the most famous group of musicians in country music? George Strait’s legendary Ace in the Hole Band.
Sadly, the Ace in the Hole Band and music community at large lost a giant when Mike Kennedy died in a recent car accident. Kennedy performed as the Ace in the Hole band’s drummer for more than 30 years.
In honor of Mike, let’s take a closer look at some of the major players from the rotating cast of George Strait’s Ace in the Hole Band.
A lot of people don’t realize it, but the Ace in the Hole Band actually came before George Strait. Back in the early 1970s, a group of students at what is now Texas State University in San Marcos (then Southwest Texas State University) formed a band called Stoney Ridge. When graduation came in 1975, that band broke up — but Ron Cabal, Mike Daily and Terry Hale decided to form another band for traditional country music.
The trio posted fliers around campus looking for a lead singer. In fact, the flier was so simple it just said “country band looking for singer,” and included a phone number. And that’s precisely when a young agricultural science major named George Strait answered the call.
After formally changing their name to Ace in the Hole, the band played their first show ever at Kent Finlay’s honky tonk Cheatham Street Warehouse on October 13, 1975. At the time they didn’t have a permanent drummer, so Finlay’s drummer Ted Stubblefield actually played for both Ace in the Hole and Finlay’s band High Cotton Express.
Of course, after years of honing their chops in Central Texas, Strait started making trips to Nashville with Finlay and eventually signed with MCA Records. That’s when everything changed. But despite the plethora of musicians available in Nashville, Strait stuck by his road warrior band.
Ron Cabal was one of the founding band members and played guitar in the band for about eight years before eventually bowing out. He played a pivotal role in the group’s early development before leaving in 1984. He sadly passed away in a hit-and-run accident in Austin in 1996.
Mike Daily (steel guitar) is another founding member who still plays with Strait. His dad Pappy Daily was also a big part of their early days, since he first arranged for the band to record two songs in 1976.
Stoney Ridge’s originally drummer Tommy Foote returned from Houston in late 1975 to rejoin the new band and held that position all the way up until 1983. That’s when he got out from behind the kit to become the road manager, a position he still holds to this day. Roger Montgomery played drums 1987, when Mike Kennedy joined and played up until his recent passing.
The final remaining piece from the early days is bassist Terry Hale, one of the original Stoney Ridge members and Strait’s bass player to this day. Throughout the rest of the 1980s, the Ace in the Hole band added several key players, including keyboardist Ronnie Huckaby, Rick McRae and Benny McArthur on lead guitar and fiddle and Gene Elders on fiddle. All four have played with Strait for more than 30 years.
Still Going Strong
Though Strait retired from major tours a few years ago, he still performs on occasion with the group. The band also frequently records with Strait in the studio, and has even recorded an album without Strait on vocals. That 1994 record featured guest vocals from the legendary Mel Tillis and Darrell McCall.
And yes, they also got to have roles in the 1990s country classic Pure Country franchise.
With an 11-piece lineup in most scenarios, the Ace in the Hole Band remains one of the most critically regarded touring bands to this day. And though several members fill in and play with other artists, they stick together like a family for George.
Ace in the Hole Band 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
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