" ... Something that great in my life coming to a close is kinda - it was a bummer," the hard-touring artist said. "But it was a great summer and great spring, and being part of that was something else. I think it was pivotal in my career. It was a blast, too."
Times are good for Cagle. His debut album, Play It Loud, was re-released last year when Capitol Records acquired his services from Virgin Nashville. The disc was still in the top 20 on SoundScan's new artist album chart after 73 weeks.
He has been on the road for most of the last 18 months and earning the kind of notices that got the attention of Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn, who personally invited Cagle to join them on this year's version of their Neon Circus package along with Dwight Yoakam, Trick Pony, and Gary Allan.
"Ronnie said the way they did that was chart success and album sales, and they called the talent buyers and the fair people across America and they said that my name kept coming up as the guy to get. So, that's how it happened," Cagle explained.
But it's not just Cagle's high-energy performance that won Brooks & Dunn over. "Ronnie really, really likes Chris," manager Marky Hybner told POLLSTAR, "and not just because of the fact that he's a great entertainer; he likes his songwriting."
Cagle wrote or co-wrote most of his debut album and also is bucking the recent trend in Nashville of singers who primarily appeal to young women, though it wasn't necessarily by design.
"It's a funny thing," Hybner said. "We did the album and kind of thought that was what it was going to do. But all of a sudden, because of the way it was produced or the way it played, I guess, it sounds somewhat like an '80s rock album.
"And all of a sudden, these 25- to 40-year-old men are all listening and saying, 'That's a great record.' I think the music went in one direction and the lyrics went in another. It made for a good combination. We did not expect to get the 25- to 40-year-old males."
Cagle's both philosophical and sure about his cross-gender appeal.
"I believe I'm a mirror of the working man with a dream. In fact, I don't doubt that at all," he explained. "I think the guys see themselves in me and I see myself back in them when I'm standing on stage. I don't threaten men because I won't take the girl, you know what I'm sayin'?
"At the same time, they get their honey out on a night, they come out, they want to party and I sing a love song and they love on each other. The [couples] dance with each other and on the other tunes, the guys high five each other and the whole nine yards.
"It's just important to me because I feel like, in country music, we didn't quite turn our back, yet we turned a shoulder, to the men in our posture [to cater] more to women because of purchasing trends. I feel like that's unfair."
So he rocks the girls and the boys. And the rock 'n' roll influence in Cagle's music is unmistakable. Listen to his single "Country by the Grace of God" and one can detect a hint of Guns N' Roses.
"When I was a kid, I tried to join every rock 'n' roll band I could. I wanted to be in a rock band because it seems like a different life. But the deal is ... geography. (Cagle was born in Louisiana but now hails from Houston.) I'm country, man. I can't help it," Cagle said, laughing.
He might be country by the grace of God, but the rock star within had to be happy with the choice of Play It Loud producer Robert Wright, who worked with GNR and Prince before trying his luck in Nashville. And the match worked.
"[Wright] is young ... and now he's landed in Nashville," Hybner said. "But at the same time, he produced another album in New York for a group called Dead Vulture Scum!"
Cagle and Wright will team back up for a second album, and Cagle knows it will be a crucial one.
"This next record is the thing that everybody looks at and says, 'OK, is he really real, or did he get lucky?' And, of course, my answer to that is yes to both. I did get lucky and I am real," Cagle said.
Before they hit the studio in the fall, though, Cagle will join Brad Paisley on the CMT Most Wanted Live tour. He expects his next single out in January and an album release in February. Then it's out on the road again.
"It looks like just about everybody from Nashville is actually going to be touring next year, so we're pretty sure we're going to hook up with somebody. We've gotten two or three calls already. We'll take a look at them all," Hybner said.
Having had his first taste of arena touring with the Neon Circus, Cagle seems ready for more. And despite claiming to have a mild case of post-tour blues, you couldn't tell just before his July 27th set at the WE Fest in Detroit Lakes, Minn. By coincidence, he was scheduled to go on just before one of the rock bands he cites as an early influence.
"We're opening for the Doobie Brothers, man! We are opening for the Doobie Brothers today! We feel like kids, man."