Although Darryl Worley has only released three albums, he has already been nominated for three Country Music Awards. With a style that hearkens back to classic country artists like Merle Haggard and George Jones, he appeals to both traditional country audiences and younger listeners, who respond to his honesty and authenticity.
Worley grew up in rural Hardin County, Tennessee, in a musical family. His father's side included traveling singers and music teachers. He had aunts who played the piano and sang, and his grandfather sang songs written by his brothers, uncles, and cousins. His mother's father made moonshine and ran a nightclub called Oakdale. "I started playing harmonica when I was five because of him," Worley wrote in his website biography. With his grandfather's encouragement, he began to play the guitar when he was nine. His brothers also played and sang, and the three boys sang in church, with Worley as the lead. "[W]e still get together and do three-part harmony jams," Worley wrote.
When Worley was a teenager, his father quit his job at a paper mill to become a minister, a move that plunged the family into sudden poverty as the family followed him from one preaching job to the next. Worley's mother, Bonnie, even left her husband temporarily. Worley recalled in his website biography, "There were times when we had just what milk was left in the jug and what cereal was left in the box. We were away from our home area for five years." Resentful and confused because he had been taken away from his friends, Worley found solace in his music.
He moved on to study at Martin Methodist College and the University of North Alabama, where he majored in biology and minored in organic chemistry. He paid his way through school by laboring at a local paper mill, doing construction, and working as a commercial fisherman on the Tennessee River. At the same time, he formed a country band, singing classic country songs at the Back Porch Restaurant in Shiloh, Tennessee. He went from that gig to singing at the local Moose Lodge and American Legion hall. "You name it, I played 'em," he commented on his website.
After graduating from college with a degree in biology, Worley began working as a research biologist in Tuscumbia, Alabama, then returned to Hardin County to sell cars and teach school. After that he sold chemicals for a company in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, before forming his own chemical supply company. While working these jobs, however, he continued to write songs and make tapes with his friends.
A friend, Steve Bigbee, offered Worley $1,000 to make a studio tape. He accepted the offer, and the demo tapes led to a songwriting contract with FAME publishing, based in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. He quit his job to focus on songwriting, and had some success, with singers including George Jones, Archer Park, and the Hutchins recording his songs. By 1994, however, he still felt that he was going nowhere and returned to Hardin County to work for his brother's landscaping business. He'd cut and clear timber by day, but write songs by night and perform on the weekends.
The time at home was valuable, Worley noted on his website. "During that time I wrote what I think are some of my best songs…. Eventually, I thought, 'I'm not going to exist without music being a huge part of my life.'" His father encouraged him, saying, "If you're still thinking about that music thing, you'd better do it now. If you don't, you'll be trapped by life's responsibilities," Worley recalled to Diane Samms Rush for the Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service. In his off time, he'd drive to Nashville, the hub of the country music business, to work with other songwriters. One of them was Jason Houser, who worked for the music publishing company EMI. When Houser heard some of Worley's songs, he offered him a contract.
Worley never look back. When his early studio sessions attracted the attention of Nashville recording executives, he invited them to hear his show at the Savannah, Tennessee, Moose Lodge. James Stroud, head of DreamWorks records, was one of them. Worley has been with DreamWorks ever since.
Worley's debut album was released in 2000. He noted to Rush that he came from "middle-class, hardworking people" and with country music's evolution toward a younger, hipper sound "there hasn't been much for them to listen to." Hard Rain Don't Last, which emphasized the lives of ordinary working people, was intended to fill this gap. Worley cowrote ten of the album's 12 songs, including "When You Need My Love," the story of an old girlfriend, now married to someone else, who needs a shoulder to cry on. Another, "Those Less Fortunate than I," reminds listeners to have compassion for the poor. "A Good Day to Run" tells about the urge to escape a dead-end life. In a Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service article, Mario Tarradell wrote that Worley's "nasal twang and traditional-country tunes immediately cast him as a welcome throwback to the era of legends such as George Jones and Merle Haggard." Although the album led to three radio hits, however, it sold modestly.
