Sunday, 22 February, 2009 12:07 PM
Craig Morgan Returns to Major
Label Roots with 'That's Why' (CMA)
by Margaret Malandruccolo
Music Nashville recording artist Craig Morgan
Deborah Evans Price
2009 CMA Close Up News Service
Few artists have experienced
a more intriguing career trajectory than Craig Morgan. He's managed
to find success on both major and indie record labels, and with
a firmly established sense of self and clearly defined creative
vision, he's consistently steered his career to the right place
at the right time.
These days, the right
place is BNA Records, which has released his latest album, That's
Why. Morgan had broken into the Country Music scene in 2000 with
a self-titled debut on Atlantic Nashville, after which he signed
with Broken Bow Records. His five-year run on that imprint demonstrated
that with the right artist, an indie could hold its own in the market.
With Broken Bow, Morgan
issued three studio albums. He first reached the Top 10 with "Almost
Home," which was followed by a string of hits that included
"I Got You," "International Harvester," "Little
Bit of Life," "Redneck Yacht Club," "Tough"
and "That's What I Love About Sunday," which lodged for
five weeks at No. 1 and earned kudos from Billboard as the "Most
Played Country Song of the Year" in 2005.
"The key was the
music," Morgan said, looking back on his track record. "I
think we had great songs that were great for the moment. And we
worked hard. People do not know the work that the promotion team
and I put in on those records. I literally did 280 days on the road,
and every time I was in town doing a show, we would go visit radio.
So there was a lot of effort put into that. For me, it was good.
I enjoy working."
For all the credit he
gives to the Broken Bow promotion department, he felt after a while
that he needed a change to lift his career to the next level.
"The promotion team
over there was a great team and some of my dearest friends,"
he confirmed. "But in order for me to continue to excel in
my career, I felt like I needed other tools."
As a result, when Morgan
became a free agent, a bidding war ensued, with Sony Music Nashville
emerging as the winner and signing the artist to its BNA roster.
"When his deal ended
with Broken Bow, Ken Levitan [President, Vector Management] called
and asked if I would be interested in talking with Craig,"
said Joe Galante, Chairman, Sony Music Nashville.
"I thought several
of his singles had been great, so of course I wanted to meet with
him. Renee Bell [Executive VP, A&R, Sony Music Nashville], Butch
Waugh [Executive VP, Sony Music Nashville] and I were so impressed
with the vision and plan that Craig brought to the table. I called
Ken afterwards and told him we wanted to do a deal. He had gotten
to a certain level in his career but needed help to get to the next
one, and we could provide."
When asked what he felt
had made Morgan successful as an indie artist, Galante didn't hesitate
to reply. "He and [producer] Phil O'Donnell are great at writing
and finding songs that help define him," he explained. "And
they make great records. He got out there and worked his butt off.
He and Faith Quesenberry [Manager, Vector Management] made sure
if there was an opportunity, he was going to do it."
Morgan was equally impressed
with the Sony Music team. "They work hard and they are very
relationship-driven," he said. "Joe also looks at the
longevity and overall career of the artist. That is so important.
It is nice to have that kind of support."
Just as important, he
felt more in tune with their perception of him as an artist. "At
BNA, we collectively agreed on the music. I took music that I liked
to them, and they allowed Phil and me to go into the studio and
make the record."
O'Donnell, who had produced
with Morgan at Broken Bow, continued their association on That's
Why. They had met when O'Donnell applied successfully for a job
as Morgan's guitarist. "We started writing together, doing
demos together," Morgan recalled. "He knows me as well
as anybody in Nashville and vice versa. We bounce off of each other
really well. Where he might go one way, I might go the opposite,
and we find a happy medium that works well in the studio."
The result, Morgan's BNA debut, is a collection of songs that reflect
his artistry alongside his common-man approach to everyday life.
"I am still the same guy that I was eight years ago and 15
years ago; I just sing and write songs for a living," insisted
Morgan, whose jobs before making it in the music industry include
working as an EMT, a contractor, a sheriff's deputy and an assistant
dairy manager at Wal- Mart as well as serving for 10 years in the
"I sing, write and
produce songs that I can relate to and that listeners can relate
to too. I still live the same lifestyle. I don't do a lot of things
different, aside from my job, that they do."
written by Morgan and O'Donnell and the first single from That's
Why, proved Morgan's staying power on the charts. "We were
able to help find additional songs and also provide him with an
atmosphere where he felt even more creative," said Galante.
"He sounds amazing on this album. His vocal is very full and
distinctive. I believe the single, 'God Must Really Love Me,' is
a career song and record for him. He is on his way."
More than that, "God
Must Really Love Me," written by Jim Collins and Troy Verges,
reflects what Morgan regards as the blessed essence of his life.
"I look back, seeing all the stuff that I have been through,
and I know that God must really love me," he said. "He
has blessed me by the way that He has."
A family man, married
for 20 years, Morgan observed that the most autobiographical song
on the album is "Lookin' Back with You," written by Morgan,
O'Donnell and Tim James, which addresses the joys of married life
and the satisfaction of growing old together. "Every line in
that song is 100 percent factual," Morgan insisted, who co-wrote
six of the 10 songs on the album.
Among his recent achievements,
Morgan's induction in October 2008 as a member of the Grand Ole
Opry is perhaps his proudest. "I was nervous, overwhelmed,
humble beyond words," he admitted. "The Grand Ole Opry,
in my opinion, is the pinnacle. I have been a part of it in the
past as a guest and that was a highlight. Now, to be a member of
the Opry is beyond believable. I am extremely grateful. It is one
of those things I have always wanted, and now that it has happened
I feel like I don't deserve it. I accepted it and I am proud to
be a part of it, and I hope to uphold the values and standards that
they have always represented."
Morgan's fortunes may
be soaring now, but his potential was apparent as far back as his
childhood, at least in the eyes of one Country legend. He was just
10 years old when he sang the national anthem during a school field
trip to Nashville's Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum. After
he had finished, Minnie Pearl emerged from the crowd of listeners
to tell the young performer that he would be a famous singer someday.
"Did you know the
night I was inducted was Minnie Pearl's birthday?" he asked.
"Nobody knew. It just happened. It was pretty divine."
On the Web: www.craigmorgan.com
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