"I'll never be anybody's hero
A legend of a story
Or a saint that's bound for glory
I've got a soul and I use it for yearning
With a heart that skips a beat for you
And a fire that keeps on burning
I'm a simple man - and that's okay.."
Chris Cagle is an anomaly -- a blue collar, working class country singer who's not afraid to sweat or get loud. The way he sees it, it's pretty simple: it's all about holding your head high during the day and putting in good, honest work then letting it all go once you hit the honkytonk.
Chris Cagle is real. Unadorned. Broken fingernails, aching back -- ready to come right back at you. Because he knows that in the real world, there's no quarter and no excuses; just done and not getting it done. For the songwriter from Baytown, TX, a rugged knot of shoreline just outside Houston, not gettin' it done ain't even an option.
"Here's what I know," says the solidly built guitarist. "Nothing's handed to you in this world. You gotta get up every morning and fight for your place at the table. You gotta believe in your dream because nobody else will. And you have to keep going, no matter what - because it's the only way you're gonna get there."
"And if you're smart, no matter how rough it gets, you need to enjoy whatever you find along the way. You're only gonna pass this way once, so while you're hitting it hard, have some fun too. If you're having fun, it's a whole lot easier to stay in the game."
Certainly Cagle's music reflects his fight, his fire, his irrepressible desire to stay in the game -- and make music that can be the music his fans, the blue collar, the overlooked and underpaid, the just-getting-bys, can see themselves and their lives in. Chris Cagle is an album for them.
"I am my audience," the hard-charging performer explains. "I'm as romantic as every woman wants a man to be; as rough and tumble as every guy. That's the funny thing: I'm not afraid of pain in the sense of physical pain, yet the thought of walking up to a woman and having her respect that petrifies me. I'll play it all off -- that's what guys do -- but everybody wants to be the guy in the beer commercial. You know, 'Drink this and she'll love me' - but real life is a lot riskier."
Whether it's "Just Love Me," the plea of an honest man looking for the woman he loves to love him completely for what he is that sets the tone for the whole project, "I'd Be Lying," which traces the conflict of wanting to be in her arms, but not being man enough to own up to all the things he's feeling, "It Takes Two," a classic George Strait buckle-polisher that merges the dance floor with the notion that you've got to work with someone to get where you want to be, or "I Love It When She Does That," where a man is utterly taken over by love, lust and desire, Chris Cagle examines the vulnerabilities of a man seeking his place in the world. Romantic without being wimpy, he explores the depth of a real man's doubts even as he works hard to sweep the girl off her feet -- the almost country heavy-gothic "Night On The Country" with its rising chorus or the freewheeling whirl of "Chicks Dig It."
"All of what I write is grounded in real life," he continues, illuminating where the songs come from. "It's not necessarily how I experienced it, but more the way I sometimes wish things would work out, you know, make it better. And sometimes people tell me their stories -- you'd be shocked what you hear on the road -- and they're very sad. That hits me, so I try to write 'em happy endings (without using their names of course), because sometimes you write about how you'd like life to be rather than how it is."
But Cagle is also about living in the moment. The glory of right now. The blaze while you can. For the guy who's toiled as an oil field worker, mechanic, a cook, a bartender, waiter, songwriter and house framer, he knows you better deal with what's there. It's a reality he wields with pride.
"There's a lot to being a redneck It has to do with passionate pride in your country, in your people -- even when they're bad. It's standing up for what's right and being the bigger man. But it's also about not taking it when someone's out of line. It's sympathy for the downtrodden and the underdog, the beaten and the shut out. It's about chivalry for those who deserve it. It's turning the other cheek, working hard and then when that line is crossed, standing up for what you believe in."
"I am absolutely a redneck. But being a redneck is a good thing. Of course, it probably depends which side of the redneck you're on. But these are hardworking, live-and-let-live people who just wanna get the most out of life. I dig 'em."
"Scars heal, glory fades
all we're left with are the memories made
pain hurts, but only for a minute
life is short, so go on and live it
cause the chicks dig it"
Certainly his live shows reflect that no guts, no glory, do it for the bleachers attack. And if the heart of the honkytonks and the quiet of a remote field on a starry night define his extremes, Chris Cagle takes both his heart and his dreams seriously. Seriously enough to never give up.
And it's not like it was handed to the scrappy songwriter, either. Cagle understands adversity He knows what it's like to get your foot in the door and then have it slammed, having lost Virgin Records Nashville in corporate consolidation.
But like the true "backbone" Americans, the ones who keep this country moving, there were no other options for the man who won the inaugural fan-voted CMT Flameworthy "Breakthrough Artist of the Year Award" earlier this year. He clung to his dream. He kept fighting the good fight -- and he watched as each successive single met with greater success: "My Love Goes On and On" being Top 15, "Laredo" cracking the Top 5 and "I Breathe In, I Breathe Out" going #1 on the Country Singles charts.
"I only know one way to go -- and that's forward. If it's tough, well, that's tough because no one said life, or chasing your dream, was going to be easy. We're not owed anything. Don't think I take any of it for granted. I am so grateful for everything - that's probably a lot of why I push as hard as I do."
