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Published: 4/16/2010

Craig Morgan charges ahead

BY BRIAN DUGGER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

It's not unusual for a little boy to dream about being a policeman, or maybe a soldier, or maybe even a famous singer.

Apparently Craig Morgan wasn't sure which dream to pursue, so he followed them all.

For 10 years, Morgan jumped out of Army planes while serving with the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions. He's also worked as an emergency medical technician, a sheriff's deputy, and even as a manager at Wal-Mart. Of course, for the last 10 years, he's been putting out hits on country radio.

He'll be opening for Carrie Underwood Saturday night at the Huntington Center, 500 Jefferson Ave. in downtown Toledo.

"Music was something I'd always done for fun, not something I thought I'd make a career out of. When I did make the decision to give it a shot, I was a little bit older than most guys," says Morgan, who is 44. "Fortunately for me, people are less interested these days in your age or even how you look than they are about the music and songs."

Morgan pauses briefly, then decides to barrel forward, emphasizing his point about country fans being interested in the music.

"I'm not saying Jamey Johnson is an ugly guy, but he ain't one pretty fellow," he says, hearty laughter pouring through the telephone. "Look at Blake Shelton. People say he's cute, but people kind of feel sorry for him — like a pug-nosed dog."

They are words spoken by a man who's obviously afraid of nothing, including the burly Johnson. It's courage developed over years of carrying an assault rifle and arresting wanted felons.

"I'll tell you what, every day [in the Army] I would wake up thinking I was going to do something heroic. There's nothing heroic about music, but what I have learned is that music is impacting. We've changed people's lives with words and songs."

Morgan has been a steady hit maker. In 10 years, he's charted 17 singles and placed six of those in the Top 10. "That's What I Love About Sundays" is his only No. 1 hit, but it was the most-played single on country radio in 2005. He followed that up with nearly as big a hit in "Redneck Yacht Club," which climbed to No. 2 and became a feel-good anthem for country music fans.

What's been most impressive about Morgan is that he was one of the first artists in Nashville to break through on an independent label. After losing his first deal when Atlantic Records Nashville closed, Morgan produced hits for the indie Broken Bow Records from 2002 until he signed with BNA in 2008. Morgan's "That's What I Love About Sundays" was the first chart-topper for Broken Bow, which now touts Jason Aldean as its headliner.

"We were in the truest sense of the word an independent. I personally felt like I outgrew where they were," Morgan says. "[Owner Benny Brown] was very generous to me and helped me with my career, but for us to grow and reach my potential, I needed tools that he didn't have. Rather than stay and develop a negative relationship, I moved on."

The resources of a major label were immediately evident with his first album for BNA, "That's Why," which was released in October, 2008.

Morgan released two singles, "Love Remembers" and "God Must Really Love Me." He was playing around with a couple of other songs that he thought he might want to put on an upcoming album, but label executives heard the songs and decided to pull back his entire current album and re-release it with the two new songs, something that likely wouldn't happen on an independent because of the expense.

But the move paid off. One of the cuts, "Bonfire," reached No. 4 on the charts, and the other, his current single "This Ain't Nothing," is showing signs of being one of the biggest hits of his career.

"This Ain't Nothing" is a song telling the story of a man who's dealt with a number of tragedies in his life. It's emotional and at times can be tough for Morgan, who has been supporting his mother as she is treated with chemotherapy.

"No doubt it can be hard to sing certain songs. I have to not think about certain things when I'm on stage. It'd be really hard for me to sing a cheating song if my wife was having an affair. I'd probably turn it into a killing song," he says laughing as his wife, Karen, sits across the table from him in a Nashville-area restaurant.

The night before, he finished a show and found out he was only about seven hours from his Dickson, Tenn., home. He told the bus driver to head home. He picked up his wife, who has returned to college, after class and took her out to lunch. It's one of the few free days he's had now that he's on tour with Underwood.

But he's not complaining.

"It seems like, at times, that I just started [my career] yesterday," he says, then adds with a chuckle, "then other days it feels like I've been doing this 30 years. But I love it, and I'm grateful for every minute of it. If it was over tomorrow, I wouldn't have a bad thing to say about any part of it."

Contact Brian Dugger at:

bdugger@theblade.com.



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