I’m having a relaxed lakeside conversation with country music superstar Tim McGraw. The only problem is, we’re indoors, and the body of water in question is fresh… very fresh. ”Did he just pee right there?” asks McGraw, suddenly straightening on the leather couch in his Nashville rehearsal space.
The members of McGraw’s longtime band, the Dancehall Doctors, look up, puzzled.
”Over there, right in front of you,” McGraw says, pointing out the puddle on the floor. And though the offender is clearly McGraw’s new puppy Palio, an Italian bronca the size of a small European country, one of his band members jokingly takes the blame. ”All right, that was Meaty [a.k.a. David Dunkley], our percussionist, not the dog. Anyway…”
McGraw’s band members could probably take responsibility for just about any of the pup’s trangressions without fear of being fired: There’s a lot of loyalty, and stability, in this camp. Some of the musicians have been with McGraw since ‘89, and its most recent addition came more than a decade ago. Obviously, it’s a team that works: McGraw has been one of the most reliable hitmakers in country music over the past decade and a half. He’s sold 34 million records — soon to be at least 35 million, with the release of his new chart-topping album, Let It Go. He’s had 27 No. 1 hits, including the first single off the new CD, ”Last Dollar (Fly Away).” He’s won dozens of industry awards, including three Grammys. And last year, Forbes magazine declared McGraw and his wife Faith Hill the second-biggest moneymakers in all of music in ‘06, after the Stones. It’s a good life, professionally, without many puddles to speak of.
We profiled McGraw in the April 20 issue of EW; here, as a bonus, is more of our conversation.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Last year, your tour with Faith became the biggest-grossing country tour of all time — but I heard your upcoming summer tour may be the last one you two do together.
TIM McGRAW: It very well could be. You know, our oldest daughter turns 10 this year, and they’re starting to have friends and activities, and that won’t be conducive to being away with us all summer. So this is probably the last year we thought we could get away with it, taking ‘em away from everything.
Even though the two of you perform duets in the beginning, middle, and end of your shows, I get the feeling you’re reluctant to milk the married thing too much on stage — there’s not much in the way of Sonny & Cher banter.
Well, no, because we have two distinctly different careers — different kinds of music and different ways of doing things. And we had big careers before we met and started dating and got married. But we love performing together and have a great time being able to do that. And do it at the right time — to not just beat everybody over the head with it [laughs].
After the CMA Awards this year, when there was all that reaction to what Faith did [she was seen on camera making extravagant gestures and seemed to mouth the word ”Whaaaat?” when she lost an award], I wrote a commentary for EW.com basically saying, ”Come on, guys — obviously she was kidding.” And people wrote in and said, ”Oh, you’re so naïve. Of course that was a real reaction.” So, is there any backup you can give me there?
[Laughing] It was just hilarious. It was completely silly that anybody would think that anybody — even the meanest person in the business — would do something like that [for real]. Even a person that really meant it would never do anything like that on camera. So for anybody to think that she was being serious, it’s just ridiculous. It did piss me off, that people thought that. Even the biggest a–hole in the business wouldn’t do something like that, and mean it.
Sometimes people have a hard time recognizing a sense of humor in a context where they aren’t expecting it.
I know, I know. A lot of people are just looking for a reason to say something, and that’s all. But I thought it was funny. I was at home watching, and I laughed.
Staying on the subject of awards show controversies: This year at the Grammys, there was a big deal made over Rascal Flatts and Carrie Underwood being forced to perform an Eagles tribute instead of being allowed to do their own hits. A few years ago, there was a similar deal, where you and Keith Urban and Gretchen Wilson got shoehorned into doing a tribute to Southern rock. There does seem to be a pattern there. How did you feel about that?
Well, the Grammys are trying to do a TV show and trying to please people. They’re trying to get ratings up to keep their jobs, and you can’t blame them for that. The only thing that bothered me with the Grammys this year was the whole thing with people calling in to vote on who gets to sing with Justin Timberlake at the end. I think that just took away from the integrity of the Grammys and what it stands for — which is artists and musicians spending their whole lives developing a craft, and doing something that’s their life’s work — and it got trivialized a little bit with something like that. Especially the time it took away from a couple other artists who would have had the opportunity to perform. But you can’t control how they want you to sing. I do think that people are nominated and are having success because of their songs, not because of other people’s success. So I think that’s got to be taken into consideration when they’re having people do all those different, crazy things.
Right now there are a lot of rock acts crossing over or thinking about crossing over into country, including Bon Jovi and Jewel. It might start getting crowded on your side of the fence. It makes me think back to the Alan Jackson song…
”Gone Country,” yeah.
You had that moment a couple of years ago where you crossed over to pop and R&B with that duet you did with Nelly, ”Over and Over.” And your songs have been picked up a lot in the adult-contemporary format. Do you have any thoughts about rock guys coming over to country?
More power to you. I don’t have a problem with anybody playing my record on any format, so I shouldn’t have a problem with anybody playing someone else. The only thing that does kind of get under your skin a little bit is when somebody [in radio] wants to run you down for [crossing over to] another format, but then they want to turn around and play somebody else from another format, and do it without batting an eye. But whoever wants to hear the songs, people should play ‘em — it doesn’t matter to me. There’s room for everybody, as far as I’m concerned.
NEXT PAGE: Getting name-checked in song, taking a political stand, and envisioning his life off the road