Country star Tim McGraw says his TV special, "Sing Me Home" -- which airs at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 27, on NBC -- features mostly concert footage.
But skulking around his home town of Start, La., the crew was also able to get the skinny about McGraw from those who knew him way back when.
"Oh, they got it all out -- they even found the lady in the lunch room at my school," McGraw, 35, says by telephone from the Nashville home he shares with his wife, fellow singer Faith Hill, and their three young children. "It's a good thing I'm the executive producer; I could make sure nothing too embarrassing got in there."
But, McGraw adds, there was little chance of that happening, anyway.
"I'm proud of where I'm from and proud of the people where I'm from," he says. "I'm glad we got to take people there to see it. It was cool to be there, playing; I could stand on the stage and see the two water tower and the school I went to."
Of course, these days McGraw is a strong enough draw that the population of Start swelled from 200 to 30,000 for the concert, which was held near a cotton field on the town outskirts. That's not surprising; since 1993 McGraw has sold more than 25 million copies of his six albums and has scored 19 No. 1 country singles, along with a trophy room's worth of industry awards.
The TV special coincides with next Tuesday's release of "Tim McGraw and the Dancehall Doctors," a new album (and companion book) on which McGraw says he set out to push the creative envelope and "to do something that energized me musically, something I could really get excited about."
To record "Dancehall Doctors," McGraw used his touring band rather than studio musicians, which is the Nashville norm; guitarist Darran Smith even served as co-producer with McGraw and Byron Gallimore on the 15-song set, which was recorded in New York's Catskill Mountains.
"Studio musicians are great; they're the best musicians in the world, and they'll lay it down in a heartbeat," explains McGraw. "But I wanted a sound you couldn't get unless you had a bunch of guys who played together on the road for eight or 10 years, like (Dancehall Doctors) have.
"This is more honest than I've ever sang on a record, and it comes out of playing with these guys. When I hear the record, I can hear a lot of the years and on the road, and you can hear the influence they've had on me, playing 240 shows a year."
"Dancehall Doctors" features a cover of Elton John's "Tiny Dancers" -- which has been a McGraw concert favorite -- and guest appearances by Don Henley and Timothy B. Schmit of the Eagles and Kim Carnes.
The album's first single, "Red Ragtop," has raised a few eyebrows. Written by Jason White, the slice-of-life song includes explicit reference to an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, an abortion and its aftermath -- not standard topics in the increasingly sanitized world of country.
But McGraw -- whose first hit, 1994's "Indian Outlaw," angered some Native American activists -- doesn't anticipate a great deal of fuss over the new song.
"It's a great story song," he says. "It's about life; last time I checked, that's what country music's supposed to be about. It doesn't jump up and down and scream at you. It doesn't preach. It certainly doesn't make a choice for you in any direction. It's just a joy to listen to.
"And any time a song stirs you and makes you think, then it's a great thing."
"Dancehall Doctors" is accompanied by a colorful, 165-page book, "This is Ours," that includes reflections from and photos of McGraw and his band. "I've always been a big fan of album packages, not just a head shot and a bunch of pictures," says McGraw, who's also planning to write a book about fatherhood.
"I knew I couldn't get everything I wanted into the CD booklet, so why not make a huge album cover -- a book that's, I guess, a companion to the record? So that's what we did."
McGraw and Dancehall Doctors plan to begin a concert tour in mid-March.