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Interview with Tim McGraw

Aired September 10, 2004 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, country star Tim McGraw on the recent death of Tug McGraw, the famous father he never knew he had till he was 11, on his superstar wife, the gorgeous singer Faith Hill and more. A revealing emotional hour with country superstar Tim McGraw is next on LARRY KING LIVE.


KING: It's a great pleasure to welcome back to LARRY KING LIVE, return visit with Tim McGraw, the country music true superstar, more than 30 million albums sold worldwide, 23 number one singles. His newest CD -- we'll show you the cover -- is "Live Like You Were Dying." He has a supporting role in the new film, which is getting a lot of pre-attention, "Friday Night Lights," and the husband of music superstar, Faith Hill.

Are you touring now? Are we in the middle of a tour? Where are we?

TIM MCGRAW, COUNTRY MUSIC SINGER: In the middle of a tour. We toured all summer. We did all the outside sheds and stuff this summer, and then we took a couple of weeks off, and now we're inside.

So we've got like the fall tour going on right now.

KING: The fall tour.


KING: Do you have a preference, inside or outside?

MCGRAW: Not really. I mean, they're -- both have their good parts and their bad parts, I guess. Outside usually sounds really well and...

KING: Really?

MCGRAW: ... and it's a lot more fun.

KING: I would think acoustics are better inside.

MCGRAW: Not usually, not usually on some of the -- some of the inside places are really good, but some are pretty bad. But I don't have really a preference. You know, as long as it's packed, I don't care where I'm playing. KING: How often do you tour with Faith?

MCGRAW: We haven't toured since 2000.

KING: No kidding.

MCGRAW: She haven't toured on the road in about four years.

KING: She's being a mother.

MCGRAW: She's being a mother. She's recording an album right now. She just played Vegas for a week at Caesar's Palace, and we were -- that's where my vacation was, in Vegas, with my wife playing.

KING: Did she sit in for Celine?

MCGRAW: Yes, she played her theater for a week and did awesome.

KING: And she and I were in "Stepford Wives" together.

MCGRAW: That's right. That's right.

KING: And she was terrific.

MCGRAW: She was great in that movie.

KING: She was really -- and you're going to be -- well, I'll get to the movie later. Tug McGraw was one of my favorite people, the great pitcher, relief pitcher. "You gotta believe," for the Mets and Phillies, both teams took great heart in his passing. They did a big thing in Philly, right?

MCGRAW: Yes, they did. They had a big thing for Tug in Philly, and I think they're going to do something for him for his birthday coming up. But that town loved him, you know?

KING: Boy. And it's hard to get Philly to love you.

MCGRAW: It is. It is. He could've went the other way if he hadn't struck out Willie Wilson in that last game.

KING: Richie Allen said they would boo a cure for cancer.

MCGRAW: Absolutely. Absolutely.

KING: It was a strange relationship, didn't know it until you were 11, right?

MCGRAW: Yes. Eleven's when I...

KING: Explain how you didn't know who your father was.

MCGRAW: Well, I grew up -- my step-dad (UNINTELLIGIBLE) my mom married a year after I was born. And I grew up in a little town, Rayville, Louisiana...

KING: They were divorced when she was pregnant like or soon after?

MCGRAW: Well, they actually never got married. It was kind of a summer romance. He was in the minor leagues in Jacksonville playing for the Jacksonville Suns...

KING: Sort of like Bull Durham?

MCGRAW: Right, right. That's where my mom grew up, was in Jacksonville. So they had a summer romance, and she got pregnant with me. I think it was her senior year in high school.

KING: Wow.

MCGRAW: And moved back to Louisiana, where her family was from and -- you know...

KING: Married a guy.

MCGRAW: Married a guy, and went on...

KING: Nice guy?

MCGRAW: Well, he's one of those guys who can be as lovable as anybody can be, and he can be as mean as...

KING: He's still your step-dad? He's still around?

MCGRAW: He's still around, yes, as far as I've seen. I saw him the other night...

KING: Still married to your mom?

MCGRAW: No, no, no. They were divorced, probably, in my fourth grade or so.

KING: So were you told that he wasn't your...

MCGRAW: No, no. I didn't know...

KING: You thought he was your father?

MCGRAW: I thought he was my father, and soon after they were divorced, I was going through my mom's closet, probably looking for Christmas presents or something, and I ran across my birth certificate, where it had all the information on it.

KING: And this said the father?

MCGRAW: And that's how I found out was...

KING: You were 11?

MCGRAW: I was 11, yes.

KING: What did you say? What did you... MCGRAW: I called my mom immediately, you know, asking what this was all about. And, of course, she came straight home from work, and she was devastated, of course. I mean, she'd probably -- she'd always plan on telling me, but just didn't know quite how or when.

KING: Did you know who he was?

MCGRAW: I did, actually.

KING: Were you a baseball fan?

MCGRAW: I was a baseball fan, and I had some baseball cards hanging on my wall. And one of his cards was one of the cards that I had, which is strange, but at the same time, he was a very popular player.

KING: He sure was.

MCGRAW: So there was a lot of, probably, 11-year-old kids who had his baseball card hanging on the wall.

KING: So what did you do?

