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Blue-collar hero emerges out of Nashville

July 28, 2011
By MIKE?PALMER - The Ticket , Times Leader

When turning on the radio in you car, have you ever found yourself checking the setting to make sure it was tuned to a "Country" station and asking, "What ever happened to traditional country music?" Recalling classic outlaw lyrics like Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison Blues, "But I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die," are you considering anteing up for a satellite radio?

Well, hold off on that purchase just a while, because a blue-collar hero is emerging out of Nashville. His name is Sean Patrick McGraw. Unashamed of his cowboy hat, this previous Nashville Star semi-finalist describes his music as "beer-soaked honky-tonk poetry."

While he is well received by audiences wherever he travels, it is his skill at writing gritty traditional songs that may have finally earned him entrance into the "Country Club" of Nashville's music industry. The GAC channel reviewed his recent EP released in early April saying, "Sean Patrick McGraw just may be one of country music's best-kept secrets, but don't expect that to last for too long after the release of his second EP, My So Called Life." If you were at Jamboree in the Hills on Sunday afternoon, you heard the title track, but McGraw was not there to sing it. The multi-award winning duo of Eddie Montgomery and Troy Gentry introduced it as a single to be released off of their ninth album.

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"I have heard the studio cut and it sounds great," said McGraw of the duo's recording of his song. "It will be a chance to make some money and it just might get me into the Nash-Vegas Gentleman's Club, so to speak."

A native of a small steel mill town an hour's drive outside of Buffalo, New York, he has worked hard pursuing his dream of becoming a country music star. Touring in his personal SUV towing a trailer full of equipment, "Not a bus," he quips and playing his music in front of crowds in small bars paying his dues. "I'll pretty much play anywhere I have a chance to sell a few CDs and make a few new fans," added McGraw, noting that, "I'm not related to Tim."

In 2003 McGraw responded to the cattle-call auditions of USA Networks "Nashville Star." winning the regional competition at the Wildhorse Saloon, yet enjoying only a brief stint on the televised portion of the series, "It was one of those blink and you missed it things," said McGraw who began touring in earnest after a flurry of local news coverage in upstate New York following his moment in the spotlight.

In 2005 he released his CD "Songs for Saturday Night," and in 2006 he received some recognition for his song writing winning first place at the Independent Music Awards 2006, Great American Song Competition, Mountain Stages New Song Festival, as well as being named finalist in the International Songwriting Competition and the Mid-Atlantic Song Competition.

The album was featured in the short-length documentary, "Ten Days on Tour which aired on the CMT network in 2006. "It turned out to be more of an infomercial for Prilosec," chuckled McGraw. "It was overtly like a commercial for them, but the people at CMT have been very helpful."

The network picked up on his 2008 release of the independent album 2008's "Long Way From Slowin' Down" and live performances of tracks from that release are featured on CMT's "Unplugged Sessions at Studio 330."

The video for his self-produced track "Dollar Ain't Worth a Dime" was added to CMT in May of that year and as a result the singer was hastily added to the line-up at the third annual Stagecoach Festival in Indio, California, "When I heard about the concert, I thought I might be on one of the side stages," McGraw said in an interview, "To my surprise we were on the main stage in front of 40,000 people and we were well received."

His opening set prompted a rave review in the LA Times' by columnist August Brown, "His early contender of a hit, 'A Dollar Ain't Worth a Dime,' is one of the first of what will surely be many recession themed laments, but unlike John Rich's 'Shutting Detroit Down,' McGraw keeps his sociology enticingly vague, warning that 'People do desperate things in desperate times/ if a man don't turn to Jesus, he'll turn to crime,' but it doesn't feel like Christian proselytizing - more an acknowledgment that neither course of action is likely to help in the long run."

That exposure in turn lead to a spot on "America's Toughest Tour" opening over twenty dates for Toby Keith and Trace Adkins, as well as an invitation to perform on Jimmy Kimmel Live in July of 2009.

"We had good reviews on the Toby tour," said McGraw of the experience. "We had one show in Scranton, PA where the crowd was so loud during my show that I had to unplug my earpieces, the feed was hurting my ears."

Dispelling any rumors that Keith may have dropped him from the opening line up due to his popularity with the crowds Sean said, "Toby is not like that, he is a very professional and supportive perosn, he personally had everything to do with me staying on that tour. We did the whole Northeast and New England portion of the tour with Toby and I can't thank him enough for the opportunity."

McGraw then joined the Jagermeister Country Tour featuring Nashville singer-songwriter Eric Church with special guest Josh Thompson in 2010 as opening act, winning some new fans along the way, despite his objection that it is, "The tour nobody ever remembers."

McGraw and his band keep pace with 150 plus shows annually and the release of My So Called Life by Montgomery Gentry comes just as the artist is racking up several other key accomplishments.

Clear Channel, parent company for local country station WOVK and WWVA, named him a 2011 "New: Artist To Watch." Two of his songs were used during the 2010 season of the hit HBO-series "True Blood," and "Git Yer Cowboy On," the hard-charging party track that opens My So Called Life, was used to kickoff Westwood One's presentation of the 2011 Super Bowl.

Sean noted that he has printed out comments from his Facebook page, "These are all positive posts from people who like my show," said Patrick adding that the print out added up to over 75 pages.

This year he rejoined the Jagermeister tour as one of the opening artists on the East Coast version featuring Dierks Bentley. His biography states: It's a crazy life, and McGraw looks upon it with bemused satisfaction in "My So Called Life," reflecting, "Some days I own this town, other days it shoots me down/Always I'm still hanging round, holdin' on to hope."

Expertly depicting the driving pace of his "Honky Tonk Life," McGraw stubbornly continues to hope as his songs continue to get airtime on both CMT and GAC television: "I could quit all this road stuff, go back to my real job, put in a straight 9 to 5/But I love the neon, I love the people, and I love the Honky Tonk Life." For Sean Patrick McGraw, the honky tonk life is the only life. "I never gave myself a plan B," he says. "I never decided to grow up. I never got anything the easy way, and I'm proud of that."

And while he has never had the opportunity to play at Jamboree in the Hills he has driven by it on I-70 several times and he stated, "I hope it happens, it sounds like my kind of crowd."

He puts it very well on his bio page: Though he's well seasoned as an opening act, sharing the stage with Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Patty Loveless, Pat Green, and Miranda Lambert, he's not above gratis gigs in grungy clubs along the way, playing for nothing more than the hope of selling five CDs or winning a handful of new fans.

"For all the good days I ever had working in a factory," McGraw says, "I'd rather have a lousy day in the middle of nowhere singing 'Sweet Home Alabama' anytime. Not out of laziness-" he adds, "I'm all about hard work. I just want that hard work done with a guitar in my hand as opposed to a hammer or a shovel." Hard work it is, and not just up on stage. Whether behind the wheel or on the phone booking gigs, McGraw creates his own success with the tenacity to never give up.

For fans of the grit and rawness that 'old school' Nashville artists had, McGraw is a breath of fresh air in a world where candy coated pop passes for country. For this fan of the genre's Outlaws, it is comforting to know that there are still artists like Sean Patrick McGraw, who are not all consumed with being the next polished and shiny big cross-over star, they are happy being "Just plain country."



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