George Strait has released a statement following the death of beloved songwriter Kent Finlay, his friend and former boss. The 77-year-old owner of Cheatham Street Warehouse in San Marcos, Texas died on Monday (March 2). The important role he played in Strait’s life is immeasurable.

The singer’s first gig with the now-famous Ace in the Hole Band came on Oct. 13, 1975 at Cheatham Street, a venue Finlay ran until his death. For nearly 40 years the two called one another friends — it was Finlay who drove with Strait to Nashville for the very first time in 1977. Long ago country’s most successful male artist thanked Finlay and his then-wife Diana for "giving me and the guys a place to perform when no one else would."

Strait, songwriter Daryl Staedtler and Finlay made that long drive from Texas to Nashville in hopes of landing a major record deal. They took turns driving and sleeping in a Dodge cargo van, only to come home empty-handed.

"The truth of the matter is that every major label passed on George Strait," Finlay told the Tennessean in 2014. "That van had two seats and an Army cot in the back. We took turns driving and riding and sleeping in the cot."

Eventually, Nashville executives discovered what Texas fans knew. Strait played weekly at Cheatham for seven years. It was "Ladies free" and nickel beer, according to the venue’s website. “I knew he would be a star,” Finlay said, “probably before he did."

Strait wouldn't be the only star to call Cheatham home. For 40 years it was known as a place for songwriters and players looking for a crowd and to better their craft. Finlay often helped.

He died surrounded by friends and family on Monday at his home in Martindale, Texas. Daughter Jenni — co-author of her dad's biography — pointed out it was Texas Independence Day, telling Austin 360, "You know he would have loved that.”

Strait’s statement came shortly after noon:

Country music — and just music in general really — lost a great friend today. His legend will live forever in Texas, though. We'll never forget our friend Kent Finlay. Sad day.

See George Strait Through the Years

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