Exclusive Interview—It’s been nearly a dozen years since Craig Morgan released his self-titled debut album and launched a recording career marked by relentless drive and hard work, full-throttle live shows and an ever-increasing string of classic hits, including “Redneck Yacht Club,” “Almost Home,” “What I Love About Sunday,” “Tough” and others. A devoted family man, passionate supporter of the military and avid outdoorsman, Craig’s music has reflected those loves and values since the very beginning. With the release today of his excellent This Ole Boy, his sixth studio album, Craig convincingly reaffirms that he not only still knows how to find and record hit songs, he knows how to write them, too. He recently sat down with Nashville.com for an exclusive chat about his new record, choosing actress Angie Harmon as the love interest in his latest video for the album’s title cut, wringing every last ounce out of his life and how he feels about tattoos . . . on his kids. Here’s some of what Craig had to say.
Nash: I love the new record, but before we talk about some of the specific songs, can you tell me a little about having Angie Harmon in the video for “This Ole Boy?” What do you like most about her, not as an actress, but personally?
Craig: Angie is an absolute angelic personality. I had not met her before she showed up on the set; we had talked on the phone and that was it. But she showed up and she did not talk about everything she had done in her career. She didn’t talk her modeling career or her TV, being married to an NFL star. She talked about having three beautiful daughters and having a goofy husband. It was all the same things that I talk about in all of my interviews. If you listen to everything I’ve ever done in my past, the things I take most pride in are my family and how much I love them. I’m not ashamed to say how much I love my wife. And Angie is a female version of that person I try real hard to be—extremely kind, generous, understanding. So it was wonderful to be around somebody like that.
Nash: When you have a female co-star in a video, do you run that by (wife) Karen in advance and say, “Okay, there may be a hug, but there will be no kissing in this video?”
Craig: No! (laughs) My wife has so much confidence in our relationship that when we were talking about people to pick for the video, when Angie’s name came up, she said, “Oh, that’s a no-brainer.” She’s completely confident, no qualms whatsoever. After doing this video and an episode of Army Wives, we’ve talked about me doing more acting. I’ve told her, “I think I could pursue some of this, and it would bring more attention to the music.“ But we were talking about it and she said, “I wouldn’t care if you had to do a nude scene with somebody (laughs). Whatever you’ve got to do!” I’m not saying I would do that! (laughs again)
Nash: Let’s talk about another song from the CD. I love “More Trucks Than Cars.” It sounds to me like it could’ve been written by just driving around Dickson and spending a day with you there. Sort of like, “Well, yeah, this is pretty much my life.” Not to minimize the effort that went into writing it, but it sounds like it came out very naturally.
Craig: It is that natural. And I’m finding that even in larger cities, where they don’t have that many trucks, many people still live that life in their heads. A lot of people in the city want to live that small-town life. They want to be in their truck. And they may have a truck they drive on the weekends or when they go out of town. So it’s one of those songs that’s easy to relate to. Plus, having been in the military, I’ve strived real yard to never use the military. I’ve only written three or four military songs in my career, because I didn’t want anybody to ever think I was trying to take advantage of something that was so precious to me. But this is a song that isn’t about the military, but yet we still got to pay a great tribute to the men and women who are serving in this song.
Nash: “The Whole World Needs a Kitchen” is another song I really like. And I found myself thinking, ideally, the whole world needs a kitchen with a Karen in it. And the song talks about sitting down and having a meal together as a family. How often do you all get to do that these days? I would think not very often.
Craig: It’s a rarity, just because the two older kids are gone. Even with my wife and the two little guys, it’s tough. ‘Cause I’m not home a lot. And when I am, we’re running and you only have a little bit of time to eat dinner, and you want to watch the news while you’re doing it ‘cause you’ve gotta run back out somewhere else. And as much as this song is about my family now, it’s also about growing up in that world where it was more prominent then. When the song talks about Mom giving us a haircut on the steps, that literally happened. She did lower our ears on a regular basis, absolutely, on the stairs right by the kitchen. We sat right there on that second step.
Nash: What was her technique? Did she use scissors, clippers, a bowl?
Craig: She did use scissors and clippers . . . no bowl. But Mom was able to cut hair like a stylist today. And it was true, the smell of cooking and what comes from that. Mama’s wisdom and dad coming through the door after work—all those visuals from the song are true to life for me.
Nash: You mentioned the older kids. What are they up to now? Is (daughter) Alex still in college?
Craig: She graduated and is planning a wedding in May.
Nash: Really? Congratulations!
Craig: Thank you, I think! Somebody asked me today, “How’s the wedding going?” I don’t have a clue! I have nothing to do with it; I just pay for it. (laughs) I know what day it is and I’ve gotta be there. But she’s found a good young man and we’re real proud that she’s found somebody that we like. I’m trying to hire her future husband so I can keep an eye on him! They both have great jobs and live in Kentucky right now. Kyle is a junior in college at Arkansas State and doing really well. And the two little guys are home and . . . just growing up.
Nash: “Country Boys” is another song I love, and one I was surprised to find you didn’t write. As I listened to it I thought, “Well, I’m sure Craig wrote this one.” It has some great lines, like love is more than a yes in a Chevrolet. I love that.
