Cover Story: Tim McGraw’s Perfect Place in the Sun (1999)
Tim McGraw on track for his “place in the sun”
Originally published in the May 18, 1999, issue of Country Weekly featuring Tim McGraw on the cover. This story is presented here in its entirety.
“The older you get, the more you have to sing about,“ says Tim McGraw.
Though Tim’s a long way from counting his gray hairs, he’s already one of country’s respected veterans at age 32.
“I feel like I’m starting to get a handle on this business,“ he says. “I’m getting better. I have a lot more to learn, but I think I’m getting a hold on it. Just like anybody, you mature and grow with what you’re doing.“
Tim’s proud of his three top-selling albums and 18 No. 1s, but now he’s especially excited about his new album, A Place in the Sun.
“I love every song on this album,“ Tim says. “We’ve done better than the last album—which is what we try to do every time. We try to turn up the gas a little bit. And we feel like we can do a lot better on the next project. But this one’s exactly like we want it.“
The album’s first single, “Please Remember Me,“ has cracked the Top 10—after just five weeks on the charts.
“Faith and I heard that song at the same time,“ Tim recalls. “We just both knew that I was going to cut it. We didn’t know it would be the first single, but we knew it was a song I wanted to do.
“It’s a different song, because it talks about something negative—someone leaving a relationship—but in a positive way. And Rodney Crowell is a great writer. I first heard the song on his record, Jewel of the South.“
Tim asked one of his favorites to sing harmony on the single.
“I’ve wanted to sing with Patty Loveless my whole life,“ he says. “We tried to sing together before on one of my other records, but our schedules didn’t work out. I wasn’t going to let her get away this time.
“It was great to get to hear her singing in the studio. And she just nailed the part. She has this great little ’break’ in her voice. When she sang it, none of us expected it. Patty put the magic on this song. It blew us away.“
Tim turned to another friend, Deryl Dodd, for the song “She’ll Have You Back.“
“We’ve been friends since he first moved to town,“ Tim says. “We used to sit around and play guitars around a bonfire late at night all the time.
“One night I was having dinner with a mutual friend and he was telling me about this song. Later I tracked Deryl down to find out about it, and he played it for me.
“I had to beg and beg him to let me cut it,“ Tim says, laughing. “He finally agreed, but I’m sure he was going to record it himself.“
“Somebody Must Be Praying for Me“ is another song close to Tim’s heart.
“It’s a story song about a girl taking off for California to be a movie star,“ he says. “Along the way, her car breaks down somewhere and she meets the love of her life who’s working at a gas station. She never leaves that town.
“Sometimes she thinks about her dreams, but then realizes that she’s already found them. That’s one of my favorite songs on the album.“
Tim relates to the girl in the song who found true love while chasing a dream.
“That’s what’s amazing—you’re not supposed to have both a marriage and a career in this business,“ he explains. “I always thought you couldn’t have both. I always thought that one was going to suffer because of the other.
“I’ve been lucky enough to at least get started on a good musical path to where I want to get. And so has my wife. So when we met, that ’live-die-eat-breathe-sleep’ part of the business was over.
“And it sure made it a lot more comfortable for us. Being with her is like finding a soft place to land.“
The honeymoon’s definitely not over for Tim and Faith, who’ve been married for two and a half years. Their secret for wedded bliss? “We talk all the time,“ he says.
“And when we’re on the road separately, we’re always on the phone talking. But we’re never apart for more than a couple days—that’s the most important thing.“
What’s also important is his fans’ input when choosing new songs.
“I take their opinions from their reaction to my shows,“ Tim says. “When we’re recording an album, I usually take some of the new songs and learn them with my band.
“We’ll play them live a few times and see what the reaction is. We let them know that it’s a new song and want to know what they think about it. We listen to the fans that way.“
But the final say on a song lies with the singer himself.
“I’m just like anybody else when they’re listening to the radio,“ Tim says. “If there’s something you like, you turn it up. If you don’t like it, you turn it down or off. I’m the same way when I’m listening to demo tapes.“
While Tim is serious about his music, he has plenty of fun in the studio with producers Byron Gallimore and James Stroud.
“We laughed all the time,“ Tim recalls. “I think it shows on our records how much fun we have in the studio. We probably don’t get as much work done as we need to because we’re always laughing and joking around so much. Byron and I have a great time doing vocals in the studio.“
When he sings, Tim doesn’t waste any time in front of the mike.