MCGRAW: Well, it was, you know, looking back, it was probably more traumatic for everybody else around me than it was for me. You know, I was just a kid, you know. And we grew up in a, you know, small community and didn't have a lot of money. And, you know, I wanted to meet him, of course, and so my mom called him. And then I saw him once that summer -- twice that -- no, once that summer, I think, and once the next summer, and then...


KING: Your step-father complained about this?

MCGRAW: No, never.


MCGRAW: We've never talked about it, actually.

KING: So you met, but nothing connected? You didn't get close?

MCGRAW: No, nothing connected. Didn't get close, and then, when I was about to graduate high school, we went through a whole thing. You know, I didn't have money for college and couldn't afford college, so I asked Mom if maybe we could try to call and see if that Tug could help pay for my college, because I knew she couldn't afford it, and I knew it was bothering her a lot, because...

KING: She was divorced by then?

MCGRAW: Yes. And she was trying to figure out what she could do to help...

KING: Was he a Met or a Philly at the time? MCGRAW: He was a Philly at the time. When I first met him, he was a Philly. And she called. And, of course, they went through a whole lot of legal stuff to where, you know, they wanted to sign papers to where I couldn't contact him anymore, and they would pay for college, and all this kind of stuff. And I just had one request, that I could see him one more time before we signed all these papers. And then we went to Houston, and I saw him when I was 18, and that kind of changed everything.

KING: What happened on that trip?

MCGRAW: Well, I think that he realized, when he saw me, that I looked just like him.

KING: Yes.

MCGRAW: So, in that -- and we just got along well. And, about a year after that, I met his family. I've got a brother, Mark, and a sister, Cari, from Tug's marriage that he was married to...

KING: And then you got close, right?

MCGRAW: Then we got close. We've been, I mean -- I don't think you could ever say that it was a father and son relationship. I think after 18 years of growing up without him being your dad, and then being a man, and then getting to know him, I don't think it could ever get to that father and son relationship. Sometimes it was more like I was his father and he was my son.

KING: Tug was a...

MCGRAW: Yes, you know Tug...

KING: But he never grew up.

MCGRAW: He never grew up. And that was one of the great things about him to the people, though, because he never grew up. And we had a lot of fun. I got to do a lot of things. I discovered a lot of things about myself that I probably would have never known if I hadn't got to know him. And I got a brother and sister out of the deal that I didn't have.

KING: Still close to them now?

MCGRAW: I talk to them a lot.

KING: Did...


MCGRAW: ... up and down sometimes.

KING: Did he watch you become famous?

MCGRAW: He did. He was around most of the time. I mean, he got to come to a lot of shows. In fact, when we cut our first -- this was the second album that I recorded with my band. In the first album I recorded, we did both the albums up in upstate New York in a studio up in the mountains, and the first album, he kind of hung out in the studio with us and spent time with us in the studio. He really enjoyed being around it, you know?

And, you know, he was such a ham. He really enjoyed coming to the shows and bringing him out on stage. And he'd sing with me every now and then.

KING: He got to be very proud of you, I guess?

MCGRAW: Yes, he did.

KING: How did you learn of his illness?

MCGRAW: I was at home, and it was late at night...

KING: In Nashville?

MCGRAW: In Nashville and got a call from a friend of his that was down -- he was working with the Phillies in spring training, working with their pitchers. And he's been at the ballpark every day. He was really excited about it, because I think he -- I think he eventually wanted to get into coaching...

KING: Back into coaching.

MCGRAW: And I think he would've been great at it, too. And he was real excited that he had the opportunity to go down with the Phillies and work out with them in uniform every day. He had worked hard to get in shape, and he was in really good shape, and he just had some episodes that things weren't quite right.

KING: Like?

MCGRAW: He had had some episodes where he couldn't remember things, and he had just had some incidents where he just didn't know what was going on. He would get confused, and...

KING: Were you aware of that, like you'd talk to him and he'd forget something?

MCGRAW: We were, in looking back over the last year, before we found out something was wrong, we can recall incidents. But it was Tug. You know, he was always like that to a certain extent, so it...

KING: Flaky, a little...

MCGRAW: Yes, a little flaky, so it was hard to figure out when was the point that you thought something was really strange. And his closest friend, John, was standing with him, and he had a really bad incident one morning where he went to the -- he got dressed and went down to the ballpark and didn't realize it was a day off. And he was in uniform. He was walking around the clubhouse, couldn't -- wondering why nobody was around. And then he went home, and he'd had an accident on himself and John thought there was something weird. And John has a history of -- you know, he's a learned, educated guy in psychology and stuff, and so he thought something was wrong. And they took him to the hospital, and they thought that he was having a stroke.

And they did some X-rays on him, and got some X-rays back. And then that night, I got the phone call.

KING: More in a minute with Tim McGraw. The new CD is "Live Like You Were Dying," and his father sure did. Don't go away.


KING: We're back with Tim McGraw.

So they told you he had what?

MCGRAW: Well, the first -- he was at a hospital, and they weren't' sure. But they called and said they were pretty sure, he'd seen it before, and they thought that he had brain cancer, because he had some spots on his brain. And then they said -- initially, they had said that he -- I flew down there the next morning. And, initially, when I met with a doctor, they had said that they thought that he probably, if nothing changed, he'd probably have about three weeks left to live.

KING: Whoa.

