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DARRYL WORLEY – Country Music Singer

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Just a few years ago, Darryl Worley considered himself an unknown on the country music scene. But when the six-foot-six performer excused himself at a music-industry banquet at Nashville’s Opryland Hotel to visit the men’s room, he was stunned to hear fans in the lobby calling his name and asking him to stop and talk.

“It was amazing,” Darryl marvels. “It’s like they knew something was going to happen to me. It was the very first time someone recognized me, so I stayed and talked to those people. I still do that – I just can’t tear myself away from the fans. I love them. They’ve changed my whole career. Now I’ve just got one objective – to make this music and get it to these people.”

At the time, he had recently released his debut radio track, “When You Need My Love,” from his inaugural DreamWorks Records disc, Hard Rain Don’t Last. When he went on tour and performed the song, Darryl Worley was surprised to hear the fans singing along. “My Love” rose to the Top 15 of Billboard’s Top Country albums chart, and the momentum continued when fan requests drove his next radio outing, “A Good Day To Run,” to #12. Then, the wistful, evocative “Second Wind” (Top 20) became his “career song,” the one that audiences request more than any other.

When the ballad “I Miss My Friend” emerged as the first radio track from Darryl’s second DreamWorks project, I Miss My Friend, it immediately rose up the charts, with the video hitting #1 – when the dust settled he had two CMT Flameworthy award nominations.

I Miss My Friend (released July 16, 2002) is the work of a fully assured artist. It’s as complex and colorful as the man who made it. The tender, moving title cut, for instance, contrasts markedly with the party atmosphere of “Tennessee River Run” and the rampaging rhythms of “Callin’ Caroline.” Darryl Worley tugs at honky-tonk heartstrings on such down-home numbers as “The Least That You Can Do,” “I Wouldn’t Mind The Shackles” and the thumping “I Built This Wall.” But he’s equally affecting in the jazz mode of “Opportunity Of A Lifetime” and the bluesy tinge of “Family Tree.” Darryl Worley is openly sentimental on “Back Where I Belong,” yet offers a smile and a wink with “Where You Think You’re Goin’?” “POW 369,” meanwhile, proves him a master interpreter of the story song.

In short, I Miss My Friend is an album of compelling depth, both lyrically and sonically. It’s also a vocal showcase. Darryl Worley’s highly expressive, note-bending style isn’t the product of studio trickery; what fans hear on the new album is a natural gift, conveyed straight from the heart.

“This time, we wanted to put my vocals out in front of the band a bit more,” he informs. “That was the spotlight, the focus, when we went into the studio. We wanted to step out on a limb and just put it right there in your face. The other thing we set out to do with this album was to show some diversity.”

This diversity mirrors Darryl’s own. He is a bundle of contrasts and contradictions. He’s a redneck with a college education. He was a successful businessman who turned his back on financial security to pursue an uncertain future in country music. He was a man-about-town who found love, marriage and domestic tranquility. He has the soul of a poet but the negotiating skills of a lawyer. Darryl Worley is devoutly religious yet loves to raise a little hell.

“It’s complicated,” he admits. “When I saw that movie ‘The Apostle,’ I saw myself in him. My parents did a wonderful job of instilling spiritual values in me, but from both sides of my 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 wanting to just rip and roar. What do you do?”

Apparently, you make music. Raised in rural Hardin County, Tennessee – the home turf of “Walking Tall” sheriff Buford Pusser – Darryl Worley comes from a long line of musicians. “Music was everywhere, on both sides of the family,” he attests. “There were music teachers and traveling minstrels on my daddy’s side. One of his uncles was a minister who taught music on the side. A couple of my aunts played piano and sang. My grandpa had this huge bass voice and would sing songs that his brothers, uncles and cousins had written.

“My Grandpa Jones, mom’s father, played banjo, made moonshine whiskey and ran a nightclub called Oakdale. I started playing harmonica when I was five because of him. I think I picked up a guitar when I was eight or nine years old because my grandpa wanted us to learn. They all encouraged us to make music part of our lives. My younger brother Barry is a great piano player and singer. My older brother Tommy is a really good guitarist, songwriter and singer. We played in church and sang in the youth choirs. And we still get together and do three-part-harmony jams.”

From childhood, Darryl Worley was the trio’s lead singer, and music sustained him during the upheaval of his teenage years. His father, Tom Worley, was in his 40s when he abruptly quit his paper-mill job to heed a call to the ministry. The family was uprooted in service to a series of low-paying preaching stints in Middle Tennessee. For a time, Darryl’s mother, Bonnie, separated from Tom and his itinerant lifestyle.

“It was a real financial crisis,” Darryl points out. “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. I was about to start high school when it all happened, so there was a lot of resentment on my part. I really didn’t understand what my father was going through. That was when I started fiddling around with rhythm and rhyme.”

His interest in songwriting blossomed at Martin Methodist College and The University Of North Alabama. Darryl Worley funded his education by working at the local paper mill, in construction and as a commercial fisherman on the Tennessee River. He also formed his own country band and landed a regular job singing the songs of Merle Haggard, George Jones, Willie Nelson and Dwight Yoakam at the Back Porch Restaurant in Shiloh, Tenn.

