Darryl Worley: The Comeback Conversation

It was just about ten years ago when Darryl Worley had a tough decision to make. Either keep on keeping on in his country music career, or take a beat and put his family first. He chose the latter, and put his work as a well-known recording artist on hold.

The work/life balance that is so elusive for so many had become an impossible feat for Worley as a touring country artist. So he put his music on hold, just temporarily, and now he’s back with a brand new compilation album Second Wind: Latest & Greatest. The 15-track project is a combination of new versions of his older hits like “Have You Forgotten,” “Awful Beautiful Life,” “I Miss My Friend,” “If Something Should Happen,” plus seven new songs. It’s Worley’s first studio album in eight years.

“It was so rewarding for me as a father to learn how to do that job and to do it right,” Worley told CMT.com when he stopped by to talk about his family, his work hiatus and his return to the studio and the stage. “I spent quite a few years just loving that.”

Here is the condensed version of our conversation:

CMT.com: What was it like for you to make the decision to leave the music business behind?

Worley: My daughter was born in 2008, and for the first couple of years of her life, I wasn’t even there. And as she started to grow and mature, I saw that she needed her dad’s influence in her life a little bit more. That was about the time when I backed off a little bit and tried to put more of my energy into her.

While you were home, not in some studio on Music Row and not on the road constantly, was there anything about the music business that you really missed?

I missed collaborating with the other songwriters that had helped me all along the way. And I missed the road. That’s always been something that can be a void in my life, because I’m just a traveler. I’m a wanderer. And I love to go out there and meet new people and just play the music. I don’t know why, I guess from an early age I dreamed of it, and it’s always been part of my life. So I certainly didn’t miss being away from my family, but at the same time when we were slower I missed the road quite a bit.

But there had to be so many moments in your daughter’s life where you were like, “Yep. I made the right call.”

Every day. I immediately saw things change with her. When I was home, she wasn’t as uneasy or anxious about all kinds of things. My wife told me, “No matter what you think, when you’re out there, she knows that that guy who is supposed to be taking care of things here at home is not here.” So all those things changed for the better, and I’m not going to let it go back like it was. She’s only 11, so I’ve still got some years to go. I think that it’ll be fun for all of us now because she’s old enough that it won’t be difficult to travel with her. And we’ve even talked about having a year where we home-schooled her, and just let her learn what it’s like to be on the road. My wife absolutely loves being out there with me, so it wouldn’t bother her at all. You just never know what the future will hold.

So why now? How did you land on this particular timing for your comeback?

Part of it — without a doubt — was that my daughter is at an age where she understands more about why daddy’s gone some. And the other thing was, we’d moved out of Nashville a little over a year ago, and we moved back to my farm down in Southwest Tennessee. We made that move based on our daughter. So it’s ironic that that move has changed so many things in our life. That’s been a little tough in some ways. But the cool thing is that unbeknownst to me, I was moving myself back to the farm for lots of different reasons: it put me within 30 minutes of the studios that I used to work in in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. And so I just kind of transferred all of my writing and recording there. I recorded all of this new album in Muscle Shoals. It’s been an unbelievable transition, and these kinds of things happened without us even seeing it coming.

Does that mean you’re back where it all began for you?

Yes, because these are the places where I went 25, 26, or maybe even 27 years ago, when I was starting out as a beginner and as a songwriter. Now I’ve come full circle. I’m back there now and it’s never felt better. My creativity there is through the roof. There’s no pressure. We just write songs and record tracks and do what we love to do. And we get to make the decisions on things like which songs will make the album and which ones won’t. There’s just a ton of freedom, and I think some of that laid-back vibe is showing up in the music.

The country music scene today is very different from the country music scene you left all those years ago. Have you noticed that shift? How “country music” means something very different now?

When I started off as a songwriter in Muscle Shoals, I gave up several different careers. I let go of part of a business that was doing well. I passed on the opportunity to go med school. I had several other things that kind of fell by the wayside because of my passion for the kind of music that was on mainstream country radio.

And I said, “I would kill to have the opportunity to just live in that zone for a little while.” I told my dad, I said, “I can’t lay down and pass from this world without having given this a chance.” So from that time until now, yes, the music has changed so much. There’s so much influence from other genres, that to me, it kind of compromises the country art form a bit.

I think a lot of people would agree with you on that. But then there are listeners who see all those changes as progress. Do you listen to country radio much?

Country music is one of the most beautiful art forms that Americans have ever come up with. But when my wife and I go out, and we get a moment together, and we’re cruising around and I say, “Hey, let’s turn the radio on.” We turn on country radio, and then we have to go looking for a different station because we miss that classic country sound. We miss traditional country music. And I know that we’re not the only ones. I feel like there’s kind of an audience out there that’s been alienated a bit with this newer music. I just miss that era of great music, you know?

If you could, what would you change about the way country radio makes up their playlists?

Well I’m thankful for the new songs out there, because that’s what keeps the music and the format and the genre alive. But I sure wish that they would think about that music from the 80s and the 90s that made us all just country fanatics, and work a little bit of that stuff into the format. Because a lot of us guys are not really willing to say, “I’m done with this. I’m through. I don’t do that kind of music so I guess my day is over.” I don’t feel that way at all. I think I’m as creative and artistic as I’ve ever been, maybe more so.

Worley’s new album, Second Wind: Latest & Greatest, is due out on Friday (April 26).

Track list:

1. “When You Need My Love”
2. “Good Day to Run”
3. “Second Wind”
4. “Family Tree”
5. “Tennessee River Run”
6. “I Miss My Friend”
7. “Awful Beautiful Life”
8. “Have You Forgotten”
9. “Lonely Alone”
10. “Whiskey Makes Me Think About You”
11. “The Night (Sure Looks Good on You)”
12. “It’s Good to Be Me”
13. “Do Something Good”
14. “Running”
15. “Working on a Love Song”

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Alison makes her living loving country music. She’s based in Chicago, but she’s always leaving her heart in Nashville.