Darryl Worley: American Dream (2003)
originally published June 24, 2003
Cruising down the California highway on his tour bus, Darryl Worley ponders how strange his life has become.
Only two years ago, he was just another struggling singer trying unsuccessfully to get a hit. Now his patriotic smash "Have You Forgotten?" has spent seven weeks at No. 1, his second hit to reach the top.
In fact, the song has become a phenomenon, embraced by the U.S. military — whose mission in Afghanistan inspired it — and Pres. George W. Bush. It reigned atop radio playlists, waving like a flag, during the war in Iraq. Darryl has been honored in the Tennessee General Assembly and introduced onstage by U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Propelled by its title track, his Have You Forgotten? CD, a mixture of new songs with tunes from Darryl's first two albums, also went to No. 1, and his summer tour has become a hot ticket.
"It's just about the most surreal thing that's ever happened in my life," laughs Darryl, shivering a little on his always-chilly bus. "When you go through all the sacrifices you go through to get a music career going, it's like reaching for the stars. So when something like this happens, you're like, 'No, wait a minute, this can't be real.' "
But it is, and Darryl credits his relative levelheadedness amid the whirlwind of sudden fame to his age and experience — at 38, he's a good decade older than most new stars. The tall Tennessean — who towers above most crowds at 6 feet 6 inches — played local clubs for years while working at a wide range of day jobs (see sidebar) before finally getting his foot in Nashville’s door.
"There's no doubt that's been an asset for me," he says. "I believe the good Lord had his hand in that. I think He knew some of my struggles and weaknesses, and waited until He saw that I was ready for the opportunity. I'm thankful for that, because there was a time when I might have messed it all up."
Now that his turn in the spotlight has finally come, Darryl is ready to, as his grandfather taught him, "make hay while the sun shines." But his grueling schedule keeps him away from rural Hardin County, Tenn., where he was born and still lives with his wife of two years, Beverly.
"I miss my friends and family, and I wish I had more quality time with them," admits Darryl, whose father is a preacher in his hometown of Savannah.
"But I come from a workin' bunch of people, and they understand what's going on in my life."
Especially understanding is Beverly, a fellow Hardin County native who graduated from high school with Darryl's younger brother. "She's a country girl, and she understands my way of life," says Darryl. "When we do have time together, we share a lot of common interests. Most of it's just real simple, down-to-earth kind of living. We don't do anything extravagantly."
Darryl applauds Beverly's sense of independence — a must for someone stuck at home while her globe-trotting husband goes on tour.
"She can stand on her own," notes Darryl admiringly. "She knows how to take care of herself, and for somebody that does what I do, that's a very, very important quality."
Though Beverly is just as busy as Darryl. She runs the Worleybird Cafe, a restaurant filled with memorabilia from her hubby's exploding career. "I know we'd get to spend a lot more time together if we didn't have the jobs we have, but that's a part of life," he figures. "She's hanging in there, and I am too."
Such a hectic life can make anyone want a rest — which is exactly what Darryl's new hit, "I Need a Breather," is about. But as Darryl sees it, the song takes on a much deeper meaning in these troubled times.
"I think it describes a nation that's just been through a really intense and traumatic time in a lot of people's lives," he says. "Plus it's something everybody goes through on a regular basis — we all get up some days and think, 'Oh, God, I don't know if I can hit this grind again.' "
One group that especially needs a breather, Darryl believes, is our nation's military. Since the release of "Have You Forgotten?" he's performed for American troops many times — and as Darryl points out, if he hadn't traveled to Afghanistan late last year to visit the troops, he never would have been inspired to write his breakthrough smash.
"It's just funny how when you do something for the right reasons, good things come out of it," he says. "It gives me hope."
While Darryl is overjoyed about his current success, he's already looking forward to his third full studio album, which he'll start recording late this summer. "I'm gonna go even closer to the roots of it all and do a really, really country album the next go-around," he promises. "I just want to make good, solid traditional music that speaks to the heart."
Darryl is hopeful that the popularity of "Have You Forgotten?" won't overshadow that new music — but if it does, he's not going to worry about it.
"I wouldn't be distraught if I never had another song that was this big," he says. "I don't think it would be a bad thing if I was remembered as the guy that wrote and recorded this song, because apparently it's had a positive effect on a lot of lives. It sure has been a blessing to me."
Right Man for the Job(s)
During the many years 38-year-old Darryl spent waiting for his big break as an entertainer, he put in long hours at a dizzying variety of day jobs. Here are a few of the surprising entries on his resume.
"I've always been really in tune with nature, and I like the feeling that I'm making my living from the land," explains Darryl. "My dad and all of his brothers have all worked on the river, so it felt at home. But it was hard damn work! It's such long and crazy hours."
Darryl, who has a degree in biology, spent two years working for Buckman Laboratories before forming the Industrial Chemical Specialists company with two friends (both companies produced paper-related chemicals). He later got out of the chemical business, but learned a lot he's been able to apply to the music industry.
"It's just so political and so dog-eat-dog, and so is the music business," he notes. "One of the things that's been valuable to me was learning to negotiate contracts. The music industry is full of that, and you have to have some savvy."
But running a company also taught Darryl something about how to conduct his current business in a gentlemanly way. "It's not a real difficult philosophy," he says. "Just be nice and treat folks the way you want to be treated, and that's probably how they'll treat you."
If his music career ended today, Darryl claims he'd go back to construction work. "I love to build things with my hands, and look back at it at the end of the day and see what I've accomplished," he explains. "I love that feeling of driving down the road and saying, 'Hey, I built that house over there!' I'd feel comfortable being a carpenter for the rest of my life. It's just a great American occupation."
"That was a tough one!" laughs Darryl, who taught high-school biology for a year. "I don't think I could go back to that."