Songwriter Interviews

Darryl Worley

by Shawna Ortega

Share this post

Darryl Worley. Who is this guy?

We thought we knew something about him. With two #1 albums on the country charts, three #1 songs, and 5 more breaking into the Top 20, he's established and successful. He's also a country pin-up, and his fabulous ever-changing hair is the stuff of fairytales. But that's just the surface.

Darryl and his loved ones have been affected by the atrocities of war and the cruelty of cancer. His journey has taken him into the darkness, but it's made him stronger and given him a rare insight into the human condition, including the biological factor most women don't know about. There's also that thing with the snakes, but we'll get to that...
Shawna Hansen Ortega (Songfacts): "Awful, Beautiful Life" is a dichotomy of sorts. Do you like writing that way?

Darryl Worley: Well, I try to write about things I can relate to. When I went in to write with Harley (Allen) that day, he was already planning this sort of blue-grassy feel, and he had this whole hook line. It was, "I love this crazy, tragic, sometimes almost magic awful, beautiful life." And I said, "Wow, that's a freakin' hit." He said, "Well, I want to write it with you. You can make it personal. How does this play into Darryl Worley's life?" I told Harley, "Man, I don't want you to give me anything." I really felt like the foundation for the song was already done, the melody and everything. But I'm not an idiot either, so we wrote it that day, and I did what he asked me to: I brought my personal elements. Everything about that song is honest and real. Every name that's mentioned, Mom and Dad, the brothers, Cousin Michael in Iraq, it's all real stuff. I guess that was my job in that particular co-writing situation. But Harley Allen does not need Darryl Worley to write a song, I promise you that. (laughs)

Songfacts: What is Cousin Michael's story? Is he back from Iraq yet?

Darryl: Oh yeah. He's home, he's got three little girls and a little boy, he's a baby-making machine. He's a safety coordinator at a large paper mill, so he's working, and he's taking care of those babies.

Songfacts: Does "I Just Came Back From A War" have anything to do with him?

Darryl: It has to do with everybody that's ever served, and especially those who've been deployed. It's a sentiment and a feeling that I got from interacting with a lot of troops over the years. And not just recently, but from the Vietnam era and WWII. I grew up in all that, and I've got a lot of family members that experienced it. I realized, man, this was a huge sacrifice, and it affected so many people in so many different ways. Some of them were affected physically, some mentally, some both. It was almost like a cry out to say, "Hey, be there for me. Take the time, and don't expect miracles. I've just been through a hell of an ordeal. I need time to re-acclimate. Support me, be there for me." And I think it was a great statement, people got it.

Songfacts: Does that tie into "Have You Forgotten?" in any way? I don't know why, but they seem kind of at odds with each other somehow.

Darryl: I've had other people say that, but I'm sorry to say this to you, this just makes no sense to me. There are people who felt that "Have You Forgotten?" was encouraging our invasion into Iraq. When I wrote that song, there was no war in Iraq. It was just the war that followed the events of 9/11, in Afghanistan. And I felt then like I do now; that you can't take a punch in the mouth like that and then just sit back and go, "Well, let's be nice to the world. Maybe they won't do that again." I firmly believed that we needed to get our butts over to Afghanistan and get after the people that attacked us on our own turf. And I don't have a problem with expressing that to anyone that would question my motives.

But as far as being a war hawk, someone who's just all gung-ho about fighting, attacking people, that's not who I am at all. I understand the casualties of war probably better than most, because I grew up in a family that has been affected on both sides. Maybe you could explain to me why you think those two songs are at odds, and I'll see if I can defend myself. (laughs)

Songfacts: No, it's not an accusation. Not at all. "Have You Forgotten?" made the American patriotic spirit rise up in me, so to speak.

Darryl: I think it did in everyone at that time. It was sort of a rallying call, to say, "Don't be ashamed if you feel this way, because you should." And I love hearing you say that, because that's what it was all about. That's how we were feeling when we wrote it. We thought, "there's probably a bunch of people that feel this way. Let's find out." (laughs)

Songfacts: (laughing) And it worked.

Darryl: Yeah, it did work.

Songfacts: And then you've got "I Just Came Back From A War," and it's really the human side of it.

