Tim McGraw has been a country music superstar for so long and had so many hits that current country-pop superstar Taylor Swift wrote a song name-checking him that became one of her first hits.
McGraw, who turned 46 on May 1, will be bringing his latest musical sojourn, the Two Lanes of Freedom Tour along with his patented skintight pants, chest-clinging shirts and shiny Stetsons to open up the 2013 spring/summer season at Blossom Music Center on Friday night.
Two Lanes of Freedom, McGraw’s 12th album of new studio material, was released in February and has already sold gold (500,000 units).
He’s celebrating 20 years since the release of his eponymously titled debut album. In those two decades, he has built an impressive career that includes selling more than 40 million albums, racking up 33 No. 1 singles, winning three Grammys, a dozen Country Music Association, 10 American Music Awards and 14 Academy of Country Music awards. Additionally, McGraw was recently named by Nielsen-BDS the most played country artist of the past two decades with more than 10 million spins logged.
In addition to the records, McGraw has been a top concert draw for a decade. His three tours with his wife and fellow superstar Faith Hill in 2000, 2006 and 2007 brought in more than $150 million, placing theirs among the top-grossing tours of the decade with more than 1 million fans buying tickets to the shows.
Son of famed baseball relief pitcher Tug McGraw, the Louisiana native started out like his father as a baseball player in college, where he also learned to play the guitar.
McGraw quit college and moved to Nashville to start a music career. A demo he gave to his father was heard by a friend of an executive at Curb Records (McGraw’s label until 2011) who suggested the label check out the young singer. McGraw passed the audition and released his debut in 1992 to little critical or commercial fanfare.
But his sophomore effort, Not a Moment Too Soon, garnered attention. It contained the controversial single Indian Outlaw that some listeners found to be a humorous novelty, while others thought it was condescending toward Native Americans. A few radio stations refused to play it.
Nevertheless, the song became McGraw’s first Top 10 country hit and first Top 15 pop hit and he followed it up with the double-platinum-selling ballad, Don’t Take the Girl, his first No. 1 single.
McGraw’s rise dovetailed perfectly with late ’80s/’90s country crossover star Garth Brooks’ decision to scale back his career, allowing McGraw a launch pad into the music stratosphere.
Early in his career, McGraw was tagged as a “neo-traditionalist” along with artists such as George Strait and Alan Jackson, but McGraw — a fan of classic rock and soul — worked to shake that limiting characterization, applying his cool, smooth low-tenor to hit after hit single and albums with a string of No. 1’s including I Like It, I Love It, Just to See You Smile, Where the Green Grass Grows, the crossover hit Live Like You Were Dying and five chart-toppers from his 2001 album Set This Circus Down.
His more recent hits include Felt Good on My Lips, Better Than I Used to Be and Two Lanes of Freedom’s Truck Yeah, One of Those Nights and his current Top 5 single Highway Don’t Care featuring Taylor Swift and guitar work from Keith Urban.
Two Lanes finds McGraw covering country/country-pop crossover bases as well as incorporating his love of other genres into his music. There are big pop-flavored ballads such as Friend of a Friend and the lovelorn country shuffle of Nashville Without You. There’s also a breezy slice of midtempo country soul in Southern Girl, the rock-riff driven poop-kicking “hillbilly proud” anthem Truck Yeah and its rock-pop counterpart It’s Your World, and the fun, bouncy power-pop ode to good times and hangovers, Mexicoma.
Though McGraw may still be singing beer- and tequila-drinking tunes, he actually gave up alcohol in 2009, citing his wife and three daughters — Gracie, Maggie and Audrey — and a desire to not emulate his biological father who denied his paternity for much of McGraw’s life.
The svelte McGraw also recently revealed the (obvious) fact that he works out regularly while on tour to maintain the body that inspires hormonal screams from women of all ages.
In concert, McGraw is a cool, convivial host who gives the people (who are primarily women) what they want; plenty of chances to ogle his lean frame while he calmly belts out the songs they love and offers a few low-key dance moves.
The hit-packed set list for the Two Lanes of Freedom tour covers songs from Indian Outlaw through current tunes, but some fans will surely be disappointed not to hear a few of their favorites. However, even though they might not get the opportunity to wiggle and sing along to Do You Want Fries With That, perhaps they can take solace in the self-assured eye candy McGraw will provide.
Malcolm X Abram can be reached at email@example.com or 330-996-3758. Read his blog, Sound Check Online, at www.ohio.com/blogs/sound-check, or follow him on Twitter @malcolmxabram.