Craig Morgan
Kristin Barlowe

Being an artist is something that Craig Morgan takes a lot of pride in. But last fall, he had his doubts about whether that story would include a record label or not. The singer had just released "Wake Up Lovin’ You," and he was so sure of the song’s potential that if it didn’t do well, he was willing to embark on a different direction in his career.

“I’m going to be in this business for a long time,” the Tennessee native tells Billboard. “I finally accepted that. For a long time, I wondered whether it was the right business or not, after all the hits, and a couple of number ones."

"I want to do something in this business for a long time," he continues. "I’ve done this almost as long as I was in the Army. I love this business, absolutely love it. I will always work in it in some aspect -- whether just writing, or maybe producing. I would always sing some because I’m on the Opry. I said that if this song is not a hit, then I’m not sure if my relationship with record labels needs to continue. Maybe it’s time for me not to do record label deals anymore.”

Craig Morgan's 'Journey' Meant Revisiting Past Hits

However, his latest Black River release has performed well for the singer, prompting a smile from his face. “Then, here we are with a hit. We feel we have a No. 1 hit. The label believes that. So does our management, publicists and a lot of our friends at radio.”

The single has peaked so far at No. 18 on the Country Airplay chart, a good sign for the record. Morgan is grateful for the support, but says that he never watches the charts.

"Some artists do," he says. "But what I do watch is the reaction from the crowd. I can tell who’s playing it by the way the crowd is doing. I can tell radio has accepted it because the last few dates on our tour have sold out. You can tell it’s doing well when there are no more tickets. The last three weeks in particular have been sold out. That says a lot about the song and lets me know we’re on the right track.”

With the song doing well, Morgan admits that he does glance at the chart rankings -- just a little.

“Having said that, now that we’re in the top 20, I’ll keep an eye on it, but I still won’t watch the dailies," Morgan admits. "That’s not my job to watch the charts. My job is to write, sing, produce, entertain and do interviews. I love country radio and the people with it. Those are the things I focus on. I don’t put my energy into worrying about things. It doesn’t do any good. I’ll let the record company handle that. They do enough worrying for all of us, when it comes to the charts.”

“Wake Up Lovin’ You” also continues to score with his longtime fans, who have voiced their support of the song from day one. “They love it. They have told me that it was a hit song all along throughout. The social media that we’ve received on this has been over the top.”

The sound of the record, as well as Morgan’s dramatic vocal delivery, has attracted attention for the singer that he’s never enjoyed before. “What’s been fascinating to me is that we’ve been having hits for 14 years, and people will come up and say, ‘I didn’t know who you were, but I’m a huge new fan,'" he says. "That’s amazing, and I love that. We’ve made a lot of new fans with this song. People will remark about liking the way I sing it, which means a lot. I can’t remember in my career someone saying, ‘I just love the way you sing this song.’ They’re a lot more attentive than you might think.”

Fans have also paid attention to something else about Morgan as of late: his beard. He laughs when asked about it.

“About a year and a half ago, I went up into the Arctic for a dogsled expedition, and grew a beard for that," says the singer of his facial hair. "I came back, and everyone liked the beard. So I thought, ‘I’ll keep it for a while.’ I’ve had more people recognize me with the beard than I ever did first part of my career. So I’ve kept it. My wife likes it, I like it. It’s a lot less maintenance. I don’t have to shave every day, so it’s nice.”