By: George Varga
In a country-music world dominated by cookie-cutter clones and dial-a-number formulas, Tim McGraw is a welcome anomaly.
He’s a proud “Southern Voice,” to cite the title of his 10th and latest studio album, but transcends the usual stereotypes of his chosen artistic genre.
For starters, this Louisiana native and Nashville resident is an avowed Democrat, which (at least in country music) is about as rare as right-wing rappers. In the wake of the devastating fury of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, McGraw publicly blasted then-President Bush for the White House’s failure to offer better and faster aid to victims of the disaster and suggested Bush be fired or resign.
McGraw donated all the proceeds from his 2006 New Orleans concert with his wife, vocal star Faith Hill, to Katrina relief efforts. More recently, he and Hill spearheaded the “Nashville Rising: A Benefit Concert for Flood Recovery,” which was held June 22 at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena. In addition to the superstar couple, the fundraiser featured everyone from Miley Cyrus and Lynyrd Skynyrd to Carrie Underwood and Brooks & Dunn.
“The damage that we’ve seen to people’s homes and the effect that the flooding has had on their lives is unimaginable,” McGraw and Hill said in a recent joint statement. “But we’ve seen the spirit of our community firsthand, as volunteers, church groups and our local business leaders rally to help. We all need to continue to support those in need in any way that we can. …”
McGraw, who turned 43 on May 1, is by no means a musical innovator. But he seems equally comfortable in a variety of stylistic settings. He recorded with Nelly on the hip-hop star’s hit song “Over and Over,” and has duetted on stage with Kid Rock. McGraw’s other collaborators range from such country-music stalwarts as Asleep at the Wheel and Johnny Paycheck to pop legend Neil Diamond and, of course, Hill, McGraw’s wife of nearly 14 years.
Taylor Swift, whose 2006 debut single, “Tim McGraw,” paid homage to him, was an opening act on the 2007 leg of McGraw and Hill’s joint Soul2Soul II tour. The two-year concert trek grossed $141 million, the most ever for any country-music arena tour.
But McGraw isn’t limited to just music. And when it came time to make his feature film debut in 2004’s “Friday Night Lights,” he didn’t pick the typical warm, fuzzy, “aw shucks” role most country stars making the transition to the big screen might have opted for. Instead, he portrayed Charles Billingsley, an embittered, alcoholic father whose abusive behavior toward his son in “Friday Night Lights” wasn’t remotely likable.
The role may not have been that big a stretch, though, since McGraw has stated that his stepfather was an abusive alcoholic. (It was only in 1978, when he was 11, that McGraw learned his natural father was Frank “Tug” McGraw, the Major League baseball relief pitcher who would die from brain cancer in 2004. McGraw’s hit song that same year, “Live Like You Were Dying,” was dedicated to his father and the two made a Bud Lite TV commercial together in 2000.)
McGraw went in a different direction in his role last year in the surprise box-office blockbuster “The Blind Side,” in which he played Oscar-winner Sandra Bullock’s very wealthy, very conservative Republican husband. His latest movie, “Love Don’t Let Me Down,” is due out in the fall. It was shot in Nashville and casts him (again as a husband) opposite Gwyneth Paltrow, who plays a faded country singer trying to make a comeback with his character’s help as her manager.
McGraw, whose self-titled debut album came out in 1993 on Curb Records, is in no need of a comeback. His album sales to date equal 40 million and counting. Yet, when Curb released his “Greatest Hits 3” collection in 2008, just two years after his McGraw’s “Greatest Hits 2” came out, he not only distanced himself from “Greatest Hits 3,” he publicly denounced it as a transparent exercise in greed. It was such an “embarrassment,” he said at the time, that he encouraged his fans not to buy it.
Such candor is rare in any style of music, let alone from one of the biggest-selling acts of the past decade-plus.
But McGraw is nothing if not candid and unafraid to follow his own path, even if his broadly appealing songs rarely venture into musical territory he and his listeners aren’t immediately comfortable sharing.
“Country music has a lot of rules,” he told a Time magazine interviewer in 2004. “It can be frustrating, but the key is figuring out which ones matter and which ones don’t.”
Quick Draw McGraw
Garth Brooks was the nation’s top country-crossover artist when Tim McGraw released his self-titled debut album in 1993. A decade later, Brooks was two years into a hiatus from touring that continues to this day (although, last December, he kicked off a series of exclusive solo concerts at a Las Vegas casino/hotel). McGraw, meanwhile, has sustained his position as one of the most popular country-music artists to emerge in the past 15 years. Here’s a look at McGraw, by the numbers:
Date of birth: May 1, 1967
Albums recorded to date: 10
“Greatest Hits” compilations released: 3
Albums sold to date: 40 million-plus
Number of chart-topping singles: 31
Number of radio airplays for his records over the past decade: 7.8 million
Number of awards: 50-plus and counting, including three Grammys and three People’s Choice awards, 10 American Music Awards, 11 Country Music Association awards, 14 Academy of Country Music awards and — in 2000 — one Father of the Year award (from the National Fatherhood Initiative)
Number of daughters: Three (Gracie, 13; Maggie, 11; and Audrey, 8)
Number of wives: One (Faith Hill)
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