Darryl: Yeah, I think you're right on the money, because there's an element of reality in everything I do. And I can't help that. I've tried to write from a different place, and it just don't happen. I've even had my co-writers say, "Golly, we can't even get you to go there." And I try. I really try. But it's not real. So that being said, I'm looking at the fallout from these conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. And the thing that spurred it was the guy up in New Jersey, I think. It may have been a black guy, he was home from Iraq or Afghanistan, he was a Marine Corps guy, and somebody was outside of his window doing a bunch of stuff and making noise. He got frustrated and started screaming at 'em, and he took his pistol and fired a couple of rounds up in the air. They ran off, but he got into all kinds of trouble. They made him look like a criminal, which he wasn't; he just flew off a little bit. And there's no telling what the guy had been through.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD, is an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened. Traumatic events that may trigger PTSD include violent personal assaults, natural or human-caused disasters, accidents, or military combat.
What would be wrong with our brilliant system taking some of those guys and letting them go to Camp David and hang out for a few weeks when they come back home, and just chill out and give them some time to decompress? We need to do a better job of re-acclimating these soldiers when we bring them back home, instead of just throwing 'em out there in society and saying, 'Well, we hope you do okay.'" I don't believe that the basic citizen out there walking around understands, or has any grasp of what these men and women go through, what they're asked to do. I think you need a supportive family group around you, somebody to act as a buffer and absorb some of that shock. There's a lot of kids that come home and don't have anybody, and get thrown right back into the thick of it. When that song became a single, we all sat around and said, "Maybe somebody'll hear it, and maybe somebody'll go, "Hey, we're not doing the right thing by our troops. They deserve better than this. We should have a program by which we get involved and help them re-acclimate and get their feet under 'em - get their heads on straight before we fling 'em right back into the middle of the craziness."

You're definitely not off base on your thought process, but I don't understand how that would make those songs be at odds. I think I understand what you're saying, but even though I support us going and taking care of business, that doesn't mean there's not some fallout, and there's not gonna be some negative side effects. One of the first things that comes to people's minds when they hear the word "war" is death. And there's gonna be some of it. There's gonna be lives lost on both sides. That's the harsh reality, and that's the part that makes it tough for presidents and generals to send these young kids into the fight. But that's why we have a military. You have to protect your boundaries, and you have to fight back when people come and kill innocent citizens on a beautiful day; they're just out enjoying what American people do, and all of the sudden we're getting bombed by terrorists on our own home front. You gotta go retaliate. I don't feel like I've compromised my feelings in either of those songs, and I stand by the message in both.

Songfacts: That was perfect, how you just explained that. Okay, onto something a little bit more happy maybe? Tell me the story of "The Best of Both Worlds."

Darryl: I was sitting in my living room just downstairs in our home at our little farmhouse down in west Tennessee; I have a cow farm down there. One of my producers was down and we were co-writing, and it was funny, because I was writing a song about my wife and she was in the kitchen – it's just all one big room downstairs – and she was right there making us something to eat for lunch. We were writing this song about her, and she'd come over, lean over our shoulder every now and then and go, "Hmmm, I like that." It was kind of funny, I've never done that before with the person that you're writing about walking around in the same room. That's a little bit odd, I guess. But it worked out okay.

Songfacts: Is that the one that sets her heart on fire? (laughing) I read that you said that that particular song is gonna be the one that all the ladies are gonna melt over.

Darryl: (laughing) I guess. We had it out, and it was doing pretty decent, and the female audience was definitely more into that song than anything I've ever released. Then it kind of bit the dust in the last couple of weeks.

Songfacts: It fell off the charts? Is that what you're saying?

Darryl: Yeah. So it's nothing to celebrate. That's the way the business is. They don't all go to the top.

Songfacts: I'm curious about something else… your album Here and Now, which you recorded under 903 Music, and the single off that, "Living in the Here and Now," was making its way up the charts, but then it all fell because 903 shut down.

Darryl: Yeah. What was funny about that song is it was selling the crap out of records. Everywhere they were playing that song on the radio, the record sales were just through the roof. I mean, everybody was calling me and going, "Wow, we sold out again today," and they were re-ordering, and we were all excited because usually, if the song is selling, you can use that story to get radio on board, and that was our plan. And then in the second or third week, the record label went belly-up. So I've had my share of things like that to deal with.

Songfacts: Regardless of what happens to the label, can't you just take it to somebody else and have them start making copies of it and keep selling it?

Darryl: (laughing… and laughing… and laughing…)

Songfacts: Um…I guess not.

Darryl: (still laughing) No. Because… (trying to catch his breath…) That's funny. (laughing) I can't even… there's like 5,000 copies of that album somewhere, and I can't even get 'em to sell 'em to me. Because it's all contract stuff. The record labels are holding onto what they think of as the only property that they've got when everything goes south. So no, you can't just take the product and make copies of it and sell it. I mean, I could, you know… (laughing) but I'd probably wind up getting in trouble. Because it's just the contractual things. They own the product. I looked on iTunes the other day, and you can't even buy that album, because they've got all the product locked down. Which is stupid to me, because they're not making any money by it sitting in a warehouse somewhere. Isn't that crazy?

