There is no one like him. Craig Morgan's resume is one of the most varied and impressive on earth--soldier, sheriff's deputy, EMT, adventurer, TV host, motocross racer, outdoorsman, farmer, and family man; then there is the career that ties it all together.
"Music is like a center for all those things," says the man known as one of country's best singers and songwriters since "Almost Home" put him on the map in 2002. "It's the outlet for me to express everything I am. When I'm riding my dirt bike, you may not know about my music, and when I'm in a military environment, it's not the center point. But my music career allows me to talk about and be a part of all of those other energies in my life. When I'm on stage, I get to express all of it."
So it's no surprise that his new Black River Entertainment CD The Journey (Livin' Hits), which includes eight of his top hits and four powerful new tracks, is as much autobiography as musical statement.
"If you don't know Craig Morgan," he says, "you can listen to this album and see where I've been, where I'm at and where I'm going."
"Where I've been" constitutes one of the most familiar and respected careers in modern music. In addition to "Almost Home," which brings pathos, compassion and nostalgia together into a classic country song, Craig's catalog includes working-class anthems like "Redneck Yacht Club," "International Harvester" and "More Trucks Than Cars"; real-life love songs like "Tough" and "This Ole Boy"; and one that hits on pretty much every theme Craig brings to the table--"Little Bit of Life." Then there is "That's What I Love About Sunday," a six-week chart-topper whose love of American life in the biggest and smallest senses made it the most-played song of the year in 2005.
The Journey (Livin' Hits) finds Craig again working with longtime friend and collaborator Phil O'Donnell, along with some of Nashville's best musicians to introduce fans to four new songs that serve as windows on Craig's past, present and future. He says, "You want to give people songs that have a hint of what they've come to expect from you, while at the same time allowing you to grow musically, and I think that's what these new songs do, more so than anything I've ever recorded."
"Wake Up Lovin’ You" finds Craig using all the power and precision of that instantly recognizable voice to tell the story of an all-consuming memory; "If Not Me" is everything we've known Craig for--family, love, country and responsibility in a song gripping in its reality and drama; "Party Girl" is pure fun, celebrating the process of letting loose on the weekend; and "We'll Come Back Around" talks about those on-the-edge moments that test the limits of great relationships, where even at the worst, both sides know love will win. Together, they show a fresh musical direction for Craig.
"There's a new me," he says. "Personally I'm the same, but musically I'm doing some new stuff. The music I’m singing now has an emotional quality that’s different from what I’ve done in the past, and I’m singing it from the viewpoint of someone who has lived the ups and the downs of these songs. With this record the fans will be able to see the fusion of the old and new and how they come together to make me who I am musically right now."
It's just the latest chapter in a life and career rooted in Craig's individuality, in his bedrock knowledge of who he is.
"I'm an American country boy who loves his country, his family and his God," he says, "and all of those things collectively dictate who I am. I have no idea what God holds in store for me, but what I do know is that every day I just get up and do my life. I don't go to work to be a singer. I just go live my life, and part of that is being a singer."
Craig was born in tiny Kingston Springs, Tennessee, the son of a bass-playing father whose work gave him behind-the-scenes views of classic country stars like Vern Gosdin, George Jones and Tammy Wynette, among many others. At ten, he sang the national anthem during a school field trip to Nashville in front of a crowd that included Minnie Pearl--who told him, "Son, someday you're gonna be a famous singer."
An avid and lifelong outdoorsman, he began his career as an 18-year-old EMT. He then served ten years in the U.S. Army, where he traveled much of the world and took up performing and songwriting, winning military contests in both. He moved to Nashville after leaving the armed forces, and was employed as a contractor, a sheriff's deputy and a Wal-Mart assistant dairy manager as he pursued music. He was singing demos when he was signed to his first label deal, thereby launching his hit-filled career.
Craig performs frequently for military audiences, both here and abroad (he has earned the U.S.O Merit Award), and is a frequent guest at the Grand Ole Opry. In fact, the two came together when he was invited to join the hallowed institution in 2008 during an appearance at Ft. Bragg, one of the places he'd been stationed during his military career.
Craig's widely varied but seamlessly integrated background adds believability no matter what subject matter he sings about--and it connects him with his audience in a way few others can claim.
"When you're talking about the people who come to my show," he says, "well, I am those people. I've heard people say they're a different person when they get on stage. I'm Craig Morgan all the time. The only difference between me on stage and me in the barn is that on stage I'm singing, and in the barn I'm feeding chickens or working on a tractor."
All parts of his life come together on his television show, "Craig Morgan's All Access Outdoors," which is in its fourth season on the Outdoor Channel.
Craig, who has four children, lives with his wife of 25 years, Karen, outside Dickson, Tennessee. He is involved in many of the area's charitable causes and he keeps current with his emergency preparedness skills through activities like in-service training with the sheriff's department.
Ever the optimist, ever the achiever, he is as forward-looking as ever.
"I do believe this next chapter in my life is going to be the best yet," he says. "I started working toward this new direction with my last album, 'This Ole Boy.' That album hinted at the direction we're taking now. This will take everything to the next level.’
'I'm at a great place in my career," he adds. "I've got the confidence that comes with longevity and with my association with a great label, Black River Entertainment. When I look in the mirror, I see the guy I've been, the guy who's brought me here, but it's amazing the energy and optimism I sense. I feel I can do more than I ever could."
With his latest release, he is proving just that to the world.