The Story Behind Tim McGraw’s Smash Hit, ‘Shotgun Rider’

When Marv Green, Hillary Lindsey and Troy Verges met to write what would become Tim McGraw’s “Shotgun Rider,” they began working on a completely different song. As Green recalls, he brought the title “Hard Act to Follow” to the writing room, thinking the concept could lead to a song.

“It was like, ‘I hope you never leave because if you did, you’d be a hard act to follow,'” Green tells Sounds Like Nashville from his writing room at his publisher, THiS Music. “It had a negativity, or at least a sadness to it. We got into it and were like, ‘No one’s going to listen to this. This is too sad.'”

The three writers thought the song was too depressing to finish so they began to write another one. They borrowed one line from their previous song which would help launch “Shotgun Rider.” The lyric eventually became the first line of the chorus on McGraw’s hit: “I don’t ever want to wake up looking into someone else’s eyes.”

“Sometimes songs go where they want to go if you’re willing to let them,” Green notes. “I think that was the line that stayed.”

He adds that he always liked the concept behind the nursery rhyme “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” Specifically, “Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream / Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily life is but a dream.” When listening to the second verse on “Shotgun Rider” the inspiration from “life is but a dream” can be heard.

“Slide, slide over nice and close / Lay your head down on my shoulder / You can fall asleep, I’ll let you / Dream, life ain’t nothin’ but a dream,” McGraw croons.

Green shares that “Shotgun Rider” holds more meaning to him now that he has children of his own. When he first wrote it, he says the song was a straight-forward, up-tempo love song. Now a father, he says his kids are his shotgun riders too.

“Songs change meaning as your family grows and changes. That might be one that has more meaning to me now and ’cause they like it too,” he says of his children.

Lucky for Green, his children weren’t the only ones who liked the song. McGraw featured it on his 2014 album Sundown Heaven Town and “Shotgun Rider” was released as the third single from the project. It would go on to spend four weeks at No. 1 on the country charts and become McGraw’s 36th No. 1 song.