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Published: Tuesday, 7/18/2006

Craig Morgan enjoys some major country-music success

BY BRIAN DUGGER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Craig Morgan is to perform at 8:30 p.m. tomorrow at the Ottawa County Fair in Oak Harbor, Ohio. Tickets, $10 for grandstand seats and $15 for track seating, are available from the fairground  office: 419-898-1971.
Craig Morgan is to perform at 8:30 p.m. tomorrow at the Ottawa County Fair in Oak Harbor, Ohio. Tickets, $10 for grandstand seats and $15 for track seating, are available from the fairground office: 419-898-1971.
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Looking for a good trivia question to stump your friends? Try this one: What country artist had the most-played song in 2005?

Kenny Chesney? Keith Urban? Toby Keith?

No. No. No.

The answer would be Craig Morgan, whose single "That's What I Love About Sunday" was played more often than any other single on country radio last year.

"Man, I was extremely excited. It was a huge honor. There's only one, you know? It's very cool," Morgan said recently by phone as his bus headed to Lake Charles, La., for a show.

To make the year even better, Morgan followed that No. 1 single with another chart-topper, "Redneck Yacht Club."

Now he's putting the finishing touches on his album, which should be in stores by October or November, and he's got a summer schedule booked with tour dates. Tomorrow night, he will be in Oak Harbor for a show at the Ottawa County Fair.

Morgan, who turned 41 yesterday, is the poster child for an emerging trend in Nashville - the success of independent labels. His two hits were released on "My Kind of Livin'," his second album with Broken Bow Records. In years past, an artist couldn't have gotten air play being backed by an independent, but times are changing dramatically. Little Big Town and Clint Black have enjoyed success on Equity Records. Jason Aldean has been a breakout artist for Broken Bow, and Neal McCoy and Toby Keith have started their own labels.

"I think the industry today is focused more on the music and the artist rather than the label," Morgan said. "Radio has opened [its] arms and said we're going to focus on the music. There was a time it didn't matter. It was more about what label you were on."

Before breaking out in Nashville, Morgan had dedicated his life to the military. He spent 11 years in the Army, seeing combat in Panama in 1989 during Operation Just Cause and in Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm. During his years stationed in South Korea, he began writing songs and eventually took some of them to Nashville, where he started as a demo singer before signing with the now-defunct Atlantic Records in 2000.

It was on Broken Bow that he enjoyed his first taste of success with "Almost Home," which was a Top 10 hit from his first Broken Bow album, "I Love It." On the cusp of releasing his third project for the label, he said his surge in popularity has been a mixed blessing.

The packed tour schedule allows him to take his music out to his fans, but it has also slowed his work in the studio. Morgan has been cutting tracks between tour dates. The project has been doubly difficult because he is co-producing it, meaning he has to be around when all the mixes are added to the record. But it should be in stores before Christmas, and the first single, "Little Bit of Life," will hit radio on Aug. 14.

"Originally, the first single was going to be a song I'd written, 'I Am,' but I heard this song, and I was like, 'Wow, that's the title of my album.' It really sums up the content of the album. People say that I focus on the little things in my writing, and that's what this is about. It's a groovy little song," he said. "I feel this is going to be that multi-platinum record for me. It's got some great songs. I didn't write as many songs as I have before, but I didn't have to. But I feel the ones I did write are bigger and better."

In Oak Harbor, Morgan will try out some of the new songs as well as plenty of hits that people will recognize.

"We have a lot of fun. I want people to feel like they got their money's worth and enjoy themselves when they come out to see us."

Craig Morgan is to perform at 8:30 p.m. tomorrow at the Ottawa County Fair in Oak Harbor, Ohio. Tickets, $10 for grandstand seats and $15 for track seating, are available from the fairground office: 419-898-1971.

Contact Brian Dugger at bdugger@theblade.com

or 419-724-4110.



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