You've got a promotion team out there in the field, all over the country, different representatives in different regions. And they're going to all the local radio stations all over the place, pushing and promoting that record. And just as soon as the word is out that the record label is belly-up, and nobody's getting a paycheck anymore, they stop doing their job, and as soon as they stop doing their job, the single disappears off the radio, and then it's just done. It's kinda cold.

Songfacts: Does it make you want to go independent?

Darryl: Well, I was kind of independent then. But yeah, does it make you wanna think about doing your own thing exclusively? Well, every move I've made since I've been in this business has been moving toward that. And this new deal that I'm in is more of that kind of thing than anything I've done, because it's more of a partnership. I love where I'm at, and it looks like if we can just get some small things squared away, we're gonna be rockin' with this new label. But if I do a deal after this, it's probably gonna be my own thing. Yeah, I've been thinking about going independent since Day One.

Songfacts: That must be so frustrating.

Darryl: It is.

Songfacts: Is "Sounds Like Life To Me" patterned after any personal experience?

Darryl: That whole story's just a true story, exactly how it happened.

Songfacts: So these people are real?

Darryl: Oh, yeah. And most of the songs that I've had success with are. If I have any gift, it's probably a knack for timing, and writing songs about real life and things that engage people. That's what radio expects from me, so when we give them that, we have success. But "Sounds Like Life" was written several years ago. It's been recorded by other artists. A lot of people have thought down through the years that it was a hit song. But I knew it was a hit song, and I knew it well enough I could bet the single release on it. And it proved to be a really big boost for my career. We had a major hit, and I couldn't be more happy with it.

Songfacts: Maybe it's just the honesty that comes out when you sing it.

Darryl: Who knows? I just think everybody in the world, especially at the time of that release – and now – could totally relate to that. I don't know how many people say, I would have probably just thrown in the towel if it hadn't been for that song. But I realized, hey, I'm not the only one going through this, and I gotta get my butt up and get back in the swing of things. Find a way to make this work.

Songfacts: Sounds like you've had to kind of slap yourself around a little bit.

Darryl: Still doing it, I guarantee you. That's real life, and that's where I come from. So maybe it'll keep on working. (laughs) 'Cause I'm gonna keep givin' 'em more of it.

Songfacts: I'm way curious about "Messed Up In Memphis."

Darryl: (laughing) Well, you've got the story. It's sort of a compilation of different evenings, days and nights spent in that town over there. There's a real cool vibe about Memphis if you know how to go and experience it, with Beale Street and the Blues and the bar-b-que. Marc Cohn had that song "Walking In Memphis." I always loved that. You could smell the bar-b-que taste of the smoke in the air, and you felt like you were there. And we were trying to recreate that atmosphere and give people who had never tasted that Memphis late-night vibe, give them a little flavor of what it is all about. So I took a bunch of my own personal experiences and some others that had been shared with me, and just let it into that crazy song. I love the groove.

Songfacts: What exactly did you mess up?

Darryl: Well, it's sort of a double entendre. He messed up by showing up late again. If you listen close to the lyric, he showed up late for a date, she was already gone. And it sounds like he'd been trying to coax this person to come and see him there. The guy's obviously not at home. He's sort of lost out there in Memphis. And so he proceeds to get a little more messed up in Memphis, messed up in a different way. And then he probably (laughs) takes that "messed up" to a whole 'nother level, before it's all said and done. So this guy's really messed up in Memphis.

Songfacts: Yeah, "love for hire," we all know what that is. (laughs) Got it. Now, about "What Makes A Man Do That?" What does make a man do that, Darryl?

Darryl: Well, it's because he's a dog. It's just what a man is. There's a biological factor in there that women don't take into effect when they start picking their mate. And the other part of that is that some women are affected by it, too. (laughs)

Songfacts: (laughing) Nuh-uh. We're perfect.

