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The title of Doug Stone's new album, The Long Way, wasn't chosen to reflect the course his life has taken. But there's no denying it does - the Georgia native has come a "long way" since he first heard his mama's new stereo at age three.

"I knew this was the path my life would take," declares Doug. "I had to do mechanic work to get here, especially with two babies at age 18. So I worked in diesels, then went into carpentry work. But I never felt in place - until I did my first album."

The hits that followed - like "More Love," "Born In The Dark" and his signature tune, "I'd Be Better Off (In A Pine Box)" - further convinced him that music is where he belongs. As if scoring hits weren't hard enough, Doug did it while overcoming an unbelievable series of life-threatening health crises that began in the '90s - including two heart attacks, a stroke, open-heart surgery and an ultra-lite plane crash.

"When my heart attacked me," he chuckles, "I found out right then I was mortal. Up until then, I'd always say, 'Yeah, I'm gonna die; everybody dies. But when you almost do, then you really start livin'."

Now healthy again, he's excited about making The Long Way - his way, with a new label and complete creative control.

"This is the first label that didn't tell me what to do," he explains. "They just said, 'Send me an album.' That's what I did."

With music he's proud of and a commitment to stop and smell the roses, Doug finds himself smiling a lot these days.

"It's already been a great year," he grins. "You know, just bein' alive's a good year for me! I'm just glad to be here, still playin' music. You know, I sang through the bad times and the good times.

"And the good times are back. I just enjoy doing the show now. I mean, God Almighty, get out of the way and let me sing! That's what I like to do."

-- David Scarlett