by Ari Pinkus and Janice Johnston
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Tim McGraw may be a country music megastar, but he says he is still adjusting to all the fanfare and he remembers the days when his life was simpler.
“Personally, I feel like I’m just starting to learn how to do this, you know,” McGraw said. “You reach a point where you feel like … you’re young enough to still go out and sort of rock the world … but you’re old enough to know how to do it right.”
And he’s proven that he’s got the right stuff, as he showed when he and his band, the Dancehall Doctors, rocked the stage at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field for the NFL’s Kickoff concert Sept. 10.
McGraw showed his star power playing for an overflow crowd of 50,000 NFL fans at the defending Super Bowl champion Steelers’ home field and millions of television viewers.
While McGraw seems to be at home on any stage, he said Bear Creek, his sprawling Tennessee estate, is where he’s most at peace.
McGraw invited Robin Roberts and ABC News’ cameras on a tour of his family’s 900-acre private retreat, where he, his wife, platinum-selling country music sensation Faith Hill, and their three daughters find a refuge for family moments and heartfelt memories.
“My favorite bird dog [was] named Fleetwood. His name [was] Fleetwood Mac we called him,” McGraw said as he showed Roberts the dog’s grave.
On McGraw’s farm, Roberts had her first lesson in skeet shooting, a version of competitive shotgun shooting at targets. Then, the two saddled horses for the full cowboy experience.
But for McGraw, really it’s all about the song.
McGraw’s name has been synonymous with hits. In his multiplatinum career, he has charted 30 No. 1 singles, and sold more than 40 million albums. His latest, “Southern Voice” hit the charts at No. 1. He’s won three Grammys, 10 American Music Awards, 11 Country Music Awards and the list goes on.
At his 200-year-old log cabin, McGraw talked about another award few people know about. This one was for his fragrance, “McGraw.”
The scent is described as modern spicy with a hint of aged whiskey.
“That’s me in a nutshell, right there,” McGraw said.
The country star’s name has reached even further, appearing on a children’s book he wrote and a signature brand of Fritos. In recent years, he’s also gone from lead singer to leading man at the box office.
Tim McGraw on Meeting His Mate, Faith Hill
With several films under his belt, he’s taking on a starring role opposite Sandra Bullock in the upcoming movie, “The Blind Side.”
But he said he’s not contemplating a full-time movie career.
“I’ll never give up my day job because it pays a lot more than movies,” McGraw said. “And … I’ve got three daughters. And that … that can get expensive.”
McGraw attributes his personal achievements to his music career as well.
“Anything I’ve gotten good in my life, music has brought me… my family, my wife,” he said. “I wouldn’t have met my wife if it hadn’t been for music.”
Hill met McGraw 13 years ago, when she was the opening act on his tour. He said he doesn’t know how it came to be that she would open for him.
“I’m sure I had it planned somewhere … along the lines. … I’m starting to get nervous now,” he said.
But he’s always been sure of how he feels about Hill.
“I thought that … ‘she’s way out of my league,'” McGraw said. I still think she’s way out of my league. Somebody that’s … that was sort of untouchable for me. To me, she’s the most beautiful girl in the world. She’s just … she’s a great lady.”
The two married in 1996. Afterward, they went on to make chart-topping duets and break records with the highest-grossing country music tour of all time. But McGraw said their greatest hits are their three daughters Gracie, Maggie and Audrey.
Together, McGraw and Hill have stood against the pressures and tabloid scrutiny of a dual-celebrity marriage living in the spotlight.
“She’s definitely put up with a lot from me,” McGraw said. “There was a point in my career here … where … I was letting too much of me be the focus. And she sort of … put up with me through sort of that mess a little bit.”
It wasn’t the first time McGraw has had a hard time of it. As a small-town boy in Start, La., he remembers seeing his mother struggle.
“I saw a lot of abuse that my mother took from two different marriages,” McGraw said. “So, I think, growing up, and as I got older and all through my life, I’ve always looked at examples of what not to do and what not to be. [Abuse] never crossed my mind.”
McGraw Learns His Mother’s Secret
McGraw is famous for defending women. In fact, he’s become a YouTube sensation for tossing concert-goers out of his show when he believes that they’re mistreating women.
It’s an opportunity to set a good example for his own family, he said.
“I just don’t want my girls to think that that’s appropriate. I don’t want them to think that that’s ever the right thing to do,” he said. “And they should never accept that … from anybody.”
Perhaps McGraw’s biggest emotional challenge was a secret his mother hid from him throughout his childhood. His mother, Betty, had a brief romance with one of major league’s most famous pitchers, Tug McGraw.
Even though the pitcher was really McGraw’s father, he grew up believing that his mother’s husband, Horace Smith, was his biological father.
At 11, he finally learned the truth. But his early relationship with Tug McGraw was rocky, and there were times when his major league pitcher father didn’t want anything to do with him.
He said he internalized his feelings of frustration.
“I probably did more damage to myself over those kind of feelings than I did with anybody else,” McGraw said. “But probably the main reason it turned out better than it could have, it’s because of the strength of my mother and the strength of my grandmother, and the love that I felt from them.”
Despite the tense relationship between father and son, he said the pitcher’s life was a source of inspiration.
“It changed who I thought I could be, and what I thought I could do with my life. I owe a lot to him because of that,” McGraw said. “No matter what kind of father he was or wasn’t for me. I got something that I … couldn’t have gotten anywhere else.”
As he grew into a young man, the resemblance to his father was uncanny. Finally, Tug McGraw no longer denied his son. The two grew closer, becoming a part of each other’s lives. And Tim eventually took the last name “McGraw.”
“I never looked at it as forgiveness or not forgiveness, he said. “I looked at it as, it’s your life. These are the hands, the cards that you’re dealt.”
A Song and a Prayer: ‘Live Like You Were Dying’
Later, Tug McGraw battled brain cancer and died in 2004. He chose to live his final days at a cottage on Tim McGraw’s Bear Creek farm.
McGraw channeled his experience with his father into his iconic hit, “Live Like You Were Dying,” an anthem of forgiveness, inspiration and joy.
He closes almost every show with the song, which has become his personal prayer.
“I only have one life and I want to be happy with how I’ve lived it. Every day I try to make a step in the right direction,” McGraw said.