MCGRAW: And so it just hit everybody right out of the blue. And, of course, it was right in the middle of training camp. And he was in the hospital. And they told him -- I don't think they kind of told him just right. They just kind of laid it on him without anybody...

KING: They told him he...

MCGRAW: Yes. So it was pretty traumatic for everybody right at the beginning, and then...

KING: How did someone as optimistic, as Tug McGraw was, handle knowing he was going to die?

MCGRAW: Well, at that point, because the pressure was building up on his brain so much, because it had gone without anybody knowing about it for so long, that he was sort of in and out of consciousness and stuff, and he wasn't quite aware of what was going on, which was probably a blessing at the time.

KING: Was he in pain?

MCGRAW: He wasn't in any pain. He said he had a little bit of a headache at first, but through the whole illness he didn't have a lot of pain, which was...

KING: How long did he live from the time you found out to... MCGRAW: We found out -- I want to say it was April, March, I think when we found out.

KING: That would be spring training.

MCGRAW: Right. And he died in January of this year.

KING: So he lived seven...

MCGRAW: Eight months. Seven or eight months, yes.

KING: Were you with him when he died?

MCGRAW: I was. I was there, and my brother and my sister, and my uncle, Hank, Tug's older brother.

KING: Did he die in a hospital?

MCGRAW: No, he died at our farm, actually, in Tennessee.

It's where he wanted to go.

KING: What was that like?

MCGRAW: Well, you know what, I don't want to say too much about it, because I like to hold those things to myself. And I'll always remember those. But it was -- we had a good time, actually. We were there in the cabin for the last three or four days.

We flew from Philadelphia back home, and it was right in the middle of football season, so we were watching a lot of playoff games and stuff. And we'd sit in the living room and watch playoff games, and friends would come down and visit, and family, and come hang out. And he was pretty lively.

KING: Died peacefully?

MCGRAW: Died peacefully.

KING: Now this is his World Series ring?

MCGRAW: This is the '80 World Series ring, yes.

KING: Let see if we can get a shot of this. You don't get to see this very often, but this says the Philadelphia world champions 1980. Now, what is this bracelet, which feels like a baseball?

MCGRAW: Well, we were trying to come up with an idea, and I don't know if you remember Warren Brusstar, but Warren Brusstar played for the Phillies...

KING: Sure.

MCGRAW: And his wife Jennifer, who were great friends of Tug's, and Jennifer helped care for Tug, did most of the dirty work and the hard work for caring for Tug, and living with him, the whole time that he was sick and I was having to work. And everybody was -- and Jennifer stayed there and took care of Tug, and she runs his foundation now that we started after he died.

KING: For cancer?

MCGRAW: For cancer, and we were trying to come up with...


MCGRAW: Right. We were trying to come up with something to do to sell on the road. I sell T-shirts, and some of my other friends that were artists are going to see these, too, and on the web site -- and try to raise money for his foundation. And Jennifer came up with this idea to cut the seams out of a baseball and that's what it's going to be. This is kind of a prototype for it now, but these -- within the next couple of weeks, we'll have these...

KING: So this is a first?

MCGRAW: Yes. This is a first deal kind of, so...

KING: Did he give you the ring?

MCGRAW: He did. He gave me a ring not long after we first started having a relationship when I was 19 years old, or 20. He gave me a National League Championship ring, and so I wore that ring forever in college and stuff. And then he gave me this ring probably the week or two before he died.

KING: Did Faith get to know him well?

MCGRAW: She did. Yes. She knew him well.

KING: Did he like her and she...

MCGRAW: Oh, he loved Faith. He had nothing but respect for Faith, all the respect in the world for her. He was in awe of her, really, which I am, too. We all are...

KING: Philadelphia did a whole big thing when he died, right, didn't they?

MCGRAW: They did. They've done a lot, you know -- they remember Tug well, and they've always treated...

KING: Anything about him in the new ballpark?

MCGRAW: I don't know. You know, I haven't been to the new ballpark.

KING: Everyone says it's terrific.

MCGRAW: I haven't had a chance to go. I'm looking forward to seeing it. It was kind of sad when the Vet got tore down, though, but they sent me -- the Vet sent me the rubber from the bullpen.

KING: Really?

MCGRAW: Yes. So I have the rubber from the bullpen from the Vet, so that was kind of cool.

KING: Because that ballpark needed...

MCGRAW: Oh, yes. It was ready to go.

KING: Do you root for the Phillies?

MCGRAW: I do root for the Phillies. I'm a Phillies fan. Yes. Of course, I've got to be, you know?

KING: Well, he was a good Met, too.

MCGRAW: Yes. And I like the Mets, too...

KING: But you gotta believe (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the Mets...

MCGRAW: And I like the Yankees, also, because Tug was a big Yankees fan, also.

KING: He was?

MCGRAW: Yes, he was.

KING: I never knew that.

MCGRAW: He always had a thing for the pinstripes.

KING: Really?

MCGRAW: Oh, yes. You know, Babe Ruth was one of his favorite players of all time.

KING: Because "You gotta believe" started with the Mets.

MCGRAW: With the Mets.

KING: And it became their theme.

MCGRAW: And, of course, he loved the Mets. He loved the Mets, and he loved the Phillies, but, you know, the Yankees are a pretty impressive baseball team.

