Craig Morgan is on his bus, barreling toward a concert date in Duluth, Ga., when he phones to chat about his new album, Little Bit of Life. The first single from the project, the infectious title cut, has already bounced into the Top 15 in Billboard and looks to have plenty of momentum remaining.
It's Morgan's third collection for Broken Bow Records, and, for the third time, he is involved as a producer. His co-producers this time around are Phil O'Donnell and Keith Stegall. O'Donnell is one of Morgan's frequent co-writers, and Stegall is the producing genius behind Alan Jackson's biggest hits. Last spring, Broken Bow hired Stegall to be its chief creative officer.
"In the past, we had such good success, I didn't think I needed anybody else," Morgan admits. "But I've always wanted to work with Keith Stegall, and this was a good opportunity to bring him in. ... I think more than anything else, he brought another set of ears -- a very experienced set of ears. He's been in the studio a long time, and he's heard a lot. It was nice to have [someone like that] to hear certain things, especially during the vocal process."
Besides new ears, Morgan notes, Stegall also brought in his engineer, John Kelton, to do the mixing.
By now, Morgan has his album architecture down pat. He starts with a solid foundation of blue-collar sentiments about God, hometown and family ("Little Bit of Life," "I Am," "Sweet Old Fashion Goodness," "Tough"), adds a layer of good ole boy boisterousness ("International Harvester," "I Guess You Had to Be There") and then tops it off with a few sober ruminations on mortality ("The Ballad of Mr. Jenkins," "Look at 'em Fly"). Something for everybody.
Morgan maintains thematic control, in part, by creating much of his own material. For this project, he co-wrote four of the 11 cuts. "I've been writing songs for a long time," he says. "It's been a big part of my career."
Like a lot of other artists who tour heavily, Morgan has learned to write on the road. So he often takes his co-writers with him. "They ride the bus with me, and we hang out and write between everything that's going on. ... Every song that's on this record that I wrote, I wrote on the road."
Laughing at the memory of it, Morgan reveals that when "Little Bit of Life" was first pitched to him, he thought he might have written it. "Honestly, when I heard it, I called Phil O'Donnell [and] asked him if it was something we had written a long time ago that I'd forgotten about. It just felt like something that I had written, something that was easy for me to present." (The actual writers are Tony Mullins and Danny Wells.)
As he integrates songs from the album into his show, Morgan reports that "My Kind of Woman," "Tough," "I Am" and, of course, "Little Bit of Life" are getting the best audience responses.
Although Morgan occasionally does other artists' hits in his live shows, he says he has no interest in cutting such covers. "I've always said that I don't think we need to record songs that have been recorded because there are so many great songs that haven't been heard."
Morgan tours relentlessly, usually around 200 dates a year. Because of his heavy schedule, he says it took him a bit longer than usual to record the new album. "Being a co-producer, I didn't want them to do anything without me," he stresses. "They couldn't close a mix without me listening to it."
Last April, Morgan injured himself in a motorcycle wreck, but it didn't wreck his schedule. In fact, he played a scheduled show just hours after he suffered a concussion. "I've had a few of them," he says dismissively.
On Feb. 1, Morgan will join Trace Adkins' Dangerous Man tour. Morgan's next single, he says, will be "Tough."