Life comes full circle for Craig Morgan.
STORY BY JIM HANNAFORD
Craig Morgan never had a burning desire to be a famous country singer, even though he grew up practically next door to Nashville.
Instead of seeking the spotlight, he had his eyes on a lower-profile line of work that would allow him to help others. He became an emergency medical technician right out of high school, and then he joined the Army to experience new adventures beyond the confines of suburban Kingston Springs, Tennessee.
“I think I wanted to be a cop or a sheriff of a small town or something like that. I wanted to do something that was service oriented,” he says. “As much as I was around music and loved listening to it, I’m not the guy who stood in front of the mirror singing into a hairbrush thinking I was going to be a star.”
He says he’s always been a guy who liked to do lots of different things. These days the multitasking Morgan enjoys success as a recording artist and performer and has wider exposure as a television personality. The reality show Craig’s World is starting its second season on the Circle television network, where he also stars in a hunting show called On the Road.
He also stays busy woodworking, which he learned from his father (who was a professional cabinet maker and part-time musician), and sells artisanal furnishings and art pieces he crafts from reclaimed and repurposed wood. His family business also produces honey from the beehives he helps to tend on his 500-acre farm.
FALLING INTO SUCCESS
Morgan was a certified late bloomer when he broke into the music biz 20 years ago after his years of service as an Army paratrooper. He served with both the 82nd and the 101st Airborne Divisions, seeing action in Panama as well as Afghanistan during Desert Storm.
He sang and played guitar in the barracks, but he still hadn’t gotten the itch to pursue a career in music. That came about when he was well into his 30s and discovered his talent for songwriting.
“I kinda fell into it,” he says. “I ended up writing for a publishing company, which led to me doing demos of my songs. A guy who was running a record label boarded his horses at my buddy’s place, and he heard a CD of my demos and offered me a deal.”
It wasn’t just his lyrics that caught the record executive’s ear—it was the uniquely passionate voice that was delivering them. Millions of others would soon hear it on hits like “That’s What I Love About Sunday,” “Redneck Yacht Club,” “International Harvester,” “Little Bit of Life,” and “Almost Home.”
INSPIRATION FROM ABOVE
His latest album, God, Family, Country, includes five new songs alongside some of his earlier classics. The emotional centerpiece of the collection is a remarkably powerful ballad that was inspired by the tragic loss of his 19-year-old son, Jerry, who drowned in a tubing accident on the Tennessee River in 2016.
“The Father, My Son and the Holy Ghost,” which will no doubt endure as a signature song for Morgan, came to him in a waking fit of inspiration (at 3:30 in the morning) just a few months after his son’s death. In the song, he expresses the anguish he feels from the loss but also the comfort he finds in knowing that Jerry is in heaven with the Lord.
“It was really God who wrote that song,” says Morgan. After he recorded it, he wasn’t sure whether to release it because it felt so personal. He sent it to pal Blake Shelton, partly to get his opinion of it but also because he knew that Shelton had long grieved the loss of his brother in a car wreck.
Shelton was so moved by the song that he shared it via Twitter and urged his fans to download it from iTunes. More high-profile tweets came from other celebrities, including Luke Combs and Ellen DeGeneres, and Morgan watched with shock and amazement as it topped the iTunes chart for not just country but all genres.
At his concerts he saves the song for the end of the show and puts all of his energy into it. “It’s so emotional that it physically drains me,” he says.
A LOVE OF THE OUTDOORS
Hunting is a big part of Morgan’s life away from the stage, and it has been since his mother first took him deer hunting as a kid. “It’s a chance to recharge my batteries,” he says. “Some people go to yoga class to sit and meditate, and that’s what rejuvenates them. I pray, meditate, and contemplate when I’m out there in the woods.”
For nine years (and 123 episodes) he was host of Craig Morgan: All Access Outdoors on the Outdoor Channel. With the new hunting show, he is part of an ensemble cast that emphasizes the fellowship that comes along with the sport. “When I first went hunting with my mom, it was because we needed deer meat for the freezer,” he recalls. “The camaraderie of it is what my dad introduced me to later on.”
BRINGING IT BACK HOME
The Morgan family farm is just outside the small city of Dickson, which is 20 miles from where he grew up. He and his wife of 32 years, Karen, also have a beach house in Florida and a remote getaway near Talkeetna, Alaska. Their other four children also live nearby and are involved in family enterprises.
“I’m not one of those guys who grew up thinking, ‘I can’t wait to leave this town,’” he says. “In fact, I’m kind of a homebody. But I also knew that I wanted to travel and I wanted to experience other cultures, which is part of the reason I joined the Army.”
Asked how the loss of his son has changed him, he says it has caused him to take a more careful look at how he treats everyone in his life.
He looks to the future a bit differently, as well. “This life for me is temporary,” he says. “It’s the eternal life that I think more about. At a certain point in your life you start looking at how much closer you are to the end than you are to the beginning.”