In 2016, Craig Morgan released his seventh studio album, A Whole Lot More to Me, and played a strong run of headlining concerts, fairs and festivals. But between tour dates and crafting an album — and unbeknownst to his management team — the singer/songwriter and former U.S. Army soldier also secretly traveled to the red light district in Bangkok as part of the organization Exodus Road, where he worked as an undercover agent to help fight sex trafficking.
“It’s modern-day slavery and it’s a huge problem and probably one of the least-discussed,” Morgan tells Billboard. “So I think it’s important that we as a people, as a human nation, we do everything we can to try to save and help other people. I still work in that arena. I’ve done numerous operations.”
That story is one of several that fill the country music hitmaker’s recent memoir, God, Family, Country: Soldier, Singer, Husband, Dad — There’s a Whole Lot More to Me (via Blackstone Publishing). The book is chock-full of behind-the-scenes anecdotes, such as a tense showdown with Trace Adkins over Adkins’ desire to record Morgan’s first top 10 hit “Almost Home” before Morgan: “He was very upset about the fact that I had the song, but he didn’t know I was a writer on [it],” Morgan says. Or while on a trip to perform for U.S. troops in Baghdad, Morgan and his group came face to face with a combatant wearing an explosive vest.
Before becoming a singer/songwriter and Grand Ole Opry member with seven top 10 hits on Billboard‘s Country Airplay chart, including four-week No. 1 “That’s What I Love About Sunday,” Morgan spent 17 years in the Army and Army Reserves. His military journey included working alongside the CIA in the Panama jungle (a location he revisited this year for the celebrity competition series Beyond the Edge). He is a member of the U.S. Field Artillery Hall of Fame, earned the USO Merit Award, and in 2018, was awarded the Army’s Outstanding Civilian Service medal. Morgan also worked as a deputy with the Sheriff’s office in Dickson County, Tennessee.
Despite the surfeit of stories his experiences have brought him, Morgan was reluctant to write the book. “I always thought writing a book was something you did when you were done, when your career was finished,” Morgan says. However, one of his managers persuaded him the right time was now.
Morgan collaborated on the book with Jim DeFelice, a co-writer on U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle’s autobiography American Sniper.
“I told my publisher I didn’t have the time, patience or skillset to write a book by myself. They said, ‘We’ll get you a ghost writer,’ but I was not crazy about that concept,” Morgan says. “I think it’s a little bit cheaty to tell someone I wrote a book when someone else wrote it for me. I asked for a co-writer who has at least a basic knowledge of the military because there’s a lot of acronyms, a lot of definitions. Jim’s name was on the list, and he had written American Sniper. I know Chris Kyle’s wife, so I was immediately drawn to him to write this story with.”
Whether serving in a variety of military or undercover roles, or releasing music, helping and supporting others is central to Morgan’s mission.
His new deluxe album, which came out Nov. 11 via BBR Music Group, shares its name with his memoir. In addition to a selection of his signature songs such as “The Father, My Son and the Holy Ghost” (which Morgan wrote after the 2016 death of his son Jerry) and “That’s What I Love About Sunday,” the project includes four new songs, most notably the character-building “How You Make a Man,” which focuses on the inner-virtues that are forged through both joys and heartaches.
“Really, it should have been called ‘How You Make a Person,’” Morgan says. “Hardships and failing, these are not always bad things, and we’ve gotten away from that idea. Sometimes we go through those things to become a better person.”
New track “I May Drink a Little” offers a non-judgmental look at someone living their life as best as they can.
“A lot of that has to do with where I am in my life. As we grow, all those things influence the music. ‘I may drink a little, but I still love Jesus,’ I mean, it’s a fact. Think there’s a lot of people that feel that way. I just love that the song says, ‘I know I’m not perfect, but I am trying my best.’”
His book clarifies that while he approached his music and songwriting with the heart of a creator, Morgan, who is handled by Red Light Management, approached his career with the clear-eyed, no-nonsense approach of a businessman—which has also meant diversifying his work ventures. He previously operated the woodshop Gallery at Morgan Farms in Dickson, Tenn., hosted All Access Outdoors for several seasons on The Outdoor Channel, and led Morgan Family Strong series.
“I got into the business to make a living. I have a family, so it was important to me to be able to make a living at it,” he says. “In the book, I talk about wanting to be a writer and create songs—being an artist came after the fact. So many people get into this business wanting to be a star that they forego what it takes to run the machine. The best advice I can give to new artists is to remember that it’s a business. Have fun and enjoy it, but it’s a business.”
He also advises younger artists to “have a life outside of this or it will engulf you. You could say that about anything—if you are a banker and you do nothing else with your life, it’ll take you over. You have to be able to diversify.”
Morgan recently closed out his God, Family, Country Tour 2022 by selling out his first headlining show at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. The Veterans Day show included guests Adkins, Jelly Roll and Ray Fulcher. He’s also filming a role in Savage Lands, a movie based on the life of Davy Crockett. Morgan plays trapper Davis Bridger. “It’s a small role and it’s not far from my skillset. I’ve trapped before,” he says.
As for future movies, he would be interested in “action, adventure movies, maybe even a comedy,” he says. He’s bingeing NBC crime thriller The Blacklist and even though he’s only on season two, says, “I would love to have a character role in something like that.”
He’s also in conversations to turn his memoir into a movie—after all, American Sniper turned into a Clint Eastwood-directed blockbuster starring Bradley Cooper. “We’re in the ‘give us the pitch’ phase. We weren’t even finished with the book and people were talking about it,” Morgan says. “The fact that we’re even having this conversation about a potential movie about my life is amazing.”