On April 20, 1993 — 29 years ago today – Tim McGraw released his self-titled debut album.
Tim McGraw hews closely to the hard-edged honky-tonk sound popular at the time, courtesy of slick co-production from Byron Gallimore (who has gone on to work with McGraw for years) and contributions from Nashville session players such as guitarist Larry Byrom and drummer Paul Leim. Still, the disc boasts little moments — such as harmonica from Kirk “Jelly Roll” Johnson and fiddle from Rob Hajacos on “What Room Was the Holiday In” — that give it an intriguing personality.
McGraw didn’t exactly come out of nowhere, but he did have a few lucky breaks. Born in Louisiana, he taught himself to play guitar in college, then dropped out of school and moved to Nashville in 1989, after Keith Whitley died. The following year, McGraw signed a record deal with Curb Records, after a label executive heard a demo via McGraw’s dad, baseball player Tug McGraw.
McGraw released his first single, “What Room Was the Holiday In,” in 1991. The song didn’t chart, but eventually ended up on Tim McGraw, alongside two songs co-written by Joe Diffie (“Memory Lane,” “Tears in the Rain”) and one song, “The Only Thing That I Have Left,” which George Strait had recorded in 1982.
At first, McGraw’s famous father did provide a bit of a boost: “[McGraw] was promoting his first single, “What Room Was the Holiday In,” and it was just a terrible song,” former WXTU program director John Hart recalls to Today. “He was a scared little kid, but a good-looking kid. The only reason I booked him was so we could say we were having Tug McGraw’s son on.”
However, as McGraw detailed to CMT in 2010, he preferred to make a name for himself the old-fashioned way: by building an audience on the road and earning a reputation as “sort of a bar band” performer.
“What cut my teeth and made me a better artist, and made me a better singer, and made me a better performer,” he adds, “were those years I spent on the road in a van, pulling the trailer.”
As McGraw recalls, he and his band would head to one place and play gigs seven nights a week.
“Sometimes we’d play two or three weeks at a place,” he remembers. “It would be great to go to a place you’d never been before. On a Monday night, you set up and you’re playing and there are 30 or 40 people there. Then word would get out about our band being there. By the weekend, it would just be jam-packed, and it would stay that way for the next two weeks that we were there.”
Tim McGraw ended up spawning four singles: “What Room Was the Holiday In,” “Welcome to the Club,” “Two Steppin’ Mind” and “Memory Lane.” “Welcome to the Club” peaked at No. 47 on Billboard‘s Country Airplay chart — the closest McGraw got to the Top 40. In fact, Tim McGraw itself didn’t chart; still, the album raised McGraw’s profile — and when he released his sophomore effort, Not a Moment Too Soon, less than a year later, country stardom beckoned.
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