KING: Never pitched against them, though.

MCGRAW: Never pitched against them, no. Not that I know of.

KING: Maybe in spring training.

MCGRAW: Maybe in spring training or something, yes.

KING: We'll take a break and come back with Tim McGraw, talk about this movie coming, and more about the album, and more about life as a country major star. Don't go away. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back with Tim McGraw. The new CD, "Live Like You Were Dying." He has sold more than 30 million albums worldwide, 23 number one singles. We will not have to throw a benefit for Tim McGraw, although we're excited because, for the Larry King Cardiac Foundation, March 11 in Washington next year, Tim will be entertaining. And we're sure looking forward to that. We've had a lot of great performers, and he's going to only add to the list.

How did you know you were a singer? How did that come about? You were very poor, right?

MCGRAW: Yes. We grew up poor. I was always an athlete. You know, I played all the sports in high school.

KING: Got that from Tug.

MCGRAW: Yes. I played a lot of sports, little league ball and everything. But, you know, I grew up in church, too, so I used to sing a lot in church. Like, you know, just about everybody who's a singer grew up in church singing. That's where I really love music. And my mom really loved music. I mean, I can't remember a time when we were kids that she didn't have the radio cranking loud up, and singing every song.

KING: So how did you start?

MCGRAW: I just started singing around home. I was in college...

KING: Where was that?

MCGRAW: In Monroe, Louisiana. I went to Northeast Louisiana University. And I was at school -- at college one summer, and my roommates had kind of moved away. And my job -- I only had a job that was about three hours a day, so I was bored most of the time. So I went and bought a guitar at a pawn shop and sat through a summer and learned how to play. And by the end of the summer, I was playing in clubs and restaurants and stuff for tips, and pretty much soon after that, everything else I ever wanted to do just melted away.

KING: What was your first hit?

MCGRAW: My first single was "What Room was the Holiday Inn," and it never saw the light of day. And then the first one that, I guess, ever saw any kind of airplay was a song called "Welcome to the Club," which was on my first album. And pretty soon that album died out and didn't do anything. But the first big hit I had was a song called "Indian Outlaw."


KING: That song -- there was a controversy about that?

MCGRAW: The "Indian Outlaw" song.

KING: Yes.

MCGRAW: Yes, when it first came out. Well, it's just a tongue- in-cheek kind of song.

KING: It was politically incorrect?

MCGRAW: I think it was probably politically incorrect at the time. But you know, just about everything's politically incorrect anymore. But it was like one section -- Native Americans loved the song, and one section didn't like the song. But I think more than anything -- and I'm actually proud of it. They used it is a means to an end, I think.

And I think that there's a lot of issues in the Native American community that need to be addressed. And I think any chance that they can get to step up on a soapbox and be able to draw attention to their issues, then they should use that. And I think that's what they did what that song, so...

KING: Did you handle success well?

MCGRAW: I'm still working on that.

KING: It's not easy.

MCGRAW: It's not -- well, you know, it's different. People come at you from all different directions. But, you know, I had a great foundation in my mom and the way she raised me, and my grandmother, and my grandfather who passed away a couple years ago, who were the biggest influences in my life raising me. And I had great sisters that I grew up with, Tracey and Sandy, who were my half-sisters, but were my sisters growing up.

KING: And Tug had an effect on you later, right?

MCGRAW: Later on. You know, and probably the thing that I got from Tug more than anything is, coming from where I came from, and some of the situations that our family was in growing up that, you know, something about finding out that a major league baseball player, who's successful as your father, I think it instilled something in me that I didn't have, and it made me feel like I could go out and accomplish some things.

KING: You did a commercial thogether, didn't you?

MCGRAW: We did. We did a Bud Light commercial. Bud Light's been my sponsor for years, and I approached them about a possibility of doing a commercial together, and they loved it.

KING: That was a great spot. A car?

MCGRAW: We were in a bus, actually, and got pulled over by a cop.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Looks like we got a celebrity here.

MCGRAW: Yeah, I guess so.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're Tug McGraw's kid? You're dad had the best screwball I ever saw.

So, you're a bus driver, huh? Well, not everyone can have an arm like Tug.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Holy moly, that's Tug McGraw.


KING: I remember that. Tug have fun doing that?

MCGRAW: He loved doing it. You know, anytime that he could be around and we could have fun doing stuff like that we enjoyed it. And that was one of the first times we got to play catch, was on the side of the road shooting that commercial.

KING: You're in to get -- are you left-handed?

MCGRAW: I'm right-handed. My wife's left-handed.

KING: Are you in to get out the vote?

MCGRAW: Absolutely. I think that that's the most important as citizens that you can do is vote, the most important thing. That's our whole system and our whole way of life is based on being able to vote and choose your leaders.

KING: Do you support a candidate or...

MCGRAW: I do. I do. And I'm not, you know, somebody that wants to use what I do for a living to go out and espouse what I feel about politics.

KING: You don't announce who it is?

MCGRAW: Not yet. I will in the right time.

But I think that, if I was singing in a club, and not making any money and couldn't pay my bills, then nobody would care about what I had to say about who I believed in for voting. And, to me, the most important thing is, it doesn't matter who you vote -- because I don't know if I'm right or wrong. I just know how I believe. And the best thing you can do is just go out and vote, no matter who you vote for, because every election's important. And this election is very important.

