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by Lorie Hollabaugh

It’s midday in Nashville at a popular lunch spot on the West side, and Tim McGraw stealthily slips in through the standing-room-only crowd waiting for a table and heads straight to a small two-top in the back of the restaurant to meet fellow country artist/actor Mark Collie. Other than a quick greeting from a fellow diner, the superstar seems to go fairly unnoticed throughout the meal as he enjoys a quick lunch before heading out.

McGraw And ChesneyThe experience seems light years away from his attention-heavy celebrity world filled with red carpets, movie premieres, paparazzi, and awards shows, and from the way McGraw describes it, that’s exactly the way he likes it.

Several weeks later in front of a packed crowd at the Country Radio Seminar in Nashville, McGraw muses on that exact subject of celebrity and fame and the unexpected twists and turns his 20-year career has taken to get him to the top of his game. During the panel, “Transcendence and Evolving,” he talks about how he’s maintained longevity in his country career and finds ways to prioritize what is key, and he’s surprisingly candid in his answers concerning the challenges and obstacles he’s faced since first debuting at the CRS New Faces of Country Music Show in 1994 on a bill that also featured future wife Faith Hill and Toby Keith.

As the video for his poignant new song, “Humble And Kind,” played followed by a montage of impressive career highlights to introduce the star, he seemed a bit embarrassed by the fanfare. “That intro was just loaded with humility, wasn’t it,” noted McGraw, chuckling, as the crowd erupted into laughter. The new single is an Oprah-endorsed ballad full of homespun advice on life and love, and McGraw recalled Tim McGraw New Albumthe story of how the Wes Edwards-directed video for the song came to feature scenes from Oprah’s documentary Belief and a twitter shout-out from the media maven herself. The visually stirring video highlighting a vast array of backgrounds and cultures has already racked up over 14 million views since its release just over a month ago, and McGraw reveals he had the song in his pocket for quite a while before deciding to add it to his latest CD, Damn Country Music.

“Lori McKenna, who wrote the song, is just one of the gems we have in this business,” says McGraw about the author of the moving tune. “She truly is an artist and a poet, and she sent me that song the night she wrote it and I just loved it. I guess I had it for a year and a half and I listened to it over and over and fell in love with Lori singing the song and her version of it. And I knew I wanted to record it, but I just couldn’t wrap my head around how to do it and couldn’t get past her demo of her singing it, it was just so beautiful and touching.” 

“So I lived with it for a while and then sat down at a piano and started working out some ideas of what we wanted to do with it. I think in the times that we live in, it’s an important song by itself just by what it says, and then being a dad and having one daughter who just went off to college and another who is going off to college in May, and one starting high school, you sort of look at the world in a different way having kids and certainly having kids who are going out on their own. So I thought it was a song that needed to be heard…I  wasn’t sure if I was the one who was going to be able to say it, but I’m glad we found a way to record it.”
McGraw with Sailor
“For the video, I knew I wanted it to be universal and speak to a lot of people and encompass a lot of different cultures,” adds McGraw. “And I was running on the treadmill one morning trying to figure out what I wanted to do, and the trailer for the Oprah Belief series came on and I knew that’s exactly what I wanted it to look like. So I called Kelly who I work with and told her that’s what I wanted it to look like, and she said, ‘Yeah but that’s gonna cost a lot of money to make it look like that.’ So I said, Let’s try to get the footage. So we made a few phone calls and with a little help from some friends Oprah agreed to let us use some footage for the video. And then Wes came in and shot some great stuff—that light effect encapsulated in the intro how time flows and how the world flows, and you can see that throughout the video.”

Tim McGraw SignIn the same vein as his mega-hit, “Live Like You Were Dying,” the song offers up simple wisdom on handling life’s peaks and valleys with humility and reaching back to help those coming along behind you, and McGraw is quick to acknowledge he’s had plenty of help himself from mentors along the way in both his music and acting careers. The now-seasoned actor counts Rick Schroeder as a great teacher during those early days as he dipped his toes into the acting pool, and is thankful Schroeder cast him in the indie film Black Cloud, which gave him a chance to learn away from the spotlight and the confidence he needed to audition for his favorite role he’s ever played, in Friday Night Lights.

