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Craig Morgan: The Cover Story

Written by Annie Reuter
Craig Morgan: The Cover Story
Craig Morgan; Photo credit: Joseph Llanes

Upon first meeting Craig Morgan, it is obvious why he is the star of two television shows — his boundless energy is infectious and his presence lights up a room. His friendly demeanor and unbridled honesty are also inviting, while his booming laugh and positive outlook make him instantly feel like an old friend.

On a balmy Saturday afternoon in February, the “That’s What I Love About Sunday” singer invited members of the media to his new storefront, The Gallery at Morgan Farms in Dickson, Tenn. For several hours, he introduced his new family-run business and shared heartfelt, and sometimes tearful, stories about his late son Jerry.

While his daughter, Alexandra, was by his side, the family discussed the aftermath of 19-year-old Jerry’s death from a boating accident in July 2016 and shared how each member coped with the devastating loss. Morgan, who is used to being in the limelight as host of Craig Morgan: All Access Outdoors on the Outdoor Channel as well as his new show, Morgan Family Strong which premiered on UP TV March 1, would go to his wood shop and whittle by himself to try and make sense of his son’s death.

Our goal and our objective is to inspire people and motivate people to want to do better…

“After our son died, I would go to the shop for therapy,” he explained while sharing the history of their storefront in downtown Dickson. “I’m not big on therapists or psychiatrists and all that, but I figured I’d go to the shop and start making stuff out of wood. I’d cry and get mad and beat the hell out of the wood.”

When his family saw what he was creating in his shop, Alexandra suggested posting photos of some of the items on Facebook in an effort to sell them. Business took off quickly and they sold many of Morgan’s handmade designs. Shortly after, while driving by the downtown strip, they noticed a building for sale in the heart of town on N. Main Street and thought it would be a good idea to have a storefront.

The Gallery at Morgan Farms; Photo courtesy: Monarch Publicity

Built in 1914, the building that now hosts The Gallery at Morgan Farms was formerly the Dickson Furniture and Undertaking Company and locals would come visit the location on horse and buggy. As Alexandra jokes, they had furniture for before you died and after you died. Once Morgan’s family bought the building, the singer renovated the property himself. The beautiful trim on the floor of the downstairs area was taken from around the building and repurposed. Some of the wood found on the premises now serves as shelves to display the items Morgan and his family have made.

Morgan says The Gallery at Morgan Farms helped bring his family together during a difficult time following the loss of Jerry. While each member has individual projects to accomplish on a daily basis, they all work together for the overall business of the store as it gives them purpose and keeps them occupied instead of dwelling on their loss.

“It gives us a physical object with which to focus on collectively,” Morgan tells Sounds Like Nashville. “Otherwise, we would be off doing our individual thing, but this is just something that we as a family can collectively work together on… Jerry, even though he’s not here, he’s still a big part of our lives. And unless you experience that, it’s hard for people to comprehend. It was yesterday that we lost Jerry for us, so it’s never ending. We just try to get through the days, and you still have to get up and go to work. You still gotta move. You still gotta try to do things, and we have a faith. So, in our faith we know we’ll see him again.”

Everything sold at The Gallery at Morgan Farms is made by someone in the family. Morgan’s wife, Karen, and daughter make sugar scrubs and lip balms. His oldest son, Kyle, makes beard oil and Morgan’s sister makes baby bibs. The family also raise bees for harvest and make their own honey locally. The honey is the most popular item in the store and as Morgan explains, the effects of locally made honey has been proven to enhance one’s resistance to local allergies.

Honey from Craig's hives; Photo courtesy: Monarch Publicity

The family store is unique, in that every item in the shop has a story. Whether the wooden bowls, spoons and cutting boards on display are made from a fallen tree on Morgan’s property or found from a tour stop somewhere on the road, it’s all crafted by someone affiliated with the family.

“Any artist could open up a store. In my opinion, he’s one of the only guys that does all the work himself,” Alexandra says, praising her father. “There’s a reason we sell out of honey. We don’t pay someone to harvest our honey for us. I put on a pink bee suit. Dad puts on a white one and we go harvest the honey ourselves. All the wood artifacts downstairs are made by him or my brother. That’s what I think is so cool when you come here. You’re not just buying a bowl or a spoon, you’re getting stories and emotions that you’re not going to get at other places and I think that’s really cool that we can offer something like that as a family.”

