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Thursday, June 3, 2021

San Antonio C&W icon George Chambers backed touring stars and lost band members to them too

Posted By on Thu, Jun 3, 2021 at 8:00 AM

George Chambers may be the greatest unsung hero of San Antonio's country music scene. - SAM KINDRICK
  • Sam Kindrick
  • George Chambers may be the greatest unsung hero of San Antonio's country music scene.
San Antonio singer-guitarist George Chambers played his first gig at Floore’s Country Store in 1952 and hasn’t stopped since.

“I’ve been doing this since I was 13 years old ... and I’m 150 now,” laughs Chambers, who may be the greatest unsung hero of the city’s country music scene. “We all make the mistake of getting old, but you just keep going.”



Also notable, Chambers’ band the Country Gentleman became a hotbed for regional talent moving on to bigger stages. His sidemen David Zettner and Bee Spears were hired away by Willie Nelson, while Preston Buchanan took a job with Charlie Pride.

“That was a big compliment, to have somebody of that stature, in that place, to hire somebody from our place,” Chambers said.

Besides playing his own songs, Chambers made a name for himself leading backup bands for touring Nashville stars during the era when hitmakers often toured alone.

For eight years, Chambers performed with every star who played Bandera’s Cabaret Club until its 1968 closure. He singles out stints with George Jones and Loretta Lynn as highlights and also fondly recalls his work with Willie Nelson, who recruited the Country Gentlemen not just to back him up in Texas but for stints in Vegas and Nashville.

“Willie Nelson was really good to us. He took us under his wing,” Chambers said.

During that time, Chambers made his living as a physics teacher at Holmes High School, having substitutes fill in while his band did road gigs. Americana great Steve Earle was among his students.

“He sent me a song a couple years ago, one he wrote in 1974 called ‘Singing Them Songs About Mexico’ and said, ‘Why don’t you and Johnny Bush record that so I can play it on my Sirius XM radio show?’” Chambers said. “‘They don’t know how to do conjunto in Nashville.’”

Chambers gathered his group and recorded it live in one take, alongside SA greats Harvey Kagan and Ron Knuth.

Though he never became an international star like some of the artists he played behind, Chambers has no regrets.

“We never wanted to be stars, we just wanted to go play,” he said. “We made people happy, playing dances for years and years and years. I still have my tour bus parked in my yard. Interested in buying it?”

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