KING: If you don't participate, if you don't vote, you know...

MCGRAW: If you don't vote, you don't participate. Exactly right. And, you know, I think when you go to a show and you go to a concert that you want to get away from that stuff, and you don't want to go out and see somebody up there trying to push something down your throat that they don't believe in.

KING: My guest is Tim McGraw. The album is "Live Like You Were Dying." The film "Friday Night Lights." He's at the crest of a career. Two little daughters at home.

MCGRAW: Three. Three daughters.

KING: How old?

MCGRAW: Seven, 6 and 2 and half.

KING: And married to Faith Hill. Life ain't bad. Don't go away.








KING: We're back with Tim McGraw. By the way, how did you meet Faith?

MCGRAW: We met one time at a thing called CRS, which is a radio convention they have in Nashville every year. And we were both doing this thing called the New Faces Show, when we were both starting out. We met really just briefly.

And I didn't really know her. And I was doing my first major tour, my first headlining tour.

KING: Was she ahead at this time?

MCGRAW: She had had a couple of hit records, but she was doing great. And I was looking for an opening act for my tour, and I wanted her to open the tour for me. And we started touring together and just kind of fell in love, you know?

KING: Happened right away? Was it...

MCGRAW: Pretty much. For me, it happened right away. It took her a little longer. I had to convince here.

KING: Oh, really? You were the chaser?

MCGRAW: Absolutely. Are you kidding? You've seen her. KING: Has it been happy?

MCGRAW: It's been great. I mean, she's the rock of my life. I mean, she holds our whole family together. She keeps everything in line. She's a great, great lady, strong lady.

KING: Faith and you used to work a lot together, then, right?

MCGRAW: Well, we toured together in -- well, we did the first tour together, Spontaneous Combustion, which was my first tour. And I guess that was '96. And then in 2000, we did the Soul 2 Soul tour, which we toured together.

And we'll do that again. It was just a matter of finding the right moment to do it, you know, and the right time. But we definitely plan on touring again.


KING: Do you get involved with her recording?

MCGRAW: I don't get involved with her recording, but...


MCGRAW:, she's too good. I mean, she's...

KING: Does she get involved in yours?

MCGRAW: Well, we listen to each other's songs. I mean, we definitely are sounding boards for each other, because, like, you know, we trust each other's opinions. We might not always agree on the songs all the time, because we have different kinds of music, but I'm her biggest fans. I think that she's probably one of the best singers out there.

KING: Is there a big hit other than the title song in "Live Like You Were Dying," do you think?

MCGRAW: All of them.


MCGRAW: They're all big hits.

KING: I mean, is there one that looks like it's going to be commercial...

MCGRAW: Yes, there's some really good songs on this record. I mean, there's a song called "Drugs or Jesus" that I really love.

KING: "Drugs or Jesus"?

MCGRAW: "Drugs or Jesus," yes, which is just a great message song. And I think that that one's got a chance to -- there's a lot of great songs on the record that I'm happy -- if I had my way, I would put them all out and just let them go where they go.

But I never want to record an album -- I've always recorded my albums with the intent of every song being a single.

KING: Have albums surprised you?

MCGRAW: Of mine?

KING: Yes.

MCGRAW: Well, some have surprised me, where they didn't do as well as I thought they were...


MCGRAW: Yes. But that always happens. It's all kind of cyclical, and I guess hitting people at different times...

KING: You have a song you ever though couldn't miss, this song is it, over the top, and it didn't make it?

MCGRAW: No. There's been songs that I was kind of disappointed -- there was a song called "Red Ragtop" that was on the first album that I do in my band that didn't go quite as high as I thought it should, but I understood. It was a song that had some references to some things -- it talked about abortion in the song, which, you know...

KING: Turned some people off.

MCGRAW: Turned some people off. But that's understandable.


KING: Was there a song you didn't think might do too well did do well?

MCGRAW: There's been a couple of those. Yes, a song called "My Next Thirty Years" I wasn't too crazy about that went on to be a big hit that I just didn't think it would be, not that I didn't like the song...

KING: Are you good at guessing how your work will do, sales- wise?

MCGRAW: Well, you know, that's always in the back of your mind when you do this for a living and that's how you pay your bills, but you can't worry about it too much because sooner or later -- I like to think that I kind of tap into what most people like, and, you know, maybe my taste fits most people's tastes, and sooner or later, my taste probably isn't going to match up with everybody else's.

KING: Do you -- it ain't forever.

MCGRAW: It doesn't last forever.

KING: Do you automatically get airplay because you're Tim McGraw?

MCGRAW: Well, I'm sure that that...

KING: Your CD goes to the country station, it gets aired...

MCGRAW: I'm not naive enough to think that, because I've been doing this for a long time, I had a lot of success, that they're not going to play my record automatically because it's mine, but then it's still got to hold up. It's still got to be a good record.

I don't think that -- you can get away with that probably for a couple records if they're kind of sub-par, I guess, but in the long run that's not going to be any good for your career.

KING: Will the program director automatically play the title song?

MCGRAW: I don't know. I think they probably will. I mean, usually, when the record comes out, they're kind of off, like, for the first week or so, they'll play most of the songs off the album just to get fan reaction and stuff. But usually, you know, you put out a song that's the first single, the single that you want everybody to play, and hopefully they'll jump on that for you.


