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Darryl Worley Biography

Last updated: 02/11/2011 11:00:00 AM

"I'm at a point in my life where I don't mind laying it on the table. I have nothing to hide. When I'm writing, I may come up on a line that just makes me cry, or sometimes makes people uncomfortable -- but I have no choice, if it's about the truth."

Darryl Worley comes by his candor honestly. Born and raised in the heart of Hardin County, the catfish capitol of the world and one of the places vigilante lawman Buford H Pusser made his mark, the lanky baritone began witnessing life young and living it hard early. Having fully immersed himself in the tides of hard work and wild times, he's found a way to draw on his life to distill true moments into simple songs that reach deep -- and he delivers them in an almost effortless style that says "here is what I know." What Worley knows informs Hard Rain Don't Last with a clarity and resonance that is unflinching. Like all the testifiers to the way it is that have populated country music -- from Merle Haggard's shards of painful truth to Clint Black's easy-going celebration to Rodney Crowell's poetic revelations -- Darryl Worley doesn't over-reach, but captures the way it is.

Listen to the a che of abandonment and momentum of the steel- and gut-string-guitar-drenched "The Way Things Are Going," the yearning to jettison the 9-to-5 working-for-the-establishment "Feels Like Work," the swingin' good-time romper "Sideways" and the freewheeling "Good Day To Run," even the recognition of unnecessary frills in the wry Haggard-esque "Too Many Pockets" -- and remember that country music used to be the voice of the working people who lived life just as fully, felt just as deeply and coped with the getting-by with dignity. These are Darryl Worley's people, and Hard Rain Don't Last is for them.

Darryl Worley was born in Pyburn, Tennesse -- a place so small he says, "I don't know if there are enough people to even call it a population" -- where music and nightlife were in his blood from way back. "It's a real redneck kind of place, where if you don't know how to stand up for yourself or have a big older brother who will and be around all the time, you wouldn't want to be there. Those people, a lot of 'em are rednecks, but you wouldn't believe the wisdom... They're simple people, but I think they have the most wisdom, because real wisdom is simple."

That simplicity bred a young man with basic values and a full life. Music was something he came by naturally. His mother sang "specials" in church almost every Sunday, and his first memory of music was his maternal grandfather plinking away on a banjo on his front porch.

"He used to play 'Frankie and Johnny,' and a few other bluegrass songs I can still hear," the slow-talking writer/artist recalls. "His playing drove my grandmother about crazy because she'd been listening to it for 30, 35 years, but I couldn't get enough. And he used to tell us, 'Learn to play an instrument, because nothing is as relaxing as coming home and playing a few chords. It settles you and really puts your roots back in the ground'."

That grandfather ran the local night spot on the very same spot where the Moose Lodge now sits, the very club where years later Worley would spend many a night singing and trying out songs. And there were moonshiners in the family -- one of whom was turned in by his own brother -- branding Darryl as hardcore a Tennessean as they come.

"When I was just a kid, Saturday night was 'Hee Haw'," says Worley with a laugh. "But when we were old enough to party, we were wild as bucks. There was always moonshine -- and there were always bootleggers, who'd sell you whiskey. They didn't care how old you were... they were moonshiners, you know. So, before I was even old enough to play in clubs, there were places we could get in -- and we'd head there."

The wild times, though, were tempered with his father's hardcore work ethic. After working in a paper mill for The Tennessee Pulp and Paper Company for 25 years and being passed over one time too many, Worley's father felt the call to preach. So, he packed up his family with two weeks notice and moved away from the place that was home.

"I was a pretty resentful child," Worley confesses. "I was about to go into high school -- and the Methodist Church just moved us away from the place I'd lived for 14 years. We went from having whatever we needed to really struggling. I always felt like we had to work hard growing up ... That's the way my Dad raised us, because in his family, they had to work if they wanted to eat."

That shoulder-to-the-grindstone ethic allowed Worley to excel. In sports, it was only breaking his back playing basketball that jettisoned the opportunity for the gifted athlete to perhaps earn an athletic scholarship to college. In his studies, he eventually earned a degree in biology with a minor in organic chemistry. And he still managed to find time to raise hell and play music.

For a scared youngster whose mother told him "remember why you're here" before his singing debut in church, Worley loved to perform. It may've been middle child syndrome, or just a good excuse to be where the action was, but he found himself wishing to pursue music even as he embarked in a career in the chemical business.

"Even when I was working, I was still playing in bars," Worley confesses. "I even taught school for a year in Hardin County and I met with the supervisor of schools to explain to her that I played in honky tonks on the weekends, so they couldn't object."

Music's pull was just too strong. Though his family believed one needed to have a job, they recognized the conflict it was creating inside Darryl. Though his mother had always believed in his talent, his father finally offered the insight that launched Worley.