“I ‘graduated’ from that to The Moose Lodge and the local American Legion hall,” Darryl reports. “You name it, I played ‘em – I could make a list of beer joints as long as my arm. As soon as I graduated from college, I really started hammering away on songwriting.”

With degree in hand, he went to work as a research biologist in Tuscumbia, Ala., later returning to Hardin County briefly to teach school and sell cars. He next worked in chemical sales for a company in Baton Rouge. Then he formed a partnership with some friends and launched his own chemical-supply business. But all this time, music was tugging at his sleeve.

“I’d been writing songs and making tapes with some fellas down in Burnsville, Miss.,” he recalls. “A friend of mine named Steve Bigbee believed in my talent. He took $1,000 and said, ‘Let’s go to the studio. I want to get you on tape.’ He was the first man who ever put money into my song career. I promised him that if I ever made it, I’d buy him a grand piano. Now that I’ve been blessed with a couple of hits, I guess I’ve got a piano to buy.”

The tapes Bigbee funded led to a songwriting contract with FAME publishing in Muscle Shoals, Ala. Darryl indeed chucked the life of a prospering businessman to roll the dice as a $150-a-week songwriter. Singing now became a matter of survival. His visits to Nashville convinced him he could make more money playing where he was, so he stayed put. None other than George Jones recorded some of his early work, with Archer Park and The Hutchins doing likewise. But by 1994 Darryl Worley had begun to feel he was spinning his wheels. Even so, he remained ambivalent about moving to Music City.

“I got 13 offers as a songwriter, and everybody was interested in me as an artist. But I didn’t feel right about any of them,” he confesses. “I just had an uneasy feeling. So I went back home again and worked with my brother landscaping, clearing timber and running a chainsaw for about six months. Dad said, ‘You need to take this time to clear your mind; do a lot of soul-searching and praying and figure out if this is what you’re cut out to do.’

“During that time, I wrote what I think are some of my best songs. Every night when I finished work, I’d pick up the old Yamaha and start plunking away. Eventually, I thought, ‘I’m not going to exist without music being a huge part of my life. And I think I have a knack for this songwriter thing.’ On days when I didn’t work with my brother, I’d be up in Nashville working with co-writers. Those people never gave up on me. Jason Houser is a guy who’d worked at FAME and had gone on to EMI in Nashville. One day I saw him walking up an alley behind Music Row. I stopped my truck, made him get in and played him three songs. One of them was ‘A Good Day To Run.’ He called the following Monday and said, ‘It’s a done deal – come sign the papers.’

“That was all I’d been waiting for. I knew if I was going to write songs for real I’d have to have a place in Nashville; I knew I needed more of a presence here. When I got to EMI, I felt in my heart that this was what the good Lord wanted me to do with my life. It allowed me to pour everything I had into music and never consider giving it up again.”

The publishing company introduced him to producer Frank Rogers, who was then working on Brad Paisley’s debut disc. Darryl and Frank hit it off instantly and decided to hit the studio together. The results of those sessions pricked up ears at record labels all up and down Music Row. Executives clamored for showcase performances. Once again, Darryl Worley looked homeward: “I said, ‘You know what? If you guys want to hear me play, I play all the time. I play back home in the honky-tonks.’ So we picked the Savannah Moose Lodge on a Wednesday night and gave everybody directions.”

EMI’s Gary Overton urged James Stroud, head of DreamWorks Records Nashville, to make the trip. Pressed for time but eager to see the show, Stroud flew his private jet down to Darryl’s local airport.

“I couldn’t believe it – only crop dusters fly out of that airport,” Darryl says. “I was going by there on the way to the Moose Lodge and I glanced over and saw that plane. It was bigger than the hanger and the airport building. The funny thing was, they got out of the plane, walked into the building and said, ‘We need to rent a car.’ The guy said, ‘You ain’t gonna rent no car around here.’ And James said, ‘We’re supposed to go out to the Savannah Moose Lodge and hear this country singer, Darryl Worley.’ The guy goes, ‘Well, if you’re going to see Darryl, here, take my car,’ and threw them the keys. It’s just a testament to the kind of folks who live back there where I come from.”

To be sure, throughout his life Darryl Worley has drawn on the values he finds among his neighbors, as well as his kin. Predictably, “back home” is where he found his bride, Beverly.

“She graduated high school with my younger brother, so I’ve known her for years,” Darryl says. “She always came to the honky-tonks where I played. We were best friends for two years. She always hung out and cooked for me and the guys. We played cards. It was very platonic, no hanky-panky. It’s the only time I’ve ever had a relationship like that with a woman, and I fell in love. My dad says, ‘Isn’t it amazing how it’s so different when you do it the way you’re supposed to?’ He knew every other relationship I ever had probably started in the sack.”

Darryl and Beverly were married on May 11, 2001. They’ve built a cabin “down in a holler so deep there’s only a couple hours of sun a day.” It is, of course, out in the Tennessee countryside so dear to his heart and so close to his music.

Travels from:  Tennessee

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