KING: Are you surprised country is the number one format in America?

MCGRAW: No, I'm not. I think country music -- I think our format in country -- and I love all kinds of music. I'm a big fan of a lot of people. And I think country music has probably the widest format of different kinds of music, and I hope it stays that way. And I hope they continue to let it be that way, to have a broad spectrum of songs, because I think that's what appeals to most people.

KING: What could change it?

MCGRAW: Well, you know, people start thinking that some styles may be too -- you know, you get into this argument about what's too country and what's too rock and roll for country and things like that. And I think that that's probably a dangerous slope to get on when you're starting to try to put your finger on what kind of music people ought to be doing.

KING: Would you call yourself pure country?

MCGRAW: No. I wouldn't call myself -- I'm a country singer, but I'm influenced by a lot of different music. And I think that the way I sing probably allows me to do other types of music in my tracks and other types of songs. But, when I sing it, it's going to be country. But I wouldn't classify myself as a pure country singer. And I wouldn't...

KING: And you do ballads. MCGRAW: I do ballads. And I just do songs that hit me, and try to pick songs that hit other people and not think too much about whether it's one way or the other.

KING: But the number one thing is you have to like it?

MCGRAW: I have to like it. That's the bottom line, yes.

KING: You have often said that you are not a great singer.


KING: What do you think of yourself as a singer then?

MCGRAW: I think I'm honest when I sing, and I think that that's probably the most important quality a singer can have. I mean, I'm not somebody who can sing the songbook and make it sound good, but I think you can believe me when I sing. And that's what I try to do. I just try to sing honestly. I don't try to sugarcoat anything or try to dress anything up too much.

KING: Did you have heroes in the music world?

MCGRAW: Absolutely. Merle Haggard, hands down. He's one of the biggest heroes I've had, and of course, everybody loved Elvis, and George Strait...

KING: Cash?

MCGRAW: Johnny Cash. All those guys. I mean, those guys broke ground for people.

And, you know, even Garth Brooks. I couldn't do what I'm doing if he hadn't come along and knocked down a lot of barriers for the type of music that he did.

KING: Why'd they knock him?

MCGRAW: Well, you know, everybody -- you know, you get in a position...

KING: Because he got commercial successful?

MCGRAW: You get on top, and everybody's shooting -- well, my grandfather used to say, "Son, they're not trying to tackle you if you ain't carrying the ball."

KING: Boy, is that true. Were you a good ballplayer?

MCGRAW: I was a pretty good -- you know, the older I get, the better I was.

KING: What about fatherhood?

MCGRAW: It's the best thing in the world. It's certainly something that keeps you grounded and keeps you in line, you know. I guess probably anybody who does this for a living has a little bit of a wild streak, and...

KING: Your daughter's healthy? Wasn't one premature?

MCGRAW: Yes. All of our daughters were born a little bit early, but Audrey, the last one, was born like 7 weeks early. But, you know, she was three pounds. But she's perfectly healthy, didn't have any problems. She was just tough.

KING: Boy, three pounds.

MCGRAW: She was tiny. I could hold her in my hand, and her legs would just kind of hang off the back of my hand. She was really tiny.

KING: You've got daughters, though, huh?

MCGRAW: All daughters.

KING: Daughters can be loving, but give you a lot of grief.

MCGRAW: Oh, they're tough. They're tough. They're harder than boys, I think. And my mom's lucky. She's got three grandsons and three granddaughters. And my sisters have the boys and I have the girls.

KING: Nashville, because it's the place you record? Why do you live there?

MCGRAW: Well, because, that's where I moved to when I wanted to get in this business. But I've grown to love it. I think it's a wonderful town. It's a great community. It's a beautiful area. I mean, it's just -- and for a place that you want your kids to grow up, I don't think that there's a better place that your kids can grow up. It's small enough to be a small town, but it's big enough to have everything that you would want out of a big town. And there's some great schools there, too.

KING: I was always a Vanderbilt fan.

Is it hard to go away?

MCGRAW: Well, you know, we have to travel a lot, but we try to stay home as much as we can. And we try to make -- when we do travel, we try to make it as comfortable as we can for the girls. And it is hard to go away and hard not to be home, but when school's going on, we're home as much as we can possibly be.

KING: We'll be back with more Tim McGraw. The new CD is "Live Like You Were Dying." He's going to be in the new forthcoming film, getting a lot of attention, "Friday Night Lights." Don't go away.


KING: We're back with Tim McGraw. You'll see him soon in "Friday Night Lights," starring Billy Bob Thornton. That's a true story based on high school football in Texas, originally in Sports Illustrated, the story. Is this your first movie?

MCGRAW: My second movie. I did a movie, a small movie, an independent movie, that was a lot of fun, that really got my feet wet with Rick Schroeder, who wrote, directed and produced the movie. It was called "Black Cloud," and it's a really good movie. It's an inspirational movie. It's about an Olympic boxer that comes from the Navajo race.

KING: Is it out?

MCGRAW: It's out. Well, I don't know if it's out. I think it comes out this fall, actually.


MCGRAW: If Betty dies, there ain't a man in this world that can protect you, son. That's a promise.


