At 28, a driven McGraw gets ready for the long haul

THE BALTIMORE SUN

With his current album, "Not a Moment Too Soon," having sold 4.5 million copies, one might expect country singer Tim McGraw to be able to at the least sit back and relax a bit.

But as he works toward finishing his widely anticipated third CD, Mr. McGraw sounds like he's all business. It's not that he's feeling pressure, but it's clear that his newfound financial security hasn't stopped him from remaining motivated.

"You know there's the old saying that success breeds confidence, and that's true," he said. "Having some success in this business gives you a different confidence when you go in [to make an album]. So I'm real confident about the next album. I want to get better as an artist, I want to get better as a singer . . . I want to get better at every aspect of this business."

When Mr. McGraw speaks of his long-term ambitions, his thoughts turn not so much to units sold, but toward proving he can create memorable music that will stand the test of time.

"I want to be around 10 or 20 years from now. If I had to model career after anybody, it would be George Strait," Mr. McGraw said. "I can't think of anybody who exemplifies country music and the attitude of country music and the character of music [better] than George Strait does. And if I could have somebody say something like that about me one of these days, then I think I'll be successful."

Two years ago, not many people would have predicted Mr. McGraw would be in a position to build a career like Mr. Strait's, which has been defined both by artistic excellence and consistently strong sales.

Mr. McGraw, 28, arrived in Nashville in 1989 with few credentials to make himself a candidate for a record deal -- much less stardom. Growing up in the small town of Start, La., he had few opportunities to perform, but said a career in music had always been a dream.

After three years at Northeast Louisiana University, the idea of chasing his dream became too much to resist. Despite having few contacts in Nashville, Mr. McGraw sang at a variety of clubs, and about a year and a half later was signed by Curb Records.

"They [Curb] liked my demo tape, and I think I just came along at a good time," he said. "I wore a cowboy hat, and Alan Jackson had just hit it big, and then Garth Brooks, of course, and Clint Black and those guys. So I think it was a matter of coming along and fitting what they were looking for more than anything."

Mr. McGraw would have to wait awhile for audiences to discover him, though. His first single, "Welcome to the Club," barely cracked the Top 50, and his 1992 self-titled debut CD made only a minor impact.

Even with those modest accomplishments, Mr. McGraw said he was optimistic about "Not a Moment Too Soon." That album exudes the frisky, modern sound he calls "turbo-tonk," and especially its breakthrough single, "Indian Outlaw."

"Indian Outlaw" proved to merely be a prelude for what would follow. Three subsequent singles -- "Don't Take the Girl," "Down on the Farm," and "Not a Moment Too Soon" -- went No. 1, and the CD's sales skyrocketed.

One person who's been able to help Mr. McGraw adjust to the sudden celebrity is his father, Tug McGraw, the former star relief pitcher for the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies.

"He has a lot of good advice about treating people," Mr. McGraw said of his father. "He's always been of the school that you treat people just the way you always treat them and the way you want them to always treat you."

Rocky Gap Music Festival

What: Country-folk-bluegrass-blues festival with food, crafts, kids' activities, line dancing and three stages of musical acts

Where: Rocky Gap State Park, Cumberland

When: Friday, Saturday and Sunday all day; gates open at 7 a.m.

Highlights: On Friday, performers include David Ball at 6:30 p.m., Daron Norwood at 8 p.m. and Clay Walker at 9:30 p.m. On Saturday, look for Laurie Lewis at 1:45 p.m., Crook & Chase at 3 p.m., Lari White at 4:15 p.m., Charlie Daniels at 5:45 p.m., the Tractors at 7:15 p.m. and Tim McGraw at 9 p.m. On Sunday, musicians include Lee Roy Parnell at 5:30 p.m., the Mavericks at 7 p.m. and Mary Chapin Carpenter at 8:45 p.m.

Lodging: For information on camping at Rocky Gap, call (301) 777-2138. To camp at Allegany County Fairgrounds Festival Village, call (301) 729-1200. For dormitory lodging at Frostburg State University, call (301) 687-4020

Tickets: Tickets cost $26 for Friday, $30 for Saturday and $30 for Sunday. Children 12 and under admitted free. Advance tickets are slightly cheaper and can be purchased with a credit card at (301) 724-2511 or through Ticketmaster at (410) 481-SEAT

Call: (301) 724-2511 for more information

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