When it came time to record his new record, Live Like You Were Dying, Tim McGraw knew just what he wanted. He was, after all, coming off the extraordinarily successful Tim McGraw and the Dancehall Doctors, which he and his longtime touring band had recorded in a mountaintop studio in upstate New York. The natural and creative atmosphere, the isolation that allowed them to concentrate fully on the music, and the attendant camaraderie all beckoned him to return. It was a decision that began paying off the moment they drove up.
"It was like going away to summer camp," he says. "You've got all these guys that are your best friends who you've traveled around with forever and you go to the top of this great mountain, with snow outside and fireplaces inside. We were actually giddy about getting there."
Capping it all is the fact that collectively they produced an album that has already given Tim's incredible career another stellar moment. The CD's first single and title track, "Live Like You Were Dying," became one of his fastest-to-the-top singles ever. The Tim Nichols/Craig Wiseman-penned smash is, among other things, testament to Tim's long-proven ability to tap Nashville's best writers for their most profound and touching work.
"It's just a great song," he says. "Probably anybody could have recorded it and had a big hit, but it helps that we're in a great place in our career--things just seem to keep getting better. Five years ago I figured we were at the top of our game and that was the best it was going to get, but with every album it seems to keep on building on itself."
Collectively, Tim's achievements are as remarkable as they are numerous: 9 albums spawning 23 #1 singles and selling 30 million copies, tours that consistently rank near the top in financial and entertainment terms, and scores of awards and among those a 2001 CMA Entertainer of the Year nod, a Grammy and the 2004 People's Choice Award for Favorite Male Musical Performer. He is one of only three men ever to grace the cover of Redbook, his NBC Live Concert Special in 2002 ranked higher than specials by U2 and Paul McCartney, he was the headline act at the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize Concert, and on October 15, 2004 he makes his major motion picture debut with a role in the Universal/Imagine film "Friday Night Lights" with Billy Bob Thornton.
Many artists have achieved great longevity or amazing levels of success, but Tim's career has indeed been remarkable for the way in which both have been intertwined for so long. That makes Tim's decision to reinvent a major portion of that career, combining road and studio into a seamless whole, that much more impressive. For Tim, though, the logic lies in the results.
"Using the band on the records brings a new kind of honesty to the sound and makes what we do on stage that much purer to the vision we had originally," he says. "It is also a huge comfort being in the studio with those guys and singing to their tracks. We brought a confidence level into recording this time. We knew we could make a great record because we had the confidence of the last album. We were then able to go further, take it to another level. "
That comfort and honesty show throughout the 16-song collection (there is also a bonus track). Drawing on some of the genre's best writers, including Rodney Crowell, Bruce Robison, Casey Beathard, Anthony Smith, Bob DiPiero and Don Schlitz, Tim and the Doctors journey through a range of styles and emotions, with their years as a working unit holding it all together. Tim, long-time producer Byron Gallimore and second-time producer/Dancehall Doctor Darran Smith produced the record and for the first time Tim and Byron mixed it as well to maintain a sound that was true to the visions of the band.
"This record has a really personal feel to it," he says. "It's almost a tapestry of life, not just for us but in general, and I think a lot of people will be able to relate to it, and will be able to jump into this record and flow downstream with it."
That ability to connect emotionally with an audience is on display throughout Live Like You Were Dying. It's an ability that begins with his selection process.
"'Walk Like A Man,' for instance, is a song that probably hits home with a lot of people," he says. "It certainly touches on some of my growing up. It's a really personal song in a lot of ways, but you can say there's something personal about every song." Other favorites include "Back When,î "Blank Sheet Of Paper," written by his friends the Warren Brothers with Don Schlitz ("That's one of the most unique angles I've ever heard in a song, from the point of view of a blank sheet of paper") and "Kill Myself," which Tim describes as "probably my favorite song I've ever done."
"My Old Friend" has become a concert highlight, thanks to an accompanying video presentation. "My friend Danny Knight, an Army chaplain I met through Faith, began sending us really cool pictures when he was in Afghanistan and then Iraq," says Tim. "We matched a lot of them up with the song, and putting them in the show makes for a great moment. It says something cool about Danny, and it's a tribute to a friend who puts his life on the line."
It is the kind of moment that has long defined Tim, both in concert and on CD. Whether the song is poignant or raucous, Tim's connection with his audience is undeniable. It has been that way since he first hit paydirt in 1994 with "Indian Outlaw," a time-tested crowd-pleaser in his live shows.
He had grown up in Start, Louisiana, finding out by accident when he was 11 that baseball great Tug McGraw was his father. McGraw's death earlier this year, in fact, coincided with the beginning of work on "Live Like You Were Dying," a song made infinitely more poignant for Tim by the coincidence.
"We were rehearsing when Tug was sick," says Tim, "and he died at the beginning of January. We were in the studio at the end of January, and we recorded this around 11:00 or 12:00 at night and everybody just poured a lot of heart and soul into it. I think you can hear that on the record."
Sports and music competed for Tim's attention growing up, but by the time he was in college, he had chosen music. He played solo in regional nightspots, then headed to Nashville, where he joined the throng of young hopefuls vying for attention. His on-stage charisma helped land him a record deal, and his debut album hit the stores in April 1993. He and his band--many of whom are still with him--took to the road to hone the sound that continues to make his concerts among the industry's most exciting. With "Indian Outlaw," the hits started coming, spawning multi-platinum albums and sell-out concerts.
In 1996, Tim's Spontaneous Combustion tour found him paired with Faith Hill, whom he married before the year was out. Together and separately they have remained among the most successful artists in every genre ever since, and to this day, Tim plans his tours around family life and school schedules. For all the success and accolades that have come his way, you can hear in his voice that this is the key to real happiness in his life.
"Gracie'll be going into second grade this year, which seems absolutely amazing to us," he says, "because we can remember when we couldn't believe they were actually letting us take this child home. We wondered, 'Do they know what they're doing?' Maggie's in first grade now and Audrey is two. As fast as it's moving, we know we've got the good life. We're very blessed, just very fortunate to have the things we have."
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