About four years ago, Tim McGraw was one of the post-Garth pack, another young “hat act” country singer with video-ready good looks and expectations of stardom.
Then his debut album struggled, garnering little airplay and few sales.
“I was close to getting dropped,” McGraw admits. “Someone (at the record company) stood up for me and asked that I be able to cut another record.”
The next record, “Not a Moment Too Soon,” sold more than 5 million copies and was last year’s most popular country release. Suddenly McGraw, 28, belonged to country music’s elite with Garth Brooks, Vince Gill, Reba McEntire and Alan Jackson.
“I really thought I might have missed the big wave of country,” McGraw says, as his tour bus rumbled from sold-out gig to sold-out gig in eastern Canada. “I knew there was nothing else I could do for a living, so I had to keep trying.”
What changed the tide for McGraw was the controversial, catchy single “Indian Outlaw.” The first release off “Not a Moment Too Soon,” “Indian Outlaw,” sparked the kind of immediate impact not seen since Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Achy Breaky Heart.”
The rollicking “Indian Outlaw,” however, also reprised Indian stereotypes with a seemingly contemporary tale of teepees and warriors. It’s not racist by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s hardly enlightening.
“It’s just a cute song,” says McGraw, who writes none of his own material. “It’s being taken way too seriously. There have been countless songs you can dissect to death like that.
“You’ve got to look at the meaning of the song,” he says, pausing for emphasis before adding, “or the overall no meaning of the song.”
Unlike Cyrus’ sudden success, McGraw’s career didn’t peak with his first hit single. McGraw’s follow-up to “Not a Moment Too Soon,” “All I Want,” is firmly entrenched among country’s current best-selling albums.
He’s about to get his seventh Top 10 single, and he’s sold out most dates on his first headlining tour, which began last month.
Although country acts are attracting more teen fans than ever before, McGraw’s crowd may be the youngest. He describes his core audience as “13 to 25 years old” – a fact reinforced by observers who saw long stretches of high school students and young adults in line at the Coliseum for tickets.
To entertain those young fans, McGraw features a stage with three jumbo video screens, showing live action shots, his video clips and computer-generated images.
“When I was growing up, I went to rock concerts and I always dreamed about doing this,” McGraw says. “I still enjoy going to a show and seeing a show.”
A native of rural Louisiana, McGraw’s father is former baseball pitching star Tug McGraw. Tim, though, did not meet his famous father until he was 11 and they never formed a relationship for another eight years.
“I’m more like his big brother,” McGraw says with a laugh. “He’ll come out on the road with us for five or six days. He’s enjoying my success.”
Despite McGraw’s flashy shows – it’s being dubbed the Spontaneous Combustion Tour – he insists that his country roots run deep.
“When I open my mouth to sing,” he says, “it comes out country.”