Samuel Timothy McGraw was born in Delhi, Louisiana on May 1, 1967. Though he didn't know it until years later, his father was baseball player Tug McGraw, a star relief pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets who'd had a brief affair with McGraw's mother. He was raised mostly in the small town of Start, Louisiana, near Monroe, and grew up listening to a variety of music: country, pop, rock, and R&B. He attended Northeast Louisiana University on a baseball scholarship, studying sports medicine, and it was only then that he started playing guitar to accompany his singing. He played the local club circuit and dropped out of school in 1989, heading to Nashville on the same day his hero Keith Whitley passed away. He sang in Nashville clubs for a couple of years and landed a deal with Curb in 1992. His debut single, the minor hit "Welcome to the Club," was released later that year, and his self-titled debut album appeared in 1993 but failed to make the charts.
McGraw's fortunes changed with the lead single from his 1994 sophomore effort, Not a Moment Too Soon. "Indian Outlaw" was embraced as a lighthearted, old-fashioned novelty song by fans but was heavily criticized for what some regarded as patronizing caricatures of Native Americans. Despite some radio stations' refusal to air the song, it reached the country Top Ten and even crossed over to the pop Top 20. All the publicity helped send McGraw's next single, the ballad "Don't Take the Girl," all the way to the top of the country chart; it too made the pop Top 20. The album kept spinning off hits: "Down on the Farm" hit number two, the title track went to number one in 1995, and the novelty tune "Refried Dreams" also reached the Top Five. Not a Moment Too Soon was a genuine blockbuster hit, eventually selling over five million copies and topping both the country and pop album charts; it was also the best-selling country album of the year.
McGraw's follow-up, 1995's All I Want, immediately consolidated his stardom with the number one smash "I Like It, I Love It." The album topped the country chart, reached the pop Top Five, and sold over two million copies. Once again, it functioned as a hit factory thanks to the number two "Can't Be Really Gone," the number one "She Never Lets It Go to Her Heart," and the Top Five "All I Want Is a Life" and "Maybe We Should Just Sleep on It."
Over 1996, McGraw supported the album with an extensive tour, accompanied by opening act Faith Hill. In October, after the tour was over, McGraw and Hill married, in a union of country star power that drew plenty of attention from mainstream media. It doubtlessly helped McGraw's next album, 1997's Everywhere, become another crossover smash; it topped the country chart, fell one spot short of doing the same on the pop side, and sold four million copies. The lead single was a McGraw-Hill duet called "It's Your Love," which not only hit number one country, but made the pop Top Ten. Three more singles from the album -- "Everywhere," "Where the Green Grass Grows," and "Just to See You Smile" -- hit number one, and two others -- "One of These Days" and "For a Little While" -- reached number two. Meanwhile, "Just to Hear You Say That You Love Me," another husband-and-wife duet from Hill's 1998 album Faith, climbed into the Top Five.