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Tim and Kenny forged their bond in tough times. As they now find themselves not just friends, but also competitors, we look closely at what makes this titanic twosome tick

It's late on a Saturday night, 1991. Tim McGraw, 24, and his 23-year-old friend Kenny Chesney sit in Tim's living room, finishing their last beers of the night and talking about the future.

Kenny is about to crash on Tim's couch -- not an uncommon occurrence these days. But before sacking out, the two bleary-eyed friends drink a toast to the future. The odds are against them -- Nashville is filled with aspiring singers, and they can't all make it. But these guys have talent, drive and ambition. And they have each other.

Twelve years later, their dreams have all come true -- and perhaps even more amazingly, Tim and Kenny's sense of being a team has endured, in ways they perhaps could not have anticipated.

"We've been friends a long time," says Kenny. "We learn from each other."

Perhaps the seeds of their friendship can be found in a time before they even met. Their childhoods were remarkably similar -- defined by small-town living, loving mothers and absent fathers.

Tim was born on May 1, 1967, in Delhi, La., 38 miles from Monroe, which he considers his home. Kenny followed his pal into the world less than a year later, on March 26, 1968, in Knoxville, Tenn., about 24 miles from Luttrell, where he grew up.

Tim and Kenny were both raised primarily by their mothers and stepfathers. Tim didn't even know his real dad was baseball star Tug McGraw until he was a teenager, while Kenny's parents divorced when he was a child.

Tim arrived in Nashville in 1989, with Kenny following a year later. Once there, both encountered resistance.

"I got discouraged, but not enough to quit," recalls Kenny. "I was wondering why everyone was getting their songs on the radio and I wasn't. What's not happening here?"

Before too long, one of those other people getting songs on the radio was Kenny's new friend. Tim's first three singles tanked. But his fourth, "Indian Outlaw," crashed into the Top 10 in 1994.

At that moment, Kenny was still struggling – but in 1995, "Fall in Love" made it to the Top 10, and Kenny joined his friend in the world of country hitmaking.

"I take pride in having a knack for hearing a hit record," says Kenny. "Tim would argue with that -- he thinks he's better at it!"

As the years went by, Tim and Kenny's musical output followed seemingly opposite paths. Tim first made his mark with upbeat novelty numbers like "Indian Outlaw," and matured into the more thoughtful tunes heard on his last few albums. Kenny, on the other hand, has found his niche at the more fun, carefree end of the spectrum.

Kenny's music is also more reflective of his own personality because he writes at least some of his material -- in fact, he was employed as a songwriter in Nashville for a couple of years before he got a recording contract. Tim, to date, has never written a song on any of his albums.

Read more about Tim and Kenny in the current 7/22/03 "Newsstand Issue" on sale now!