FOR MCGRAW, IT STARTS WITH 1,000S OF SONGS.
Tim McGraw is known in Nashville as a singer with a strong song sense. That's why he and his producers plowed through a couple thousand tunes before deciding on the right material for his current best seller, ``A Place in the Sun.''
A noncomposer himself, McGraw knows right off the bat if a song is right for him.
``I've turned down songs that have been big hits for other people, but I've never regretted it,'' he said. ``I look for stuff that puts things in a way I would put it in that situation. It's a gut instinct. It's about finding things I like that affect me.''
McGraw is clearly affecting lots of other people, too. ``A Place in the Sun'' (Curb), McGraw's fifth long-player, soared to the top of both the pop and country albums charts upon release. The haunting power ballad, ``Please Remember Me,'' has been glued to the top of the country singles list for weeks.
That song, penned by Will Jennings (``My Heart Will Go On'') and Rodney Crowell, was cut twice previously - by Crowell for a solo album and as a duet by Linda Ronstadt and Aaron Neville.
``Both versions stiffed,'' Jennings said. ``Then Rodney took some songs over to (McGraw's co-producers) Byron Gallimore and his wife, Missi, and they picked it out of the pile. Tim's a powerful singer. He's got this interesting voice that delivers with a lot of passion. And they did a great job producing it.''
The Gallimores are the clearinghouse for most of McGraw's songs.
``It's a team that really works,'' McGraw, 32, offered. ``We know each other so well, personally and professionally. They work really hard with all the publishers and writers to find what's right for me.''
McGraw - who appears July 3 at the Blockbuster Pavilion with the Dixie Chicks - recently won two Academy of Country Music awards for male vocalist and vocal collaboration (for his duet with wife Faith Hill on ``Just to Hear You Say That You Love Me'').
Despite the accolades, McGraw calls himself a fan above all.
``I really appreciate songwriters,'' he says. ``I look for things I'd want to hear on the radio that I'd like to sing. Hopefully, all these elements combine in the right way.''
With album sales topping 13 million and single sales to 4 million since the release of his self-titled debut in 1992, McGraw knows his fan base reaches beyond country.
``When I cut records, I know I'm a country singer, but I also like all kinds of music, and that reflects in the tracks and melodies,'' he said last week. ``It allows people who may not be country fans to hear my music. You can get criticized for having pop success, but the good thing is, it turns more people on to country music. When pop fans get into something like the Dixie Chicks or Shania Twain, they start listening to country radio and hearing other stuff.''
McGraw is having a busy year. In addition to playing 18 stadium dates with George Strait, he kicks off his ``A Place in the Sun Tour'' with the Dixie Chicks early next month.
In addition, he hopes to play some clubs.
``I want to get back to where I started,'' he explained. ``We're definitely going to play some clubs. I don't know where or when, but we are going to do it.''
And then there's McGraw's annual New Year's Eve bash at the Nashville Arena: ``It's going to be the biggest and best show we've ever done. We're pulling out all the stops.''
Most of all though, the Louisiana-bred country star is hoping for a little downtime with the wife and kids. He and Hill live in Nashville with their two toddler daughters, Grace and Maggie.
``The main thing is some time off to be at home, take a vacation and be with the family,'' McGraw declared. ``I'd also like to do a live album at some point. And I want to coach my girls' Little League team.''
Who: Tim McGraw, Dixie Chicks.
Where: Blockbuster Pavilion, San Bernardino.
When: 7:30 p.m. July 3.
Tickets: $17 to $47.
Information: (213) 480-3232.
Photo: (1--Cover--Color) Lookin' for a HOT date?
Then Tim McGraw might be just the one, but if the country superstar isn't your type - or you like to play the field - we've plenty of other concerts, events and plays to choose from in our Summer Fun Guide.
(2) Not a songwriter himself, Tim McGraw plows through potential hits with the help of co-producers Byron and Missi Gallimore.