Darryl: Actually, that's a cool song, because a friend of mine came to me, we were traveling, he was doing the tour managing job at the time. And he came to me and he said, "I got a song title for you, and I think it's a really good song title. It's called 'What Makes A Man Do That?'" And I said, "Oh, man, that is a good song title." So I asked him if he wanted to try to write it. He said, "I can't write a song. Just take it and write it." And I said, "I'll tell you what, I'll write it, and if we do anything with it, I'll give you some percentage of it." And he said, "I don't care about that." So we wrote the song, and it made the album, and I put his name on there as a writer, and I also included him in the credits, and gave him ten percent of the song, because I'd never take someone's song. Well, the funny part of it is that he knew what I was going through at the time in my life. And I felt like he was just feeding the fire. I found out later that it wasn't even his idea. He had heard it from our bus driver. That's kind of a horrible thing that happened that way. But I don't know if he did it on purpose, or maybe he was drunk and didn't remember where he heard that. But I did have several crew members, and even the driver said, "Man, I was the one that told him that song idea." So there you go trying to do something good for somebody…

I think it was one of the most honest songs I've ever written. I still love that song, but I'm not that guy anymore. I think most people go through that phase in their life, and it's just a difficult time. A lot of the things that I did went against everything I'd ever been taught or believed in. It was that male/man thing, I guess, having to manifest itself and get on out of there. I'm in a much better place. I love my wife, and I would never do anything intentionally to hurt her, but there was a time when I didn't have the kind of control over that that I wish I could have had. It's just crazy. I mean, it's like fighting some kind of a wild beast inside of yourself. And I'm thankful to be old enough and seasoned enough to be past that.

Songfacts: Did this have anything to do with drinking?

Darryl: No, that's not the issue with me. I think with some people it's easier to act out what might be inside of you if you had a few drinks, just because they say it's truth serum - that's when you can let go and be yourself. But no, not in my situation. (laughs) I ain't never needed a drink to be a bad boy. That's not to say I won't have a drink, just those are two separate problems with me.

Songfacts: Now, here's a question that has nothing to do with the songs. Tell me about your experience with water moccasins.

Darryl: Actually, that was my favorite prey when I was in college. They called me "Snake" because I collected venomous snakes in our region for all of our zoological classes and stuff. And the water moccasin is my favorite snake. As a matter of fact, I have a custom motorcycle that was built by Kendall Johnson, and his painter designed a custom paint job. It's basically a cottonmouth water moccasin snake, the whole bike is painted that way, the tank being the head of the snake and then everything else goes toward the rear. Even the seat on the bike is snakeskin. I even know the scientific name, the genus and species name of that snake is agkistrodon piscivorus. So I know a lot about those snakes. (laughs)

Songfacts: I'll have to listen to this back so I can figure out how to spell that.(laughing) You also have quite a background in chemistry. How do you go from chemistry to music? Isn't that a left-brain/right-brain kind of thing?

Darryl: Oh, no, it's all chemistry. If it lives and moves and breathes and makes noise, it's all chemistry.

Darryl lost both his grandfathers and an aunt to cancer, and he's working hard to fight the disease. In 2002 he organized The Darryl Worley Foundation, a non-profit which hosts fund-raising events throughout the year. His dream was realized on March 3, 2010, when ground was broken in his native Savannah, Tennessee, for the Darryl Worley Cancer Treatment Center.

"No one is exempt from this disease," Worley says. "Although a cure has not yet been found, we must do what we can to treat cancer patients with the technology available to us." Learn more at darrylworleyfoundation.org


Songfacts: Are there any other songs that you particularly love that have a great story?

Darryl: Well, "Second Wind" is definitely one of those songs. I wrote it with one of my favorite songwriters in this business, and one of my better friends, Steve Leslie. My mother said it all: She was going through a bout with cancer, and she called me up one day and she said, "This song's got healing qualities. I listen to this song two or three times a day, every day, because I feel like it's helping me. I'm not saying that it kills cancer, I'm telling you that it helps put your soul in a place where you want to get better and get past whatever it is you're going through. It's designed to give you that second wind." And my mom's a really, really spiritual person, and it caught me a little off guard, but I wasn't gonna argue with her. I wasn't gonna say, "No, you've lost your mind, it must be the chemo." But I can tell you she doesn't have cancer anymore. She's 72 and healthy as a bear. So it's one of those things that you just go, Wow. It was only a Top 15 single, but if it affected a few people out there that way, then it was worth it.

And she's not the only person that's ever expressed to me that connection with that song. It's very uplifting, and it was just written in a time in my life when I was really struggling and I needed my own second wind. We tried to write it honest, and it seemed like it worked for some people. So it makes our job feel like we've actually accomplished something other than trying to keep up with the rest of the guys that are racing up the charts.