No other young artist has had such flashfire acceptance as the muscular songwriter/guitarist. His Cagleheads are the stuff fan legend is made of and his high-energy no-frills stage shows are the buzz of an industry used to the extremes of both grand spectacle and country stars who stand planted like trees.
"The work is getting the songs and the records just the way you want them," he says. "Knowing people are going to hear them, maybe even live a part of their life to them -- whether it's the first kiss or realizing it's over -- you're not going to give it any less than all you've got. And believe it or not, when I finish a song, I'm exhausted. It hurts behind my eyes and I literally have to go to sleep"
"So for us, me and my band, getting on the stage is where we get it all back. All the energy, all the excitement, all the thrills. You hit that stage, hear the fiddle whirling around the electric guitars that're slashing, those drums crashing on that opening number, and you just KNOW it's going to be a good night. As long as there are people who want to forget the week, who think they see some piece of their life in these songs, who want to have a good time, then there's nothing better in the world than being on that stage. It's intense. It's a rush. It's the best feeling in the world."
Well, next to maybe being consumed with love. In "What A Beautiful Day," the first single from the follow-up to his certified Gold debut Play It Loud, the songwriter who captures the pulse of real people everywhere, traces the trajectory of the transformative relationship we all seek. From the moment of that first awkward hello, the notion that it might stick, the decisive moment where the
girl opts not to leave when the going gets rough. "What A Beautiful Day" is the joyous celebration of Cagle's faith in how sweet life can be no matter where you're leading it.
"You have to have hope and you can't believe bad times last," says the resolute Texan. "If you fall in love and you get hurt, you're learning about love. You're learning that that might not be what you need. It's the same thing with a dream - you have to keep coming back."
At the other end of the spectrum is the aching "Look At What I've Done," a breaking ballad in the best Haggard tradition of weighing the consequences of one's actions against what ultimately comes back around. Against an acoustic guitar with an interwoven string section, this unadorned song is steeped in regret in not being enough, not being right and being the source of the pain.
"Look at what it's done to me
You gotta know it tears me up
I gave it everything I had
And it just wasn't enough
Hurting her like this just seems wrong
Look at what I've done to her
Now she's long gone"
"Look not everybody is in touch with what's going on inside them. Truthfully, I'm not always either. It's only when I'm writing, and I've got to really look at what's churning that I get there. It's easier to just live and forget about it - but it catches up with you if you do that. That's a fact"
"Take a song like 'Just Love Me,' every single line is soooo real. It's just a very simple straightforward plea, but I feel like every single man who likes my music feels that way. We're simple men and we need to feel like that's enough. You can bet every prideful, hardheaded person feels that way: let me just be what you need. I know I do."
Whether accidental clarity or not, Cagle's glimpse into the psyche of the average American male is sweeping -- "Look What I Found," "Everything," even the upside down metaphor of love as agricultural enterprise "Growing Love" address the exultation of what everyone wants in simple, direct terms. With Chris Cagle, men can be honest, strong, wanting. And by owning their needs, their doubts, their desires, they open the gates to even greater and deeper connections.
"There's an intensity to relationships that makes everything that much stronger," Cagle admits. "It's just like music - the more you surrender to its momentum, the more intense it gets. That's one thing about my music -- and I talk about the notion of pleasure and pain a lot as people know -- I want it to be every last bit it can be. I want it to be right - to be everything it should."
To make sure he gets the maximum impact, Cagle again co-produced with Robert Wright. The pair enlisted Play It Loud anchors, Texas guitarist John Carroll and keyboard veteran Gary Smith, then supplemented the session band with two string wizards: 24-year old Russian banjoist/guitarist/mandolinist Ilya Toshinskiy of Bering Strait and fiddler/mandolinist/bass mandolinist/cellist/Celtic harpist Jonathon Yudkin of the Chain-Smoking Altar Boys. With a rhythm section of Wright and drummer Chris McHugh, it maintains Cagle's bulked up country but brings in new layers of nuance.
Given his full-frontal, revved up approach to country, Chris Cagle's marked by a more melodic sense, an increased depth to the rhythm and the pocket and, most importantly, the continued honesty -- both in terms of ardor and vulnerability -- that's always marked the Texan's vocals.
"My audience is blue collar, hard worker anywhere in America. A farmer, a factory worker, a nurse, someone in an office building putting in too much time for too little money, a mechanic, an oil rig worker, every housewife figuring out how to make it work....It's every woman who starves for verbal attention from her man and every guy who doesn't know how to give it to her. If I can fill that gap, build that bridge with this music, then we're doing fine."
"See, making the music is where I feel the most alive," Cagle says with a broad smile. "Whether I'm in the studio or on a stage somewhere, when I put on that guitar, I can feel it in my veins: it just sweeps me up and takes me away. There's no feeling like it in the world -- and it drives me. I wouldn't have called the record Chris Cagle, if I didn't think it reflected all of that."