Scott Garfield, AP
'Country Strong' was an idea that Mark had actually gotten from an interview he saw with Steve McNair, who was the former Tennessee Titans quarterback. It was 2001, and it was the year that Mark and I went to the Super Bowl. Steve kept getting hurt and injured. They asked him, "How do you keep playing when you're hurt?" Steve said, "Well the boys on the team call me 'Country Strong.'" He was from Mississippi, so he had this thick, southern drawl when he talked. 'Country Strong' was his nickname.
Before that day, I had been sitting in the kitchen. I had gotten up early that morning, and I was sitting there with my guitar. This melody fell out of me. There was nothing that inspired it other than just picking up the instrument, and melodically it fell out. When I ran it by Mark after the Super Bowl, he said, "I think I've got an idea for that melody." He thought the chorus melody I had was perfect for his 'Country Strong' title. We took the title and the chorus melody to Tony, and the three of us finished the song together.
At that time, we were writing for me. I had not signed my first record deal at that time; I was just writing. When I eventually landed my deal at Capitol Records, that song just didn't fit my first record and the direction we went. I didn't end up cutting it.
The song jumped around quite a bit over the years. It was cut by Miranda Lambert when she was on 'Nashville Star.' Had she won, that would have been her first single, but Buddy Jewell won that year, so that never happened. Then it was cut by a couple of other artists through the years. It sat there forever.
When the movie came up, Sony, my publisher and Tony's publisher pitched them 'Country Strong.' They were looking for songs for a specific theme. The music supervisor for the movie fell in love with the song. He felt it would work for Gwyneth Paltrow's character. They cut it, and it took on a new life.
The movie was originally supposed to be called 'Love Don't Let Me Down,' but they changed it to 'Country Strong' after hearing the song. It became this important part of the movie. That song has been on quite a journey. We could not have dreamed that scenario.