Artists including Eric Paslay and Zac Brown are also contributing to the store. Paslay made a nightlight from an old radio, which is currently on sale, while Brown is in the process of creating a knife that will only be available at Morgan Farms.

A veteran himself, Morgan spent 17 years serving our country. As a result, he makes a point to help veterans whenever he can and has some artwork from local veterans on display. Additionally, the loft space above the storefront offers a meeting space for veterans where they often come to hold potluck dinners and offer support for one another.

“We try to always feature a piece from a local veteran,” Alexandra explains. “We try to give back as much as we can. Our whole mission for this store, for our show, for everything we do, we want to make sure we have that positive impact.”

In addition to selling work from local veterans at his store, Morgan has partnered with Operation Finally Home to help build mortgage-free homes to veterans and their families. He recently surprised U.S. Army SFC Josh Ferguson and his family during a performance at the Grand Ole Opry by revealing that a home will be built for them in Dickson County, Tennessee.

Craig Morgan surprises his friend, U.S. Army SFC Josh Ferguson, and family Friday night at the Grand Ole Opry with the news they are receiving a custom-built, mortgage-free home in Dickson County (Tennessee) from Operation FINALLY HOME. Joining Craig and the Ferguson family on stage were Operation FINALLY HOME Founder Dan Wallrath and Executive Director Rusty Carroll. Photo Credit: Rick Stufflebean - 501concepts

“The biggest thing is for them to stay gainfully employed,” he says of the troops returning home after their service. “They have to have a mission. Our whole lives as a soldier, you have a mission so when you get out [and] you no longer have a mission, it’s difficult. The music business was really great for me, I had a mission. Every day it was different. Sometimes it was being at the radio station at 6 ‘o’clock. Sometimes it was being in the studio or a show. We always had a mission.”

Morgan admits that he never dreamed he’d pursue a career in music. In fact, he envisioned he’d be a fireman, policeman or soldier forever. While he loved singing and writing songs, he chose a career in the U.S. Army and as a result, lived a lot of life before the opportunity to become an entertainer presented itself.

Well into his career in the U.S. Army, Morgan vividly remembers sitting down with one of his commanders and telling him that he was contemplating leaving the military to pursue music.

I’ve got a beautiful family and I’ve been blessed beyond words…

“He told me, ‘I think if you stay in the Army you could be the Sergeant Major of the Army some day. But I would also tell you that I think you have the opportunity to do something and you have the gift to do something that not a lot of other people do. So, I think you should at least try,'” Morgan shares.

While Morgan says he has never taken his music career for granted, he admits that it doesn’t dictate who he is as a person either.

“I’m really grateful for every up moment that we’ve had as well as those slow times. I’ve been really blessed, and my career has continued to progress. It’s one of those weird things. The whole time it’s been happening I keep waiting for someone to tell me it’s over, and then something else happens,” he admits. “So, I figure it’s where God wants me to be, or otherwise he would drive me on somewhere else.”

Throughout his career, Morgan has had 25 songs on the Billboard country charts including “This Ole Boy,” “Redneck Yacht Club,” “Wake Up Lovin’ You,” and “Bonfire,” among others. His No. 1 hit “That’s What I Love About Sunday” was the most played country song of 2005. Morgan says he attributes all of his success to what his mother, father and the military taught him. Meanwhile, he admits that he refuses to change who he is, what he thinks, or the things he does in life because of what he does for a living. He then uses an anecdote from his early days of radio tours as an example.

“I’ve laid my life out from day one. The first radio station I walked in, I told the guy, ‘This is who I am and this is what I do. If you like it, that’s awesome. I hope you play my records. But if you don’t, that’s not the end of my freakin’ world, dude,'” he recalls. “And it still ain’t. If they told me tomorrow your music will never be played again, I don’t really care. My life will go on. I’ve got a beautiful family and I’ve been blessed beyond words up to this point so I’m not one of those guys that have any bitterness.”

Luckily for Morgan’s fans this doesn’t seem like it will happen anytime soon. The Grand Ole Opry member is currently in the studio finishing what will likely become his eighth studio album. While he says he has no clue when new music will be available, he’s hoping it will be released later this year.

One of the new songs that will be on the project is a track he wrote called “Old Tattoo.” It also happens to be the name of his new brand of wine, available through Lot 18. The song details a soldier dreaming of returning home.