KING: How did you get "Friday Night Lights"?

MCGRAW: You know, I've been looking at scripts -- you know, as long as I've been making records, I've had opportunity to look at scripts. And I've always wanted to do something, but always wanted to find a right thing to do.

And this script came along. And Bryan Lourd, who is my agent at CAA, sent it over to Kelly, who's part of my management team. And the script was sitting on my desk at home, and Kelly had called me a couple of times and asked if I'd looked at the script yet, and I was like, "You know, I just don't really have time." She said, "Well, I need to know something as soon as you -- well, I read it, and I think that you should look at. I think that it's something that you could really do."

And then I read it, and about an hour later, I called her back. So let's try to do it. So I called -- we got in touch with Pete Berg, who directed it, and begged him to meet with me.

KING: Where did you shoot it?

MCGRAW: We shot it in Odessa, Texas...

KING: Oh, I know Odessa.

MCGRAW: ...and in Houston, Texas. Yes.

KING: Who do you play?

MCGRAW: I play a guy named Charlie Billingsley. And, you know, it's based on a true story.

KING: Yes. MCGRAW: And I guess I'm sort of a mid-forties guy. And my son plays ball on the team, and he's not quite as good as I was. I was all-state and, you know, all-world at this high school. Charlie was, I should say.

And when he was young and playing -- he's kind of a bitter guy. I don't know how he is now. I never actually met the real guy.

KING: He's living, right?

MCGRAW: He's living. I understand he's doing really well, and he's got his life together, which is great. But in the movie, he was just bitter, you know? He was a guy -- things didn't pan out for him, didn't go the way he wanted, and after high school football...

KING: Never got college?

MCGRAW: Never got...


MCGRAW: I think he played a couple years of college or something. It just kind of fell apart on him. You know, it was tough, I think, that being the highlight of your life was your high school years...

KING: Oh, yes.

MCGRAW: And then his son -- then he wanted his son to play. And his son was playing ball, but he wasn't going to live up to his expectations, either, so he was failing all over again.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your dad played at Birming. What's it like to be the son of a local legend?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tell me why you can't hold onto the ball?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe this his Hell. Hold on to the football.

BILLY BOB THORNTON, ACTOR: Hey, hey, hey son, come here. Where are you going?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You want me to go in coach?

THORNTON: You don't want a helmet? My goodness gracious.


KING: Billy Bob plays...

MCGRAW: Billy Bob plays the coach. Yes. And, you know, he's one of the best actors...

KING: You have scenes with him?

MCGRAW: I have one really brief scene where I, you know, play a bad guy during practice one day, and I'm walking up. We just kind of stare each other down.

KING: Do you like acting?

MCGRAW: I did. I enjoyed -- you know, the thing I liked about it more than anything was the process building up to actually shooting a scene, when you go in and you have -- you know, you learn the script backwards and forwards. And you learn all the words. And you try to be as precise as you can and learn it. And then you get in, you start working with the other actors, and you go through a scene, and it evolves into a whole another thing.

So the hour that you spend before you actually shoot on the set, running through the scene, and watching the scene develop was probably...

KING: And you don't mind when they do it over and over? I guess, as a recording artist, you're used to that.

MCGRAW: You're used to that. No, I didn't mind that at all. In fact, I wanted to do it more times. I never thought I had it right.

KING: What was it like seeing yourself acting?

MCGRAW: I was nervous when I saw the preview of the movie. It took me forever to go in and see it, but the movie was so good that I was amazed that I actually kind of forgot about my part or paying attention too much to my part and really got into the movie and enjoyed the movie.

KING: It's really about Texas and high school football...

MCGRAW: It's about Texas...

KING: ...and the media.

MCGRAW: It's just amazing.

KING: Manic.

MCGRAW: It's manic down there about how they -- especially during this time. This was the 1988 season, when they were trying to win the state championship.

KING: They were in Odessa?

MCGRAW: They were in Odessa. It was Permian football. It was Permian high school, Permian -- which is a famous high school, famous high school football team.

KING: Any of those kids go on to be big college players?

MCGRAW: I don't know. I don't know. I think a couple of them probably did.

KING: I remember, they played Friday nights, right?

MCGRAW: Yes, every Friday night. You know, high school football across America.

KING: What's the hardest part about touring?

MCGRAW: God. I guess the travel. The older you get, the more the travel wears you out. You know, flying back and forth and riding on the bus. But you know, any more it's -- because we've gotten to the level now that we can be very comfortable when we're touring, it's not that bad, because the kids are out with us a lot...

KING: How much is bus and plane, depending on where you're going to?

MCGRAW: It depends on where you're going to. A lot of time on the bus, but when I'm by myself, I spend a lot of time on the plane, because I fly back and forth to home. Thank god for National Jet.

KING: You ever forget what city you're in?

MCGRAW: You always forget what city you're in. That's just typical. You never really remember that. I never know where I'm going, more or less what city I'm in. And, you know, just walk off and hope we're there.

KING: Do you still get the same rush?

MCGRAW: Yes, I do. I mean, that's why you do it. I have to -- out of everything you do as an artist, for me, anyway, recording albums and traveling -- the biggest thrill still is when you step on stage. I mean, that's still why you do it.

