Saturday night, May 16th, brought Craig Morgan to the Wolf Den at Mohegan Sun, for a massive free concert. Local radio reported eager fans in line well before 2pm, hoping to get a chance at the limited seats available at the first-come first-serve venue. While the excitement was buzzing inside and outside the venue, and those left without seats trying to peak in behind the bar, New England Country Music was lucky enough to get a chance to sit down with the country music veteran, to talk everything from growing up in Nashville, his love for New England, and his passion for the great outdoors.
Craig began our time together in his always joking manner, testing that the mics were rolling with a vocal note to make sure we were in tune, and it didn’t end there. “I’m still not sure,” he joked when asked what age he discovered his music talents. “I started singing as a kid, my dad was a bass guitar player in a band. I was born in Nashville, so music has always been a big part of my life. I don’t think it was until I was 21 that I started taking it semi-serious.” We were wanting to know a little more, asking him at what age he decided to pursue a career in the music industry. “I’m still not sure,” Craig said with a smile. “That’s why I stayed in the Army Reserves for so long. That’s why I’m still a police officer, You just never know with this business. In 2008 when I was made a member of the Opry, that’s when I realized I might be doing it for a while.” Craig does not hide the fact that he is a patriot and Veteran of the military service, “I was just about 20, gone to college for a couple of years, and just wanted to be part of something good, just do the right thing. That’s like passing an old lady with a flat tire. It just doesn’t feel right.”
Diving deeper into Craig’s musical history, he told us that he wasn’t concerned at all with the closing of his label, Atlantic records, only a year after his debut. “At that point I wasn’t really sure I was meant to be an artist, I was a songwriter, and getting paid as one, not as an artist. It didn’t discourage me because I wasn’t sure it was going to be something that I was headed to pursue anyway.” If only he could see the capacity crowd just outside the doors back then. His biggest album at the time, ‘My Kinda Livin’, released in 2004 did not bring much change however. “I really have to think if anything changed. My career has just been about climbing this mountain for quite sometime, we’ve had a whole lot of ups and downs, but in 2005 when we had the most played song of the year (‘That’s What I Love About Sunday’), it was one of those points that you look back on your life like the Army, you go from point to point, and don’t look back at the point that you’ve already been to. It wasn’t until three years ago that I noticed a difference in the way people reacted. Up until then, nobody in the airport had noticed me, yet I’d had 12 hits on the radio, but right about then something happened.”
After all of the awards, hit songs, and career milestones, Craig says that there is no greater accomplishment and honor to a country musician than being inducted to the Grand Ole Opry. “The Hall of Fame is cool, but the Hall is an induction based on what you’ve achieved in the past. The Opry is based on what they think you have the potential to do, a lot like the military, they didn’t promote based on how well you did, its about how well you could do, so it is just like the Opry. It speaks volumes, that people believe that you’re still relevant and have a lot of impact left.” As huge as it is to perform at the Opry, Craig told me that he has a couple of venues that stick out as favorites to him, including one we were very familiar with. “This right here is one of my favorite venues to play in the whole country, the Wolf Den. I’ve said that in many interviews in many different places. We love the venue and the people are always super kind, the fans are great up here so we just love it.”
After being described as having a sound very similar to Randy Travis, it came as no surprise when Craig confessed his biggest influences in the industry. Amongst Randy, he listed off names like John Conlee, Jim Ed Brown, Gene Watson, and the great George Jones. “I was also equally influenced by Lionel Richie and Luther Vandross. It might sound a little odd but as much as the country legends that influenced me, I was also influenced by those singers.” A jack of all trades, Craig is not just known for his musical talents, but also his television show on the Outdoor Channel, Craig Morgan: All Access Outdoors, and that was the first thing he could say when asked about his passions off the road. “Number one, the outdoors. Outdoors for me isn’t just hunting and fishing; it’s hiking, canoeing, sky diving, scuba diving, dirt bike racing. Anything in the outdoors I just love it.” That passion was put on display, with the award for the Best Comedy at the 15th Annual Golden Moose Awards just earlier this year, an award show for outdoor television. “It was super. It’s the Emmy’s of the outdoor industry. It’s a huge honor because any time your peers vote you it means you’re doing well enough. I don’t think the average hunter can grasp what goes into making those shows, and when you get a Moose, it’s voted on by the people who know how much go into making the show.”
What’s next for Craig Morgan? With the word floating around about new music in the making, he didn’t have much to spill.
“I don’t know the name of the album, I don’t know the name of the single. We’re gonna try a few new songs tonight and I’ve finished recording about 10 songs. We’re gonna head back to the studio to record one of two more, we’re working on a duet, and we’ll announce more about that when it all comes out, but everybody that has listened to it is saying it’s the best music that we’ve ever had. We haven’t changed who we are, just put a magnifying glass on who we are with this music, more so than we ever have. Vocally? It’s the best vocal stuff that I’ve ever had on any record in the past. There’s something really special about what’s going on with this album.”
That’s saying a lot for such a talented, accomplished musician like himself. We were so honored to be able to sit down and chat with Craig, and he certainly put on an exciting show for the Wolf Den crowd just a few minutes later.