Craig Campbell: Game On!
Typically, on a sunny day on the road, Craig Campbell would be cracking open a cold one and enjoying a few games of cornhole with his band, crew and fellow country stars. If you aren’t familiar with the game, it involves two teams tossing corn- or bean-filled bags toward an angled, raised platform, aiming at a hole at the end of that platform. “There’s certain things we can do on the road,” explains Craig. “It doesn’t matter if it’s raining, you can always find a place to play cornhole. We prefer outside in the sun, drinking beer or Captain Morgan or whatever.”
However, today Craig is sitting in a recording studio happy to chat about his new album, Never Regret (see our review on page 51). While many artists fear the “sophomore slump”—the idea that suggests a second effort won’t produce the results of a debut—the very laid-back Craig waves away such silly notions. “We had success with ‘Family Man’ and ‘Fish,’” he says pragmatically of his past singles, “but the bar’s not super-high for me. I think my first record was a great collection of songs. With that in mind, I think this new album has nowhere to go but up.”
Up, and maybe out a little. Craig stretches a bit on Never Regret when it comes to the music’s lyrical content. “To stay relevant, for me, was to evolve,” he explains. “My first album was compared to Alan Jackson’s earlier albums. I’m very proud of that and I wanted to do that, but I also stepped back and said, ‘OK, what’s something that no matter what or no matter who puts it on the radio, it’s going to sound awesome? And can I sing a song like that and be believable?’”
For the first time, the soft-spoken country star makes a foray into sexier songs, “girl songs,” including the single “Outta My Head,” which isn’t just lyrically sexy. It has a dark, moody groove, too, while still remaining solidly country. Craig didn’t write the tune, but that didn’t matter to him. “One of the reasons I fell in love with it is because it took me back to when I had that person,” he explains of that guy or girl you just can’t get out of your head. “I think everybody has that person at one time or another that they have a hard time getting over.” But the sentiment of the song wasn’t the only reason he had to record it. He laughs and says, “I heard it a couple of times and later on that day I caught myself going, Yeah, yeah, can’t get you outta my head. And to me that says ‘hit song.’”
The title track along with the sweetly sexy “Keep Them Kisses Comin’” are female favorites, but while he is walking through previously uncharted territory, he also has tracks that fans who love his neo-traditional sound will embrace. “I’ve got a song called ‘When Ends Don’t Meet’ that I have referenced as ‘Family Man No. 2,’” he tells us. “It talks about a husband and wife struggling and having each other. And that’s really all you need.” Another track, “That’s Why God Made a Front Porch,” could just as easily be a hit for Alan Jackson or Brad Paisley with its picturesque lyric.
But Craig’s music isn’t the only way in which he is growing as a country artist. His live show reveals a well-rounded entertainer anxious to give an audience what they plunked down their hard-earned bucks to see. A broad smile sweeps across Craig’s face when he says, “Hey, listen to me. I got the moves, it’s just taken me a long time to show them to everybody.” He admits that it was hard for him to step from behind the guitar and piano and go from being a singer to being an entertainer—“It was the most awkward thing ever”—but the payoff has been worth the sacrifice. “That’s the reason people come to shows. They want to hear songs that they know and they want to have a good time. So, for me to engage the audience and walk around and shake . . . I’m definitely not Luke Bryan, but just like the record evolved, my show is evolving.”
“Never Regret” is more than just a song on the new album, it’s also a personal statement for Craig: “Ever since I graduated high school, I’ve been on a road that brought me here. Every decision I ever made, I made either with my gut feeling or me and my wife talked or prayed about it. But I had to make them with the idea that I would never regret making those decisions. And that’s my journey. Everything I’ve done is nothing I’ll ever regret.”
The Hole Thing
On June 4, Craig will host the inaugural Craig Campbell Celebrity Cornhole Challenge in Nashville to benefit colon cancer research. The cause is particularly close to Craig, who lost his father to the disease at the young age of 36. “I specifically wanted to do something for colon cancer, but I wanted to do something cool,” he tells us, before breaking into a grin. “It just hit me one day. I want to have a cornhole tournament. Cornhole, colon cancer. You know what I mean?”
He may be lighthearted about the winking tie-in, but he’s serious about the cause and about his awareness of the disease. At the Stars Go Blue for Colon Cancer benefit held in Nashville in March, Craig admitted that because of his father’s untimely death, he had his first colonoscopy at the age of 26, and will continue the practice every five years.
But the day of the tournament is about fun and competition. Fellow country stars Jerrod Niemann, Gloriana, Greg Bates and The Farm have signed on to participate, with others confirming in the coming days. But they should all be very aware of Craig’s ringer—er, teammate—who just happens to make custom cornhole boards. “He’s really good,” Craig says with a smile. “He can put it specifically where he wants it.”