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Steve Wariner knew the day would eventually come when he would take matters into his own hands. And now he's gone ahead and done it.

After 25 years of scoring hits such as "What If I Said," "Lynda" and "You Can Dream Of Me," on major record labels, Steve has already released his first project, Steal Another Day.

It's the start of an exciting -- and challenging -- day for Steve.

"It's definitely a big risk," he says matter-of-factly. "But I've been inching this way for quite a while. My wife, Caryn, and I talked about doing something on our own as far back as '98, when I recorded 'Holes In The Floor Of Heaven.' But that wasn't the right time."

His instincts were right on the money. "Holes In The Floor Of Heaven" became Steve's first hit for Capitol Records and snagged CMA Awards for Single and Song of the Year. He followed that up with two more -- "Two Teardrops" and "I'm Already Taken" -- before exiting Capitol in 2001.

"I enjoyed my tenure with the labels," explains Steve in his affable manner. "I just made a decision to move on and try different things."

But Steve didn't exactly rush the decision. He talked with a couple of fellow stars, Ricky Skaggs and Charlie Daniels, both of whom had also bucked the system and started their own labels.

"They have been very successful with that. What they've told me they like most is the freedom you get," says Steve. "You don't have to fit into any particular box, and you can do the songs you want without having to run them by anyone."

Total freedom and being your own boss -- it's the American dream. But that also comes with a nightmare or two, Steve admits.

"Obviously, I don't have a huge budget to work with, like I would have with a major label," he says. "We'll have to really push to get songs on the radio. And the album includes a 12-pagew booklet -- which comes out of my pocket.

But Steve saved money in other ways. He recorded the album, his first in three years, in his state-of-the-art home studio near Nashville, and also produced it himself.

The excitement of the new project caps off an exhilarating year for Steve. In the fall, he received the Minnie Pearl Humanitarian Award for his work with charities, including the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Steve's 27-year-old stepdaughter Holly -- Caryn's daughter from an earlier marriage -- has been a diabetic since an early age, inspiring his involvement with the organization.

"That was such a great honor, mainly because of who the award is named after," says Steve, his voice cracking with emotion. "Minnie was a wonderful lady, and I'm so proud that I got to know her."

Steve's recording hiatus also handed him a rare opportunity to spend more time at home with his sons Ryan, 18, and 15-year-old Ross. To dad's delight, they're a couple of chips off the old block.

Ryan, an outstanding guitarist, played on Steve's Grammy-nominated instrumental "Bloodlines." Ross, meanwhile, shows a real talent for sound engineering.

"Ross plays guitar, but he really loves the recording aspect," raves the proud dad. "He'll probably end up being my engineer or producer someday. Ryan is just the opposite -- he just loves playing."

With a laugh, Steve adds, "Maybe they'll team up one day, and we'll have our own little empire!"

At the moment, though, Steve's empire revolves around his current project. "People have asked me if it's scary to start a label and go out on your own," he says. "I never looked at it that way, because I've been in the business long enough to know how it works. And that's helpful."

"It's all about the challenges," he declares. "That's what makes it fun."