On May 11, 2001, Worley married his wife, Beverly, whom he had known for many years. She had attended school with his younger brother. The two built a cabin in the heart of Worley's beloved Tennessee hills.
For the Record . . .
Born on October 31, 1964, in Memphis, TN; son of Tommy and Bonnie Worley; married Beverly Dean, 2001. Education: Attended Martin Methodist College; graduated from University of North Alabama, with a biology degree.
Worked at a paper mill, in construction, and as a commercial fisherman while playing local gigs; held jobs as a research biologist, car salesman, teacher, and chemical supply representative before releasing first album, Hard Rain Don't Last, 2000; released I Miss My Friend, 2002; released Have You Forgotten?, 2003.
Addresses: Record company— DreamWorks Nashville, 1516 16th Ave. S., Nashville, TN 37203. Website— Darryl Worley Official Website: http://www.darrylworley.com.
Tarradell called Worley's second album, I Miss My Friend, released in 2002, "even better" than the first, and praised Worley as "confident in his songwriting, his delivery, and his style of timeless country music…. But what resonates most on I Miss My Friend is the honesty on every track." Worley's lyrics come from personal experience; even on songs that he didn't write, he makes sure that he has a personal connection to the lyrics. Although he didn't write the title track, for example, which tells about the end of a relationship, Worley recorded it as a way of saying goodbye to an old girlfriend who died in a car crash. Unfortunately, this album, like the first, sold modestly.
In spring of 2003 Worley's song "Have You Forgotten?" became a hit, shooting to number one on the Billboard country charts during the week that the Iraq war began—the fastest climb to that position in five years. Worley's lyrics, inspired by his visit to troops in Afghanistan during the 2002 holiday season, vividly recalled the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, asking, "Have you forgotten when the towers fell?" The song expresses Worley's support for the war against the Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein. It was featured on an album with the same title, the cover of which depicted Worley in front of a waving American flag. In addition, the album was officially dedicated to the American military forces, and photos in the liner notes showed Worley in battle fatigues. "It's pretty in your face," he told Jim Farber of the Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.
Some stations, however, refused to play the song because their managers perceived it as pro-war. In an interview with Fox News's Hannity and Colmes transcribed by America's Intelligence Wire, Worley disagreed, telling Alan Colmes, "It's a pro-American song," adding, "[w]e wrote the song as a reminder of the horrible attack on our nation of 9/11. But more than that, to honor those troops who take care of our country and keep it free." Worley told Farber that he realized that such political sentiments could be risky. "I know a lot of people are going to experience my music for the first time through this song. But I didn't get into this business to be a politician."
Worley was nominated for three Country Music Awards in 2003: Single of the Year, Song of the Year—both for "Have You Forgotten?"—and the Horizon Award, which is given to the performer who has shown the most career growth in the preceding year. Winners were announced on November 5, 2003; Worley, unfortunately, failed to take home an award that night.
Worley works hard to balance his desire to be a quiet, religious example to others, and a star performer. On his website he wrote, "My parents did a wonderful job of instilling spiritual values in me, but from both sides of the family, I've got these genes that make me want to go out and honky-tonk. I'm fighting myself constantly. I want to be this Christian guy who sets an example nobody can deny. Then I catch myself just wanting to rip and roar. What do you do?"
Hard Rain Don't Last, DreamWorks, 2000.
I Miss My Friend, DreamWorks, 2002.
Have You Forgotten?, DreamWorks, 2003.
America's Intelligence Wire, March 1, 2003.
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, August 10, 2000, p.
K3637; July 16, 2002, p. K5308; April 16, 2003, p. K1791.
"Darryl Worley Facts," Country Music, http://www.country music.about.com/library/bldworleyfacts.htm (September 29, 2003).
Darryl Worley Official Website, http://www.darrylworley.com, (August 28, 2003).
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