McGraw, Songwriters Celebrate ‘The Cowboy in Me’

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Songwriters who score a Tim McGraw single can count on three things from the singer: He’ll do right by their lyrics; he’ll make them some serious money; and he’ll show up faithfully at their No. 1 parties. While most artists pay lip service to songwriters, it’s clear that McGraw truly cherishes them.

He was there Monday (May 6) for two No. 1 celebrations for “The Cowboy in Me,” written by Craig Wiseman, Jeffrey Steele and Al Anderson. The first party was held at ASCAP, the performance rights society to which Wiseman belongs, and the second at BMI, Steele’s and Anderson’s home turf.

“Cowboy” is the third No. 1 single from McGraw’s current album, Set This Circus Down. In February, he was on hand to toast songwriter Bruce Robison for “Angry All the Time.” This past September, he also rolled in for separate No. 1 parties the same afternoon for the writers of “Grown Men Don’t Cry,” Steve Seskin and Tom Douglas.

The pattern is the same. McGraw arrives early, usually by himself and always without fanfare, hugs and high-fives his friends and waits quietly — well back in the crowd — for the speeches and presentations to start. Afterward, he’ll pose for snapshots with the writers, publishers or anyone else. He shows no unseemly inclination to rush off to better things. At Monday’s soiree, he wore a baseball-style “Kenny Rogers ’82 U. S. Tour” shirt with the sleeves rolled up. His olive drab cap was monogrammed in the back with the slogan “Girls Rule.”

ASCAP’s Ralph Murphy told the crowd that “Cowboy” was Wiseman’s 10th No. 1 hit as he prepared to pass out trophies to the songwriter, his publisher, Karen Conrad, McGraw and his producer, Byron Gallimore.

The puckish Wiseman — noting that this was Steele’s and Anderson’s first No. 1 — gave his co-writers and their publisher, Steve Markland, ornately framed oval mirrors at the bottom of which was written: “Who Loves Craigie?/Tim McGraw/’The Cowboy in Me’/First #1/March 2002.” “It’s so damn gratifying,” he said of his latest achievement.

Conrad is senior vice president at BMG Music, and Markland is vice president of creative affairs at Windswept Holdings. Among Wiseman’s string of No. 1s are Phil Vassar’s “Another Day in Paradise,” Tracy Lawrence’s “If the Good Die Young,” Diamond Rio’s “Walkin’ Away” and McGraw’s 1997 hit, “Everywhere.”

“Craig kept my career going there for a while,” McGraw declared. He said he met Wiseman at the Hall of Fame Inn Lounge on Music Row the day he moved to Nashville in 1989. It was the day before Keith Whitley, one of McGraw’s inspirations, died. Wiseman told his band was playing in the lounge when McGraw approached him and asked if he could sing a song. “You better be nice to people,” Wiseman observed. “You never know where they’ll end up.”

Conrad presented the writers with cut-glass crystal bowls. “The entire Nashville music community is indebted to you three people, together and individually,” she said. “I knew I was never going to get a Tim McGraw single,” Anderson remarked, obviously relieved that he finally had. “He even cut one and didn’t put it out.”

In the festive spirit of the moment, Wiseman had McGraw pose for a picture with “Flat Stanley,” the cutout figure school children are mailing to people all over the world in order to get feedback about the places Stanley “visits.” Wiseman said he had posed his Stanley at prominent locations both in Nashville and Europe.

At the BMI party, Markland presented Steele and Anderson with large No. 1 plaques. “Ours is bigger than yours, Craig,” Anderson taunted Wiseman. Steele thanked his family. “It means a lot that they believe in what I do,” he said. “I actually had an Enron No. 1 once,” Anderson deadpanned. “I want to thank Mel Bay [the line of elementary instruction books for musicians]. I went past page four, so I’m doing pretty good.”

Gallimore rushed into the party late, carrying his three-year-old daughter, Sophia. “He brought his engineer with him,” said someone in the crowd. BMI awarded its traditional mint-julep cups to the songwriters, publishers, artist, producers and record company.

Embracing the songwriters for yet another round of photos, McGraw said, “Without these guys, I’d be a game warden somewhere.”

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to