"One day, he said, 'If you're still thinking about that music thing, you better do it now, because if you don't, you'll be trapped by the obligation of the debt and the responsibilities that come with life'," Worley recalls. "That was all I needed to hear."

Worley signed a publishing deal for $150 a week at Fame in Muscle Shoals and began commuting and playing bars. He also began evaluating the things in his life. A long term relationship he always believed would eventually lead to marriage came to an end -- and that gave him plenty of inspiration to draw on.

"She gave me an ultimatum: 'It's me or the music...'," Worley remembers. "And I thought about it for a minute, then said, 'I'll have to choose music, because it loves me more. It would never ask me to choose.' Looking back, we probably hung in for all the wrong reasons -- you know, pride. Pride is great unless you've got more than you can swallow."

Redoubling his efforts and determination, Darryl Worley dug in and kept writing. "Humans'll lie to themselves always to justify whatever. I know all about what goes around comes around! I am an expert in what-goes-around-comes around -- all the things I've done in relationships, neglecting stuff I should've done or been. I can see where it's bit me on the ass.

"Being a preacher's kid, too, you have to live up to people's expectations! I've known that since I was little. I knew we were supposed to be the craziest kids out there. And when you've gotta go to one extreme or the other, well, I was just too mischievous and fun-loving to go the other way."

The honky tonk lifestyle suited the hazel-eyed handsome young man. There was lots of everything he liked: people, music, drinks, fights, girls. Like so many of the country greats before him, Worley was able to witness, and witness to, life's casualties. Things were moving forward, yet stagnant all at once. He'd lost friends to untimely deaths, had his fingertip shot off and his heart broken. Out of that pain, he realized that like his influences, here is where he would find his true voice.

"Haggard ... I always feel like he's hurtin', no matter what he sings," Worley explains. "(George) Jones, too. When you listen to someone like Keith Whitley -- you can hear the tragedy waitin' to happen. I've been there... I've lived more life in 35 years than most people do in a lifetime. And you can get to a place where there is no hope. I've been there, toward the end of my publishing deal and that 15 year relationship.

"I was as low as you could go. I was walking the edge, playing 4 nights a week and pushing as hard as I could. I hated it; I hated my life; hated everything. Through it all, I seemed like such a happy-go-lucky party animal. People never saw it: I'd get in the groove again, investing in another hangover.

"I used to believe you have to create that misery to write. But you don't have to live like that. There's more to lovin' life than fightin' and having some kind of conflict. So, there's a lot of hope in these songs -- even the saddest ones. There's a lotta real life, for sure, but life without hope is just too sad, too heavy. I want people to listen to my record, maybe see the stuff that's wrong, but also see what it can be...and to have some fun.

"That, to me, is the best thing you can hope to accomplish with a record."

Drawing on influences that range from Haggard, Jones and Whitley to Gene Watson, Willie Nelson, Vern Gosdin, Jim Reeves, Roger Miller, the Eagles and Lefty Frizzell, Darryl Worley is washed in the blood of country music. The real deal from both birth and experience, he returns the genre to its roots in a way that is utterly fresh and vital.

When Darryl Worley sings, he draws you in with an intimacy that's created only by someone utterly comfortable with who they are and where they come from. For the pride of Hardin County, it all comes down to one thing: being himself.

"There aren't any stylists any more," he says, surveying the crowded landscape of today's country music. "Singing should be effortless, thoughtless ...You should know without thinking what you're trying to get across. Most importantly, people gotta believe. If people look at you and they don't believe you -- no matter how great a singer you are -- well, they just know. I think I give it every ounce, but I don't try to say or be more than I am. You owe people that."

Listening to the crumbled man trying to rebuild on "Second Wind," the take-it-when-it-comes exhilaration and ache of "When You Need My Love," the make-it-through-the-pettiness of the title track, Hard Rain Don't Last is an album built upon resolve. It's both the universal resolve that allows us to survive and the resolve that brought Darryl Worley to this place and time with an album he can be proud of.

"There's that line 'I've learned to live behind these fences...'," Worley says with finality. "We all have, but if you don't maintain your integrity and be who you are, you really don't have much to offer. There was a time when I had to be someone I'm not for my job, and it was the worst time in my life. I will never do that again.

"I'm kinda like Doc Holladay in 'Tombstone.' I have a philosophy: 'I'm not gonna go out looking for trouble, but I will not be pawed at.' There's a difference between that and holding your ground. It's like there's a little bit of pain and heartache, no matter what. But my personal philosophies are all in there.

"You see, I'm not a person anymore who takes a single day for granted, not a single moment. You look around and all this stuff reminds you how quick and short it can be. You miss so much if you lose sight of that. There are no guarantees. None. So live your life accordingly."

And for Darryl Worley, that's also how he makes his music. All for now. All for always. Pretty simple stuff -- but that's what infuses it with such rugged truth. Hard Rain Don't Last is just the beginning of what this artist knows and is willing to share...