Craig Morgan: "You Don't Want to Change, But You Do Want to Grow"

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Craig Morgan, apart from stopping every other minute to either express gratitude or share a laugh, can call to mind the archetype of the male country star -- years in the game, a rack of number one hits, a massive song in current rotation. Morgan doesn't run by standards, though: He launched his musical career late, at 35 years old, served 10 years in the U.S. Army and another nine in the Reserves. In the midst of a career revitalization with the success of "Wake Up Lovin' You," his most recent radio hit, Morgan is still wildly humble and youthfully hungry. We spoke to him ahead of his appearance at Country Thunder this Saturday night.

You've talked about how "Wake Up Lovin' You" is a real turning point in your career. What is it about that song, whether it's the success of the song or an evolution of your work, that's the redefining factor to your music?

I don't know what it is, and I wish I did because if I did that's the only kind of songs I'd record [laughs]. You do know when you have one like that. For me, it's when I perform it live. We were performing that live early, early on to get a reaction and the reaction is what told me that this was a huge hit. It's one of those songs that I have said that you don't have to have been in this situation or be in this situation to like it. There's something about the melody and the lyric, the marriage of the two, that causes you have compassion for the individual in the song. It's just one of those special, rare jewels that does something magical. Thank god we were right in picking this one because we're Top 20 now, and it's climbing.

It's one of the most vocally impressive songs I've heard of any male-driven country song in the past five years or so. You display a gigantic range and emotion on there.

Well, thank you. It was a good time in the studio. I was in good vocals, good help, feeling like I was stronger vocally than I've ever been in the studio. It's fun to sing a song like that. Although it does have some of those characteristics of some of my previous hits, it's different than some of my previous stuff -- it's a song that gives you a vision toward the new stuff. You feel good about what's coming. I've been telling people that it's hard as an artist to grow while continuing to appease the hardcore fans that brought us to this point in our career. You don't want to change, but you do want to grow, and it's hard to find songs that allow you to do that, and this is one of those songs.

When you look back at the number of hits you've had over the past 14 years or so, it's amazing to see it all stem from your first big record, and that wasn't until you were 35, 36-years-old.

Unlike most people getting into the business, I didn't start until I had been in the Army for 11 years. I started later, but I've never felt like these certain things had to happen or whatever, I've just been really blessed with a job and grateful that we get to do it.

You prove that you don't have to be a young gun to find success though, and that's what's great about country -- there's these models that are very atypical of how things operate in the music industry. You've obviously one of the better success stories.

Yeah, it's nice to know that that's one good thing about a format: The fans, regardless of their age, they're not as concerned anymore about the age of the artist or the way they look. Thank god or Blake Shelton wouldn't have a gig, you know [laughs]?

How did your time in the military contribute to your music? The fact that you did ten years of active service and nine years of reserves definitely speaks to your sense of commitment, but I wonder if it has an effect on the way you approach your art.

Oh, absolutely, it's the same way for anyone who's done anything for a long period of time, I think it affects their life and art. In our business, especially as a songwriter, your life is a lot of what you draw from, a lot of experience and situations, that's where the material comes from. For me in particular, the military gave me a great deal of appreciation of how fortunate I am to be able to do something like this. That's not to say that I don't complain: I don't like doing these interviews, I'd rather be sitting watching TV or something, but I know it's part of my gig and for that I'm grateful, and I'm glad that some nice people want to talk to me [laughs]. You've said that you still feel like you're 25 and trying to cut it in the music industry, like you still have something to prove. Do you ever step off a tour bus and see the production trailers, the rigs and just find yourself baffled?

I'm baffled every time I peek around the curtain and there's a boatload of people out there to watch us. I just always wonder, 'Don't they have something else to do?' [laughs] Having said that, I'm thankful. We're very fortunate to have a gig where people come to have a good time, and we get to be a part of that. That's fun.

What moments still shock you as an artist?

It's the shows, man, I'm telling you. After doing so many other things in my life and now having done this for almost 14 years, I'm just baffled by the fact that people care so much about it and support us the way they do. I'm grateful. Like I said, every time I look around the corner of the stage and just go 'Wow, man, I can't believe it.' We're thankful for that.

Do you ever find yourself nervous then, at any point, or do things move systematically after all this time? Some people could get complacent, find tedium in touring.

I guess that some guys could get complacent but we don't get complacent. We have to have a rhythm. I think you have to to be successful, and in order to maintain success there has to be some formula that you semi-adhere to: Load-in, soundcheck, meal, show, meet-and-greet, load-out, start over. There has to be a formula. Without a doubt there's certain things that we do, but as far as the success goes, there's a lot of hard work and a lot of blessings. You have to work at it. Anybody can have a hit but it takes a lot of work to have a lot of hits.

Craig Morgan is scheduled to play Country Thunder on Saturday, April 12.

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