With a new album on a new label and membership in the Grand Ole Opry, it's no wonder Craig Morgan sounds jubilant when he calls in to chat with CMT.com. Often he does interviews from his tour bus, but today he's between shows and out running errands.
"Our life is kind of like everybody else's in Dickson County," he says with a chuckle. Dickson County is not far from Nashville, but it's distant enough to afford Morgan the rural amenities he savors.
The singer says he likes to spend time with his five kids on those rare days when he's not touring. "For fun, we race and ride dirt bikes," he reports. "We have a motocross track and a hare scramble track at [home].
"I work around the house, get on my tractor and do what everybody else does. It's relaxing for me. I like to work. I enjoy the physical aspects of labor. I also think it's important [to] teach [my] children that. The best way to teach them is by example."
Still, he has all that music business to attend to, and right now Morgan is intent on spreading the word about That's Why , his first album for BNA Records. BNA is also the home label of such hotshots as Kenny Chesney and Kellie Pickler. So there's plenty of stiff in-house competition for the new guy to measure up to.
"I had more creative control over this record than any other I've done in the past," Morgan declares. "When I went over to this major label, I expected them to dictate everything, and it was quite the opposite."
With a respectful eye toward Morgan's past chart triumphs, BNA not only let Morgan and his friend Phil O'Donnell continue as co-producers, it also gave him the green light to include six of his own songs in the 10-song collection.
Morgan has spent the past nine years proving he's a viable recording act. He signed to Atlantic Records in late 1999 and charted his first single, "Something to Write Home About," early the following year. Soon after Atlantic rolled out his self-titled first album, however, the label closed its Nashville-based country division.
By 2001, Morgan was recording for Broken Bow Records, a feisty new independent label. It was here that the hits began coming, starting with the emotionally riveting "Almost Home," a Morgan co-write that rose to No. 6, and continuing through such remarkable songs as "That's What I Love About Sunday," "Redneck Yacht Club" and "Tough."
When Morgan's contract with Broken Bow ended, several major labels came calling. Ultimately, he gave the nod to BNA.
"What the label change did for me," he explains, "was provide me with all the additional tools I didn't have on an independent label -- like marketing, sales and distribution, those things that I really need for longevity in my career."
Relieved of his worries about how the business was being conducted, Morgan was able to concentrate on the creative side.
"The more success I had at Broken Bow," he says, "the less creative control we got. ... I'm not putting that label down, though. We did a lot of great things on that label and had a lot of radio success."
That's Why is a classic Morgan menu of sensitive love ballads, raucous party patter and lucky-to-be-me ramblings. The first single, "Love Remembers," considers the glorious underpinnings of a relationship that's fallen apart. "Sticks" and "Every Red Light" appeal to all those hell-raising instincts that time subdues and memory brightens. "Planet Her" draws the map of a whole new universe, while "Ordinary Angels" tips its hat to the doers of good deeds. Overall, there's a lot more uplift than downdraft here.
Morgan made his Grand Ole Opry debut in 2000 and has played that hallowed show almost 200 times since. But he says it came as a complete surprise when the Opry asked him to become a member. The invitation came on Sept. 18 during a show Morgan was playing for the troops at Fort Bragg. And it came from Opry veteran John Conlee, who Morgan counts as one of his "all-time favorites."
"I was doing one of John's songs," Morgan recalls, "because they told me there was a colonel there who wanted to hear 'Rose Colored Glasses,' and he knew I did it in my show. So I started the song, and about half way through it, John walked up on the stage and started singing it with me. When we finished, he asked me a few questions, the last of which was, 'How would you like to be the newest member of the Grand Ole Opry?' I had no clue up to that point."
The Opry officially welcomed Morgan to its musical bosom on Oct. 25. The next week, That's Why debuted at No. 8. In certain regards, Morgan clearly isn't like everybody else in Dickson County.