Craig: Love is more than a yes in a Chevrolet—that’s powerful. And I learned black kids bled red just like me. That’s hittin’ on a subject other people are scared to even talk about. And I love that. One of my best friends growing up, and still today—he was the godfather of my kids for a long time—is a black gentleman. One of my dearest friends in the whole world. And I played it for him, and he was almost in tears. He was like, “That’s what it’s about.” And he’s not a country music fan, which made it even better.
Nash: I know you didn’t write this one, but you did write a good many on the record. Is that about the best you can hope for as a writer, tapping into those universal feelings where listeners can all go, “Oh, wow. I’ve been there. I’ve experienced that?”
Craig: As a song writer, the greatest thing that can happen is to write a song that is so universal, it becomes a multi-format song. You hear it on country, pop, rock . . . all that. That’s the greatest ever, which means that more than just that one genre can relate. And I think I did that on this record. And there’s a song on this record that I think I hammered it on. It’s called “Love Loves a Long Night.” I’ve never really had a sexy song on a record . . .
Nash: Well, I smoked a cigarette after I heard that.
Craig: (huge laugh) That’s good! This song makes you want to smoke a cigarette when you’re done listening! (another big laugh) But I feel like that song is one of those songs that it doesn’t matter where it’s played, people are gonna go, “Yeah, I get it.”
Nash: There’s another line in “Country Boys” about John 3:16 bringing me to my knees. And I thought about that. Being the father of boys, is there anything that could be more gut-wrenching for you than to knowingly give up one of your sons?
Craig: Nothing. Absolutely nothing. That verse, still to this day, just to say the title of the verse—not even to read the verse—for me, when I say John 3:16, I start to well up in my chest. And to read the verse to this day, and I’m a grown man who’s read it a million times, still brings emotions to me. When you put that in a song, even if you’re not a believer, you know what they’re talking about.
Nash: “Show Me Your Tattoo.” You’ve got a couple. How are you about your kids getting tattoos? Is there a double standard there?
Craig: Not good. But it’s not a double standard. I’ve just made it clear to them, wait until you’re of age so you know it’s exactly what you want. And 21 is not knowing what you want. You think you do, but I will tell you, speaking from experience, talk to anyone over 35 and they’re gonna tell you, “I thought I knew what I wanted when I was 21.” Love is one thing, but there are a lot of things that are gonna change in your life, so make sure it’s what you want. Having said that, my son’s about to turn 21. If he comes home with a tattoo, I’m not gonna beat him up about it, as long as it’s not something overbearing. It took me a long time to get mine. I’d been living my life to the extreme long before I got an “X” put on my arm. And then it took me a long time to get my verse (on his shoulder).
Nash: What is your verse, what does it say?
Craig: It says, “There shall be no man stand before you for the Lord your God shall put the fear of you and the dread of you upon all the land that ye shall tread upon.” That’s Deuteronomy 11:25. It basically says, because of my God, I fear nothing.
Nash: You talked about the extreme things in your life, which brings me to “Being Alive and Living.” You, probably more than anyone else I know, will not see the end of your days without having wrung as much as you could out of this life. You’re definitely not an observer, not a look-at-him-go-I-bet-that’s-fun kind of guy.
Craig: (laughs) That’s right, and that’s what that song is all about. But this is where the double standard does come in. I have kids, and I’m not sure I want my 15-year-old trying to make a 90-ft. jump. But I do want ‘em to live. As I’ve progressed in my career and in my life, I’ve realized that, as much as I want them to not do some of the things I’ve done, I also want them to experience the emotions and the feelings of doing the things that I’ve done. So the only way to do that is to do it. It’s tough to let go and stand at a distance and watch them. So what I do is go with ‘em. (laughs)
Nash: I know you want to run with the bulls and climb Mt. Everest. How much does being a husband and a father factor into decisions to do those things that could lead to far worse than a few cuts, bruises or broken bones?
Craig: I probably should factor it in a whole lot more. I really should think about that a lot more. And people say, as you get older, you do that. But not for me. For me it’s kinda been the opposite. “Shoot, I can afford to do this now! I couldn’t afford it before!” (laughs) I probably should think about it more. I think about their wellbeing, and I’ve taken good care of my family. And I know that when I leave, they’ll be even better taken care of.
Nash: But I think they’d rather have you.
Craig: I’m sure they would. But I allow myself to live. And I have so much faith in my God that there’s nothing I can do that’s gonna change the time He has set for me to be there.
Nash: One more question. “I Didn’t Drink” may be my favorite song on the record. When I heard that, it just ripped my heart out . . .
Craig: Oh, thanks.
Nash: Partly picturing you without Karen.
Craig: That’s how I wrote that. I was at a writer’s session out in East Tennessee with Kyle Jacobs and Phil O’Donnell, and we were writing a song and I had that hook. I told them, “I have this hook called ‘I didn’t drink’ or ‘until now, I didn’t drink.’” I said, “Kyle, play a melody.” And he basically started playing on the piano, and it was as close to that final melody as you can imagine. And I just started spitting words out and, in my head, I just closed my eyes and tried to imagine what it would be like without her. And that’s what we came up with.
Nash: I think that’s gonna do it. Again, love the record. Congrats.
Craig: Thanks, buddy. I always enjoy talking with you.