KING: We'll be back with our remaining moments with Tim McGraw. And more about "Live Like You Are Dying" right after this.


KING: The new CD, "Live Like You Were Dying." Is that a song from the CD?

MCGRAW: That's the title song off the album. It's the first single that's been out for a while now.

KING: Does this CD have any kind of meaning in association with the untimely death of your dad?

MCGRAW: Well, the title song, "Live Like You Were Dying," was -- I found the song. Tug got sick. I guess it was March, April of last...

KING: He was only 59.

MCGRAW: Fifty-nine. And he died in January of this year. (SINGING)

MCGRAW: I found the song, about October, November is when I first heard the song. And it certainly played right into what was going on in my life and my family's life, so I'm -- it's a song that -- you know, it talks about somebody getting diagnosed with an illness or something and getting sick. But it also -- it's kind of more of a life affirming kind of song. It talks about, you know, living life to the fullest, which we all know Tug did.

KING: There was nobody like him for encouraging a team up.

MCGRAW: Absolutely.

KING: Jose Lima, maybe, of the Dodgers now is a little like that.

MCGRAW: Right.

KING: They were cheerleaders and great players.

MCGRAW: Absolutely, and loved what he did, loved playing ball, and had such a passion for playing ball.

KING: How do you choose what you sing?

MCGRAW: You know, I just try to listen to stuff. You know, you listen to a lot of songs when you're recording an album or getting ready to record an album, and you go through, gosh, thousands. And I've got some great people. My producer, Byron Gallimore, his wife, Missi Gallimore, we've been friends since the beginning of my career. And she finds great songs and brings them to me, and I listen and try to find the songs that I like.

You just try to find stuff that you like, I think more than anything.

KING: That hits and you like it...

MCGRAW: ...that hits and you like it as a fan. You know, I try to find stuff that, as a fan, that I would want to hear and things that I could handle well and things that fit me well.

KING: And I've heard terms like, "Boy, he's a great producer." What is a great producer of a CD do?

MCGRAW: You know, they just kind of get their arms around a project when they're in the studio, and keeping everybody together and keeping everybody on the same page, which is hard to do with me because I get sort of scatterbrained when I'm in trying to do something that...

KING: Meaning what?

MCGRAW: Well, you know, I'm pacing around, and talking, and coming up with ideas left and right. So you've got to have somebody that keeps everything in line and keeps everything under control, and especially somebody that's a great music person, and Byron Gallimore's the best at that.

KING: How long does it take you to do a CD?

MCGRAW: Well, I guess from the beginning of the process to the end process, it can probably takes up, you know, six months or so. Sometimes it can take a little longer. Sometimes it takes a little less.

KING: Selection's important. You don't do it all in a day.

MCGRAW: No. You can't do it all in a day. And you've got to pick the songs that you feel comfortable with. And, you know, I don't think -- to me, the song's the most important thing that an artist has. And if the artist starts thinking that they're more important than the song, then sooner or later that ships going to run out on you.

KING: It's in the story.

MCGRAW: Yes, it's in the story, especially in country music. I mean, country music is such a great forum for great music and great songs.

KING: Does a theme run through this CD?

MCGRAW: Not really a theme. I think that if there's any theme to it, I think that you can listen to this album, and there's 16 songs on the album, which is a lot of songs on this album...

KING: Usually there's 12 or 13...

MCGRAW: Yes, usually, there's 12 or 13. But we had -- all these songs just, really, together seemed to make up sort of a tapestry of life, sort of. And I think this album -- that anybody can kind of jump into, and kind of flow along with, and feel like they're kind of running through pieces of their life.

KING: Is there anything different you want to do in your life? You want to do something you haven't done?

MCGRAW: I want to work less eventually. That's what I want to do. But, you know, I've been very blessed and very lucky. I've got a great family, great friends. I've got some of the best friends in the world. I mean, that's part of what makes my life easy and my life so much fun is knowing the friends that I have and the people that have been friends of mine for a long time, and they're still good friends of mine, so...

KING: And you don't have economic strife.

MCGRAW: No. We're lucky that, you know, things have been well. We've made money, and we can take care of our families, which we want to do, and our moms and our dads, and our grandparents. So if anything different could ever happen, it would be to be home more and be able to spend more time with our family, with our parents and stuff.

KING: Is there any extra special concern you think about because of Tug dying at an early age?

MCGRAW: Well, it's always in the back of your mind. I mean, it's something that you definitely think about, but, you know, you just have to -- you know, you try to get checked as much as you can, and try to take care of yourself as best you can. But, you know, you can't let it weigh you down, that's for sure.

KING: Because you've got the gene.

MCGRAW: Yes, you know, it's there, so -- you try to do the best you can.

KING: Tim, you're a delight. I wish you nothing but the best.

MCGRAW: Thank you, sir.

KING: Thanks for all you do.

MCGRAW: My pleasure.

KING: A true music superstar, 30 million albums sold, 23 number one singles, a supporting role in the new film, "Friday Night Lights," the husband of music superstar Faith Hill and the new CD is "Live Like You Were Dying." I'll be back in a couple of minutes. Don't go away.


KING: Thanks for joining us on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE with Tim McGraw. The new CD is "Live Like You Were Dying." "NEWSNIGHT" with Aaron Brown is next. See you tomorrow night. Good night.


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