What do you get when you cross a soldier and a country music singer? You get Craig Morgan. The ten year army veteran is basking in the Top 5 debut of his latest release, This Ole Boy. Once dubbed “country music’s champion of the Everyman,” he is best known for monster hits that espouse the core values of the genre: faith (“That’s What I Love About Sunday”), good times, (“Redneck Yacht Club”) and helping others (“Almost Home”), for which he was awarded the Songwriter Achievement Award. Between his TV show, touring and charity work, it was hard to imagine finding time to make an album. The combination of changing to the Black River label and the inspired confidence in his career propelled his latest effort. The title track has spent 38 weeks on the Billboard country charts and is still in the top 20. Morgan took timeout to discuss his career from his home in Nashville.
You’ve said the new songs reflect a point in your career where you are extremely comfortable and confident.
I’ve been doing this for 12 years and I think I know more about what people expect from me and the kind of music they want to hear from me than I ever have. I think I was able to deliver that in such a way I never have in the past. A lot of that was due to the comfort that I’ve gotten from this label. They’ve shown me a lot of support and confidence that I haven’t had in a long time. And not just myself and my music but in this business; they’re happy and when you go to work and are around people who like their job, it makes your job a lot easier.
It debuted at No. 5. Was there deliberate thought put into the material to achieve such a good position?
I worked very hard to try to deliver the material I have done in the past successfully. I wanted to make an entire record of that stuff and that’s why this record turned out the way it did.
Many country artists perform patriotic songs, but unlike you, have never served in the military. Do you feel your military experience gives you a deeper understanding of patriotism?
It has definitely increased my ability to communicate with those men and women that the other artists can’t. Every soldier will tell you, unless you’ve been there, you can’t really appreciate what’s going on. Because I have been there, I can appreciate that and have the ability to communicate with them a little differently.
You’ve performed overseas for troops nine times. What do those shows mean to you and to them?
I try and do the same show I do anywhere, but it means a little more to me because I’m playing for some of the most special people in the world. Only one percent of the people in this nation have what it takes to serve it. That’s a wonderful group of people to perform for. It’s funny because I think they take more pride in it than I do They’re more proud of me doing what I do than I am because I am one of theirs.
What are some of the most important things you learned from being on tour with a global superstar like Carrie Underwood?
I don’t know if I learn any more or less from anyone. I mean we do what we do and I was doing it before Carrie won American Idol. What I did learn was that she has a fan base that I don’t have. There are people that listen to Carrie Underwood that didn’t listen to Craig Morgan. So it was good exposure for us.
With all the crossover success country has had recently, do you have any concerns about it becoming too “pop?”
No. that’s the great thing about country music. It has a wider range of sound than other genres and it always has. Back years ago, people thought Ronnie Milsap was a pop singer and now he’s one of our standards. As time changes and production increases, so will our music. Any time anyone in our genre does well, it’s good for all of us.
As you approach 50, where do you see your career going?
We’re still having success, most people, when you get to my age in this business, a lot of people start slowing down, but we’re picking up. I’m doing more than I’ve done in the past. I just seeing us continuing to work and I’m doing to do it as long as I can. When the fans let you know, and they will let you know when they stop buying you. I’ll do something else but I’ll always be part of this industry.
Between the TV show, touring and making albums, how do you balance life and work, especially in Nashville.
I think about this every time I do an interview, and we don’ t seem to ask other people this kind of a question. They do a different job, but they have the same amount of time commitment. It’s just because we’re in the entertainment industry that we’re asked that.T his is what I do for a living. I go to work and when I go home, I get to be dad and a husband. Most importantly, I have a great wife who keeps everything in order.
Who would you most like to duet with?
Stevie Wonder. No question. I’d love to do a Crossroads show with him.