When Capts. Andrew Yacovone and Justin Wright, two Army Rangers who moonlight as the country-music duo Interstate 10, performed at the USO’s 75th anniversary reception in Washington, D.C., in 2016, they didn’t really expect to leave as Nashville songwriters.
But they were determined to try.
Craig Morgan, the country singer and Grand Ole Opry member who has endeared himself to U.S. servicemen and women for his own military service with the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, was the featured guest at the gala, and Yacovone and Wright had a plan to pitch him a song. With the help of the USO public affairs officer, the active-duty soldiers — Yacovone is stationed in Stuttgart, Germany; Wright is at Fort Campbell, Kentucky — met Morgan backstage and told him flat-out that he wasn’t leaving until he wrote a song with them.
“I can’t tell you how many hundreds of people have come up to me with an idea for a song, but there was something special about that night and these two guys. It was an energy,” Morgan tells Rolling Stone during a joint Zoom interview with Yacovone and Wright.
“We were plotting how to get Craig alone to do some jamming and we decided we’d just straight up ask him to write with us,” says Wright.
“We already had it planned out,” Yacovone says. “On my phone, we had our song ideas. I read through the list and Craig stopped at ‘Sippin’ on the Simple Life.’ He said, ‘Tell me what that is.'”
Yacovone and Wright filled Morgan in on the gist of the song, a breezy escapist track that the soldiers say was inspired by long stretches away from home. In addition to going through training together at Fort Benning, Georgia, they served alongside each other for two tours in Afghanistan.
“In the army, you go through these times where you have to get inside your mind and find the light at the end of the tunnel,” Wright says. “You’re often thinking of all the places you dream up in the summertime back at home. A lot of our [song] ideas are all about that. We’ve been through Ranger school together and two deployments in Afghanistan. During those times, I’m just like, ‘Man, I want to be on the beach. I want to be sippin’ on the simple life.'”
Morgan was sold and recruited his bandleader Mike Rogers to help turn the soldiers’ rough sketch into a fully formed song right there on the spot. Morgan says “Sippin’ on the Simple Life” reminded him of “Redneck Yacht Club,” his 2005 radio smash.
“As much as I love that song and it was a big hit for us, I feel like this is a better song. The imagery is so much clearer and so much more relatable,” Morgan says. “You don’t have to have water to sip on the simple life. You can do that anywhere.”
But after the impromptu writing session, Yacovone and Wright didn’t hear much more about it. As far as they knew, “Sippin’ on the Simple Life” dried up. Then Wright got a call at his office in Fort Campbell two years to the day from when they wrote it. It was Morgan, telling him he was going to record the song for his next album, the just released God, Family, Country, and asking him to attend the session.
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Us jamming "Hometown Hero" at @theuso 75th Anniversary Kickoff event in Washington, DC! Get "Hometown Hero" on iTunes and Spotify today!!! #ranger #hometownhero #hometown #usoconnects #makingmoves #army #guitarist #singing #nashville @cmorganmusic #craigmorgan #interstate10music #i10music
“I had flipped out. I told my chain of command, ‘Sir, I have to tell you about this thing that has happened,” says Wright, who asked for and received approval to travel to Nashville to join Morgan in the studio.
For Morgan, the chance to collaborate with the soldiers on something as simple as a song underscores the unshakable bond shared by both active-duty and veteran service members.
“Even though the three of us didn’t serve together — I wasn’t in Afghanistan with them and they weren’t with me in Panama — we share a relationship,” he says. “There is something unique about that and is difficult to put into words. We have a sense of loyalty to each other that is shared unlike any other occupation in the world.”
Now, they also all share a songwriting credit.
“I thought, ‘God, they had the balls to come up to me and say, ‘We’re writing this,'” Morgan says. “But it was fun and I thank God it happened because of where we’re at now with this song.”