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Shortly after songwriter Jeffrey Steele came up with the title "The Cowboy in Me," he knew he didn't want the song to be about ranchers - he wanted it to have a larger meaning.
"The more I looked at the title, the more I knew that it was going to be more than a song about a cowboy," he says.
"It was a song about things that people can't change about themselves, and about coming to grips with who you are, what you are in life and trying to make it better. It's about looking in the mirror at yourself and wishing you could be more and do more, yet also trying to be happy with what you have."
Armed with that, Jeffrey took his thoughts to a couple of songwriting buddies, Craig Wiseman and Al Anderson.
Six hours later, the three had finished the tune.
"It was really cool," remembers Jeffrey. "It was one of those great songwriting experiences for me. When you're co-writing a song, it's really hard to get three guys to open up and get deep down into their own personal stuff. But we did, and it made for a great song. We didn't try to soften it up - we wanted it to have this realness and honesty to it." Tim McGraw instantly identified with the song's message.
"Tim only heard the first line of the song, and he shut the tape off and said, 'Let's cut it!' " Jeffrey says with a grin. "That really says a lot about him, but it says a lot about how powerful the idea of the song was to him at that time in his life, too. It was just after he had gotten into that [horse] trouble with Kenny Chesney. It made a lot of sense for him at that time. It was good timing."
"The Cowboy in Me" holds a special place in Jeffrey's heart for many reasons. Not only did it rocket to No. 1, but the tune also proved that songs of real substance can connect in a big way with radio listeners.
"I can't speak for the other guys, but for myself, that song was really about me," says Jeffrey, who's also co-written "When the Lights Go Down" for Faith Hill, "I'm Tryin' " for Trace Adkins, Montgomery Gentry's "My Town" and LeAnn Rimes' "Big Deal."
"It was my life - stuff that I had gone through and been through. I was trying to stay real to that. I always find that when I do that, I seem to have the best success."
- ALANNA HORNER