The rich, reedy tones and all-American, blue-collar themes in his #1 hits “I Miss My Friend,” “Awful, Beautiful Life” and “Have You Forgotten?” are reminders of the down-to-Earth, Haggard-like Darryl Worley you always knew.
Born and raised in southern Tennessee by a Methodist minister and a church-choir mom he describes as a “prayer warrior,” Worley started his musical career at the FAME Studio in Muscle Shoals, under the tutelage of producer/publisher Rick Hall (Mac Davis, Jerry Reed), where he remained for a solid five years. He played clubs almost nightly, honing his stage craft at the same time he was woodshedding his songwriting skills, and as Worley gained confidence, he found his way to Nashville. There, he secured a recording deal in 1999 on the basis of some demo recordings that showcased his authoritative vocals and his understanding of the hard-working country audience.
“I'm a traditionalist,” he proclaims. “I came to Nashville because of mentors and heroes like Merle Haggard and George Jones. I'm sure people hear that until they’re blue in the face, but to me, it’s very true.”
He discovered, however, that the music business didn’t share the depth of his passion for that old-school sound. Numerous voices in Nashville were pushing him to sing more contemporary songs and to co-write more often with well-known composers. The songs from the demo that got him signed were tossed in favor of other material that may have fit the trends, but didn’t quite suit him. So Worley put his foot down.
“I just said, ‘I don’t think I need to be here,’” he recalls.
“No” proved to be a powerful word. The powers that be came after him, relented on their creative demands and – lo and behold – several of those songs from the demo ended up becoming his first hits. His inaugural album landed three Top 20 titles – “When You Need My Love,” “A Good Day To Run” and “Second Wind” – and his second album’s namesake, “I Miss My Friend,” brought his first #1 single.
A USO trip would provide a blockbuster. Worley visited Kuwait and Afghanistan during the Christmas season of 2002, and he was inspired by the dedication and sacrifice of soldiers who put their lives on the line for their beliefs. Shortly after his return, he co-wrote “Have You Forgotten?” with Wynn Varble (“Waitin’ On A Woman,” “A Little More Country Than That”), practically demanding that America keep its focus in its battle against terrorists. The song spent seven weeks at #1 on the Billboard country singles chart, one of only five titles to reign that long during the 21st century’s first decade.
“Have You Forgotten?” clearly struck a nerve – “It was unifying, it was more the voice of the people than even I thought it would be,” Worley admits – but it also proved to be almost too big for his career, which was still building at the time. Some established artists declined to have him open for them, since “Forgotten” rendered their set anti-climactic. As a result, he skipped a step in country’s typical audience-building concert progression.
“There’s pros and cons to everything,” he says with a shrug, “but I could be remembered for something a lot worse than that.”