There's another song that was on the very first album, called "The Way Things Are Going." I wrote it with Martin D. Sanders - he's like 5-time Songwriter of the Year or something like that. And I knew at the time that it would always be one of my favorite songs I'd ever written. I was coming out of the toughest time of my life, been through a lot of tragic things, unfortunately. But I'm proud of that, because I don't think I will encounter anything down the road that I won't be able to handle. And that's important when you've got a baby and you're trying to bring a child up in this world. If you want to hear a piece of a song that was inspired by those classic songwriters and singers like Merle Haggard, and is about as honest as anybody could ever be, you oughta go back and check that one out. I play it now to remind me of how bad things could get. I tell my wife I don't want to ever go back to that place, I don't ever want to be there and be that guy again. Because it was a really tough time. And I also think that sometimes when people hear that stuff, they might change their path a little bit. I did. I mean, Haggard saved me a lot of problems. I listened to that music, I thought, you know what? I don't need to go there. So who knows? It could be affecting someone's life in a positive way, and that's always good.

I don't measure my success by the number of awards that I have hanging on the wall. And I've got a few, but there's not all that many of them that mean a whole lot to me, because a lot of stuff like that comes out of politics, and I'm not into that. And then a lot of it comes from just being at the right place at the right time, and I don't believe in luck. I think our lives are blessed or they're not blessed. And you can sort of position yourself for more blessings if you care to. If not, you can go in and fight the hard one. I had a guy basically tell me the same thing about "Sounds Like Life To Me." He came up to me at the Dairy Queen in my hometown and said, "Man, I swore when I saw you again I was gonna kick your ass." And I said, "Dude, I just had neck surgery two days ago. But if you'll give me about a month to heal up, I'll meet you right back here and we'll get it on." And he said, "No, no, let me finish." He said, "I've had two nervous breakdowns. I was coming out of my second one when I heard that song. And I listened to it every day over and over again, every time they played it on the radio, I thought, Man, when I see him, I'm gonna kick his ass. But I promise you eventually, day after day, it started to mean something different to me. And you're the reason that I'm back out here doing what I do, and I didn't wind up in the mental hospital. I pulled it together and I sucked it up."

I knew there was probably something funny behind it, and he finished the story, I was very cool. But down where I come from, somebody might just walk up and punch you in the mouth, too. So you have to be looking out for it. (laughing) I'm always on guard.

A "beat-up" Darryl talked to us on April 8, 2010; a little cranky at first, which makes us wonder who - or what - had gotten the best of him.

See (much) more Darryl at darrylworley.com

More Songwriter Interviews

Comments: 5

  • Kimberly from Landing, Njlife is drawn from the eyes, and so does are life journeys as wise as we believe, we predict our journeys for we are solders this day and age, thank you, thank you,

    your cause is not just a cause for soul a cause of freedom.

    Kimberly Glass kss2668@yahoo.com
    feel free in any time frame to contact me in and for support.*
  • Kindra from IndianaMy Husband and I have made the TRR part of our vacation. We love DW, his honest approuch to music and love for his family,country,god and helping others is admirable. We love traveling to to the small town where he grew up and how everyone knows what a big heart he has for the community.
  • Bd from ViennaThe real issue with "Have You Forgotten?" is that it's basically anti-thought. The debate was whether the war(s) on which we were embarking would do anything to help the anti-terrorist cause. To say those who disagreed with him on that question had "forgotten" was juvenile and insulting, to put it mildly.

    Haven't forgiven him for that.
  • Zhivko from BulgariaWonderful interview as always Shawna.
    Darryl has such a magnificent voice and I would love to see him singing next to Garth Brooks.
  • Anonymous from Baghdad Iraqdarryl Worrley rocks the best damn concert I been to in long time he is so supportive of the military. only in the military can u get a free front row thanks US0 and star and strips.I hope I get to see him again in the states.
see more comments

Randy NewmanSongwriting Legends In Their Own Words

Newman makes it look easy these days, but in this 1974 interview, he reveals the paranoia and pressures that made him yearn for his old 9-5 job.

Wedding Bell BluesSong Writing

When a song describes a wedding, it's rarely something to celebrate - with one big exception.

Vanessa CarltonSongwriter Interviews

The "A Thousand Miles" singer on what she thinks of her song being used in White Chicks and how she captured a song from a dream.

Alan Merrill of The ArrowsSongwriter Interviews

In her days with The Runaways, Joan Jett saw The Arrows perform "I Love Rock And Roll," which Alan Merrill co-wrote - that story and much more from this glam rock pioneer.

90s Music Quiz 1Music Quiz

First question: Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson appeared in videos for what artist?

Harold Brown of WarSongwriter Interviews

A founding member of the band War, Harold gives a first-person account of one of the most important periods in music history.