Though he deliberately waited to approach acting after his boots were already firmly entrenched in country music, McGraw admits even at that point being a singer was still a drawback and not a drawing card when director Peter Berg was casting the part of the abusive dad in the 2004 film Friday Night Lights.

“I fell in love with the script, and Peter didn’t know who I was, which turned out to be a good thing,” recalled McGraw. “Later on he told me had he known who I was, he wouldn’t have given me the part.” 

For key decisions in his life, whether choosing parts in movies or recording songs, McGraw says having wife Faith Hill and a few other select non-music friends in his inner circle to weigh in definitely helps keep him balanced and honest, although some buddies will occasionally still offer lip service. “Sometimes they’ll bullshit me, but I’m pretty good about knowing who the bullshitters are and I like ‘em anyway,” he admits, laughing.

He can undoubtedly also count on daughters Audrey, Gracie, and Maggie for blunt honesty at times as well though, like it or not. When asked what movie of his he liked the least, McGraw quickly chimed in with the holiday comedy Four Christmases, a movie he says he’s still never even seen. After his girls caught a glimpse of him on screen during a preview of it during a family movie night, their reaction spurred him on to make some needed changes.

“That’s one of the times when our kids were embarrassed,” McGraw remembers, laughing. “My face came up on that big screen, and my kids looked at me and said ‘Dad, you gotta do something.’” No worries on that issue these days as McGraw is in the best shape of his life, but he revealed that his intense focus on working out and reshaping his body several years ago came out of a need to control something during a period when he was engaged in a protracted battle with his former record label and wasn’t taking the best care of himself.

McGraw and Hill Promote
“I was drinking too much for a while,” McGraw admits. “My kids were getting older. You start thinking about mortality. I wanted to be healthy and be around for my kids, be a better husband and father, take care of myself mentally and physically, and get the most out of my career. And I felt like I wasn’t controlling all the things I’d worked hard for. The first thing I could grab and control was my physical well-being, and that put me into a better mental and competitive state…so all that was like hitting the domino for me.”

Though he has a much more buff image these days, the superstar also admitted he’s not overly fond of instantly connecting with the world around him via Twitter and Instagram, even though it is an inevitable part of the media world today. “I’m gonna be honest, I hate social media,” he hesitantly revealed to an applauding crowd. “It’s Tim McGraw Starcertainly a big part of our business and what we do, and I’m coming along. But I don’t have Twitter on my phone because my wife won’t let me, and that’s probably a good thing! When I have something to say, I send it to somebody and they do it.”

For the time being McGraw is plenty happy to continue letting his music do the talking. His latest album Damn Country Music has yielded several hits already, and he pretty much sticks to the same formula he’s used since day one – the best song wins.

“The saying goes, 'The harder you work the luckier you get,' and we spent a lot of time figuring out what we wanted to do and how we wanted to do it early on and how we wanted our music to be presented. But first and foremost, it always started with the song. To me that was the most important thing. I always wanted to make every album that I make, and I still feel this way, to this day I’m competitive and I love hearing everybody else’s music, but I want to make an album every time that anybody would be proud to have as a first single on their album."

"I want every song on there to be one that could be a single on someone’s album. I want to make an album that there’s no skips. You don’t always succeed in that…I succeed for me, but maybe not for everybody else, but you have to feel it. You have to go in and feel what’s happening, and your emotions have to come through in the music. And if that doesn’t happen, it’s not gonna work." Hill and McGraw Duet
“I still like making records in the studio with everybody in the studio together and the camaraderie of it, like guys on a submarine. I love being in the studio working with musicians – I guess it goes back to being an athlete being in the locker room; I like the energy. And to me when you find a song that says something, those are always special. But I feel a responsibility to make music that I’m proud of. I want to serve the song. No matter what situation you are in, if you stay true to the music, and follow the music, the music will win.”

Tim McGraw’s latest album, DAMN COUNTRY MUSIC Deluxe Edition is available now on Limited Edition BLUE Vinyl! Get your copy here! / Issue 194 - September 8662
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