“I just go,“ he says. “I probably should warm up. But it’s kind of like golf. I don’t like to go to the driving range, either. I’m scared I’ll hit all my good balls on the driving range and not have any left when I get on the course.
“I also don’t like to eat a whole lot before I sing. I guess every singer’s like that. I like to be hungry.“
Recording A Place in the Sun was not nearly as daunting as Tim’s first time in the studio.
“The first couple times you’re in the studio, you’re scared to death,“ he says. “You just want to stay on pitch and sing as close to good as you can. I think the more you do it, the more you can relax.“
Yet Tim’s most relaxed onstage. “It’s just easier, because you’re not under a microscope then,“ he says. “It’s a lot more comfortable. In the studio, you have to be more focused with your singing.
“Onstage, you’re not as concerned about nailing everything perfectly as you are in the studio. They don’t miss a breath in there. They can catch every little noise you make.
“Even so, when I’m in the studio I have a little more control over what I’m doing, instead of my voice just going where it wants to go. I feel like I’m more comfortable and singing more confidently.“
Tim’s confidence shines through on the song “My Best Friend.“ He recites the first line:
I never had no one that I could count on
I’ve been let down so many times
“From the first line of that song, I knew I was going to cut it,“ Tim says. “I also liked the groove of the song. The words could have been ’La la la la la’ and I would have cut it, because it just felt so good musically.“
Tim admits he was thinking of Faith while he cut the song. “That’s what made it so easy to sing,“ he admits. “It was perfect.“
Faith is often his sounding board. “I always want Faith to hear the songs when I’m listening for songs to record for my albums,“ he says.
“She knows great songs. We feel like we’re a good team with everything we do. We both play off each other and respect each other’s opinions completely.“
Though Faith listened to the songs on A Place in the Sun, she can’t be heard on the album.
“We didn’t find any duets for this one,“ Tim says. “But we didn’t look very hard, either. She was busy cutting her album and I was busy cutting mine. But we do want to sing more and more together.
“You never know what we might have up our sleeve,“ Tim adds, teasing. “Who knows what we might do in the future?“
Tim pauses, then adds, “We want to have careers and make the most out of them, but we don’t want anything else to suffer. We’re at the point in our careers and our lives where our family comes first.“
The family—daughters Gracie, 2, and Maggie, 9 months—is growing fast.
“They’re great,“ says Tim of his girls. “Maggie’s crawling around on the floor and saying ’Da da.’ Gracie’s saying sentences, counting to 15, knows her ABCs—and even counts to 10 in Spanish. She’s smarter than us, that’s for sure. She’s got us figured out.
“Gracie’s always taking care of Maggie. One day Maggie started crying on the bus and Gracie was way up in the front of the bus. She ran past six or seven people and went busting through to the back of the bus screaming, ’Maggie!’ “She grabbed her and held her until she stopped crying. Then she laid her down and went back up front to continue whatever she was doing. She’s a good big sister.“
When he’s not on stage at night, Tim can be found reading bedtime stories to Gracie and Maggie.
“They like to hear me read the same books over and over,“ he says, smiling. “Teletubbies and Winnie the Pooh are Gracie’s favorites. And now she’s into The Veggie Tales.
“Gracie sleeps with us. My favorite time of night is laying in bed when Faith and Gracie are asleep. I can look over at them, and then get up and check on the baby.“
The growing McGraw family recently moved into a larger home.
“We just didn’t have enough room where we were,“ Tim says, “so we moved to another place until we find the perfect farm that we want to buy and build a house on. But we just don’t have time to do that right now.
“We were on vacation the week everything was being moved. Then we came back home and unpacked. Faith wanted to hurry up and get home, because she knows where everything goes. But I didn’t care. I like what she does with decorating.“
He may be a star, but at home Tim does household chores just like any husband.
“I take the garbage out—whenever Faith can make me do it,“ he says sheepishly. “My main problem is throwing my clothes around. She wants me to pick up my clothes more often. But you know, that comes from 10 years of living in hotel rooms where somebody picks up after you. It’s a hard habit to break. But I’m getting better.“
He’s also getting better at his music. “I know what I do well and what I don’t do well,“ Tim says. “I think I sing honestly.
“It’s a good song if you can describe or tell the story and not overpower the song with your voice. That’s what I do well.“