“I never wanted to capitalize on my service as an entertainer, so I steered clear of it even though one of my first singles was a song called ‘Paradise’ about Panama,” he explains while sipping a glass of his red wine in the loft at Morgan Farms. “Since then, I never really recorded anything just for that. I wrote this song ‘Old Tattoo’ talking about our home, what it’s like. That’s the one place . . . that’s our little sanctuary from life, especially for a soldier. When they go overseas and you encounter all these horrific things in life, home is the one place you come back to and home is like an old tattoo. It may fade but it will never go away. That’s how it all came about. That’s why we call it ‘Old Tattoo.'”

While Morgan didn’t reveal too much about his new project, he did admit that it covers the spectrum of the country format. He adds that for the first time in his career, he cut an album without any restraints and it includes some of the best songs he’s ever recorded.

“I’m singing well and production is good, so I feel good about what we cut,” he shares. “I’ve been performing this one song live called ‘Whiskey.’ I’m pretty excited about it. It’s a country song, but it has such a unique melody and the melodic structure in the song is so fresh that it seems a little different than traditional country. And yet again, it’s super traditional country, so it’s cool.”

While country fans eagerly await new music from Morgan, they can tune into his television series, Morgan Family Strong, every Thursday at 9:30 p.m. ET on UP TV. The docu-series follows Morgan and his close-knit family as they navigate the heartbreak of losing Jerry and launch The Gallery at Morgan Farms. Morgan, his wife Karen, Alexandra and sons Kyle and Wyatt star in the show and the singer says the series was a long time in the making.

The concept of a family show was conceived before they lost Jerry. The family was approached by a production company and some footage was shot but the timing wasn’t right. Shortly after, Jerry had his boat accident and the family decided not to pursue it further. Once they began the process of opening up the store they were approached again and decided to try the show. While Morgan’s wife isn’t a fan of being on camera, he says that she appreciates the impact they’re having and hopes to be a positive light for people as they share their story and faith with viewers.

“Every day is difficult, and that’s what we’re trying to show people. In spite of the difficulties, if you have enough faith and with your family, you can get through those things,” he says. “The faith and the strength that our children have shown through these difficult times, it’s very humbling.”

In one episode, Morgan surprises his wife in Alaska by bringing her and the kids to a cabin he built as a family getaway. He then shares that he was able to get approval to rename the lake on the property Jerry Lake. An emotional moment, each episode touches upon the loss of Jerry as the family keeps his memory alive.

“She was pretty excited about it because he loved water,” Morgan says. “It’s about our family and every episode is about us as a family coming together, doing what we’re doing in spite of our loss and how we keep his memory and legacy.”

Jerry was beloved by many and Morgan and his daughter get visibly emotional when recalling the day of his funeral where the line of people paying their respects was two-and-a-half miles long. Industry friends including Trace Adkins, Charlie Daniels and Chuck Wicks attended to show their support for Morgan, and Jerry’s friends wrote messages on sticky notes and stuck them on Jerry’s car.

“He changed people’s lives whether he was with them for five minutes or years,” Alexandra says softly as she remembers her brother. “The amount of people that showed up to his funeral… he was trending on Twitter and all his buddies were like, ‘Jerry would be so proud that he’s trending on Twitter.’ He touched people’s lives and that’s what we want to do through this. I think we want to have the same affect on people.”

As she and Morgan dry their tears, Alexandra jokes that they’ve formed a new band called Craig Morgan and the Weepers. Morgan then praises his late son, admitting that if Jerry was still around he’d be the star of Morgan Family Strong.

“Jerry, who’s not here, who we lost, would have been the star above all of us. He was such an amazing personality. I took him out on the road sometimes and I’d be on the bus and we’d look out and he’d be standing on the side of the stage signing autographs,” Morgan recalls with a smile. “He was the star. He was an absolute star.”

With everything the Morgan family does, they’ve made a unified decision to leave a positive impact. They’re so invested they even sell a t-shirt that reads, “Morgan Farms is H.A.P.I.” (Having A Positive Impact).

“Our goal and our objective is to inspire people and motivate people to want to do better and to have a positive impact. I know it’s so cliché that we put it on a t-shirt but it is the truth,” Morgan concedes. “We want to have a positive impact. Whether it be on our environment, people around us, our life. I believe that we can make a difference and I’m hoping that our difference encourages others to make a difference.”

After watching Morgan Family Strong and visiting The Gallery at Morgan Farms, this positivity is inspiring and leaves viewers and visitors with a renewed outlook on life. It’s this very concept that first motivated the family to pursue both the television series and family store, and something that Morgan hopes to be remembered most for.