After 20 years in the fast lane, country star Tim McGraw says his latest hit is about something that matters most to him: a place to call home.
McGraw recently landed his 50th top 10 hit with “Meanwhile Back at Mama’s,” a song he performs with his wife of 17 years, Faith Hill. In an exclusive interview with NBC’s Cynthia McFadden, McGraw talked about his appreciation of home and family.
“It’s just a song about going somewhere that makes you feel good,” McGraw says. “Being back to some stability and some anchor in your life. That’s what home is.”
The boy who grew up poor in Start, Louisiana, today calls a 700-acre ranch outside Nashville home. The sprawling estate is featured in the music video for the hit song.
The video also includes McGraw’s superstar wife, whom he credits with changing his life. Without Hill, McGraw tells McFadden, “I probably wouldn’t have a life right now, I’d probably be gone I’m sure, because it was pretty wild for a while.”
Still McGraw agreed to sit down while performing in Dallas to call attention to cause very close to his heart: providing homes for veterans who need them. Over the past several years McGraw used his celebrity to make a difference in the lives of others, teaming up with Chase and Operation Homefront to award mortgage-free homes to veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Families selected for the program have two years to prove they can handle the responsibilities of homeownership, then are given the home free and clear.
“It doesn’t matter what side of the fence you call on, what your politics are,” McGraw explains, standing on the empty stage at Dallas’ Gexa Energy Pavilion on a sweltering night, “What matters is these guys go out and take care of our butts.”
BJ Frachiseur is one of those guys. Frachiseur served for eight years in the U.S. Army — serving in both Afghanistan and Iraq. His high school sweetheart, Brooke, raised their two small children.
When Frachiseur left the service, the couple had little money saved, and did not qualify for a VA loan.
The Frachiseurs desperately wanted to stay in East Texas to raise their children near their families. But the young couple couldn’t scrape together the money for down-payment on a home or qualify for a mortgage. The family of four ended up squeezed into a small guest room at Brooke’s mother’s home.
That’s when McGraw and Operation Homefront came to the rescue --- as they have for 99 other military families.
When a friend told Brooke about the program, she applied online, never imagining she’d find an available home right in their backyard, in Whitehouse, Texas.
“We got a call the day after Christmas, and we kinda felt like it-- was gonna be bad news,” Brooke remembers.
But it wasn’t. The Frachiseurs had been chosen to receive a home in the community where they’d grown up.
“There was a lot of screaming and tears,” Brooke says.
The Frachiseurs moved in with their two small children in May.
“Words cannot, you know, express how much this has taken a weight off my shoulders,” BJ says, “I’ll go home, and I’ll say, oh, I’m going to my house. My house. Watching my kids play in the back yard and say, ‘Oh, this is my house.’ My house. Awesome.”
Tim Farrell, the CEO of Operation Homefront, says McGraw’s involvement in the program has made a huge difference in the effort to raise awareness of the difficulties facing many of the more than 1 million service members who will transition out of the military by 2016.
“Tim is so genuine, and you just can’t fake that,” says Farrell. “When you see him around our military families, the eye contact he makes, the look in his eye when he gets to shake their hand.”
But there was one last surprise awaiting the Frachiseurs: Operation Homefront invited them to attend McGraw’s recent Dallas concert. With the heat reaching well over 100 degrees, McGraw surprised the Frachiseurs by introducing them from the stage and asking the concert goers to show their support for BJ’s service. The crowd went wild.
McGraw, whose sister, uncle and grandfather are all veterans, says the program is his way of giving back, and that meeting the 100 veterans has left an incredible mark on him.
“They all— they don’t expect it. They don’t think they deserve it,” McGraw says. “The thing I’ll try to tell them is that, ‘You deserve everything good comes to you in life. And take this, and build a life with it.’”
NBC’s Cynthia McFadden will have more tonight on Nightly News with Brian Williams.