There’s an old adage that it takes one to know one. Star country singer Craig Morgan has worked as a dairy manager, a Wal Mart employee, a security guard, a contractor and a member of the U.S. Army’s Airborne Divisions, which helps him know a part of the U.S. population in ways his contemporaries can’t.
Morgan’s bond with the blue-collar world has helped him climb the Billboard charts and attract thousands to his 200-plus concerts every year. His nonstop tour includes a show Friday, Dec. 3, at the Fox Theater that will certainly draw some fellow servicemen.
“A solider that was fighting in Afghanistan came up after a show and said that every time before they went on a mission they’d listen to my music,” he says from a tour stop in Wichita, Kansas. “I’m no longer that solider holding a gun but it’s important for me to maintain a relationship with them.”
Morgan’s ties to the armed services extend beyond the shows he plays at bases around the world: He’s been actively involved in raising money for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, which earned him a USO Merit Award in 2006. Past recipients include Steven Spielberg and Bob Hope.
But Morgan hasn’t appeared on Billboard’s country charts 17 times – including six top 10 songs like “Bonfire” and “Little Bit of Life” – just because jarheads like him. On “Almost Home,” another top 10 hit from his 2003 album I Love It, which Allmusic.com gave four stars, the musician tells a Springsteen-esque tale of an encounter with a elderly homeless guy in the dead of winter. Through a symphony of acoustic guitar and meandering fiddle, the narrator begs the old man to accept his help only to be rebuffed: “Man I wish you’d just left me alone/ Cause I was almost home.”
“I just try to sing about everyday stuff, real life stuff,” Morgan says. “A lot of the stuff you don’t ever think about.”
Real life stuff also involves rays of good old-fashioned fun times. The “Redneck Yacht Club” chart topper is the perfect soundtrack for red plastic cups full of Pabst Blue Ribbon and sunburned girls in string bikinis, almost like an audio version of Girls Gone Wild Spring Break: “We’re checking out the girls on the upper deck rubbing in 15 SPF.”
It would be hard to avoid checking out Stealing Angels – who open for Morgan – if they were applying suntan lotion to anything. But Caroline Cutbirth, Jennifer Wayne and Tayla Lynn haven’t been turning heads just because they’re attractive. And it hasn’t been purely a result of their famous relation to Daniel Boone, John Wayne and Loretta Lynn. The ladies can play.
The three came together through ABC, who was trying to put together a reality television show called What’s in a Name that asked: Is talent genetic?
“They thought we were going to argue and fight and there was going to be drama,” Wayne says. “We ended up falling in love with each other.”
The Nashville trio has been turning heads with that sincere chemistry, contagious personalities and unadulterated musical talent. The Weekly caught up with Wayne on a rare day off, just before she heads back out on tour. Though she’s making her own name for herself, Wayne concedes she carries on some of her grandfather’s genetic traits.
“[John Wayne] was a really gracious man and I’m a really sweet person, so maybe I get that from him,” she says.
The Stealing Angels been busy making their own creative mark: In addition to a heavy touring schedule, they recently finished recording their debut LP with sought-after producer Paul Worley (Dixie Chicks, Lady Antebellum), set to be released in early 2011.
“Getting to work with him was a dream come true,” Wayne says.
Stealing Angels knew they wanted the Nashville-based producer from the get go, but it took two years to nab him.
“He kept saying he’d work with us but he never pulled the trigger,” Wayne says. “One day, we went in and played for him and he was like, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re going to record tomorrow.’”
The result is what the ladies expected: A blending of three different sounding voices into a single dynamic entity.
“Our sounds are so different,” Wayne says. “Tayla is a little more edgy and left of center, Caroline has this big pop beautiful voice and I have an old school bluegrassy voice. [Worley] combined all of our sounds. It was really magical.”
Worley’s method: getting the girls to sing with emotion without worrying about crispness or technique. The sentiment of the songs took center stage.
“I think that’s what’s important and that’s what comes across on the songs,” Wayne says.
At times that organic approach takes the trio into territory better suited to adolescent punk groups. The first single from their album, the light-hearted poppy “He Better Be Dead,” is a display of punchy lyrics capturing the early-stage apprehensions of Lynn’s now fulltime boyfriend.
“They had made it official and [Lynn] put it on Facebook so it was a big deal,” Wayne says. “We were getting ready to play Madison Square Garden and she texted him at the airport and… nothing.”
The band was in New York and as the hours elapsed Lynn didn’t hear a word from her significant other.
“Lynn said the redneck in her kept saying ‘You better be dead,’” Wayne says. “We just started writing it and it became a funny tongue-in-cheek song.”
Word is the dude was just hung over, but now he makes sure to call Lynn back immediately when she’s on the road.