published Thursday, November 29th, 2012

Country stars shine in Christmas for Kids concert

Confederate Railroad members are Bobby Randall, steel guitar/fiddle; Rusty Hendrix, lead guitar; Danny Shirley, lead vocals/guitar; Mark Dufresne, drums; and Wayne Secrest, bass.
Confederate Railroad members are Bobby Randall, steel guitar/fiddle; Rusty Hendrix, lead guitar; Danny Shirley, lead vocals/guitar; Mark Dufresne, drums; and Wayne Secrest, bass.
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
IF YOU GO

* What: Christmas for Kids with Lauren Alaina and Confederate Railroad to benefit Forgotten Child Fund.

* When: 6 p.m. Wednesday.

* Where: Track 29, 1400 Market St.

* Admission: $20.

* Phone: 521-2929.

* Venue website: www.track29.co.

Two of the area's biggest country music stars will take the stage Wednesday to help bring yuletide joy to needy children.

"American Idol" runner-up and Rossville native Lauren Alaina will be joined by Confederate Railroad for the concert, presented by Track 29 and WUSY-FM. Proceeds will benefit the Forgotten Child Fund, a volunteer organization that wraps and delivers donated Christmas gifts to needy children.

"I don't want people to think I'm doing it for the recognition but (playing benefit shows) does feel good," said Confederate Railroad lead singer Danny Shirley. "I think it's my obligation since I've been as fortunate as I have.

"As an American and a Christian, I think it's our job to give back, and I'm happy to do it."

Shirley began performing at Chattanooga nightclubs in 1976, then spent several years on the road, backing country artists such as David Allan Coe and Johnny Paycheck before striking out as Confederate Railroad after signing with Atlantic Records in the early '90s.

The band's self-titled debut album in 1992 was a smash hit, earning double-platinum certification and yielding a string of hits, including "Queen of Memphis," "Trashy Women" and "Jesus and Mama." A 1994 follow-up, "Notorious," was another platinum seller and spawned the Top 10 hit "Daddy Never Was the Cadillac Kind."

For the last two years, Shirley said, he has experienced a prolific period of writing and has assembled material to be recorded next year for the band's first original studio release in more than a decade.

At Wednesday's show, Confederate Railroad's set will probably touch mostly on the classics. Shirley said he thinks his songs have remained popular because they touch on timeless truths.

"A song like 'Trashy Women' will always be relevant because there will always be trashy women out there and guys who like them," he said, laughing. "No matter what generation it is you're talking about, they can relate to those lyrics."

Although Confederate Railroad and Alaina will not be performing any songs together, Shirley said he's interested by the possibilities of their shared billing.

"This is like a no-lose situation," he said. "I get to play to some new people who probably haven't been Railroad fans from Lauren's crowd and hang out with buddies from high school and raise money for a good cause.

"You can't go wrong."


Q&A

Casey Phillips spoke with Danny Shirley, lead singer and founder of country legends Confederate Railroad, about his thoughts looking back on 25 years together, why the band’s songs remain popular and the catalyst for his recent writing boom.

CP: Confederate Railroad has been together now for 25 years. Does that milestone mean much to you or is this just another year like any other?

DS: Actually, the drummer and I have been together for 31 years. The bass player has been with me for almost 26 years now. That goes through the years as the Danny Shirley Band and the years as the Johnny Paycheck Band and the David Allen Coe Band. We changed the name in 1991 when I got the record deal for the first album. That goes back to 1981. It was Danny Shirley and the Crossroads Band when I put first put it together.

I started playing in nightclubs in Chattanooga in 1976. I played in different places around Hixson and Chattanooga and put the first band together in 1981. We played at several bars in Chattanooga, and in 1983, we decided to make the circle bigger and started going to Georgia and Alabama and the Carolinas and branching out a little bit.

I got to know David Allen Coe in 1983. I was doing a show in Texas one night, and David called. He knew that I stayed pretty busy and asked for some nightclubs he could play. My first thought was that this was my way to get out of the “four show a night, six nights a week” stuff. Me and David came to an arrangement where I would book his shows, and me and the band would back him up. That's how we became the David Allen Coe Band. That was in the mid-’80s.

Then, Johnny Paycheck, who I met years ago, called and knew that this deal with David was going good. He was about to go back to prison in the late-’80s, and he asked me if I could book shows for him like that. So we'd go out as the David Allen Coe Band for a few weeks, and then as the Johnny Paycheck Band for a few shows, and then we'd do a few shows as the Danny Shirley Band. [Laughs.] It was whatever it took to pay the bills back then.

Then, I got offered the record deal with Atlantic Records in 1991, and the first record came out in 1992.

CP: This year marks 20 years since the release of your first album, which included some of your most successful songs. Does it surprise you that you're still singing songs like “Queen of Memphis” so many years later?

DS: I'm really surprised at how well those have held up over the years. We still do some college shows, and you figure those people were just babies when that stuff came out, but they still come to shows and sing along with it. It's really been a blessing.

CP: To what do you attribute that? Why have the songs had that kind of staying power?

DS: You know, it's hard to put your finger on it. When I did the records, I thought they were good songs, but for them to hold up 20 years - I don't know how that happened. Obviously, these people heard their parents and grandparents listen to it growing up.

Some of it is still relevant. “Trashy Women” still gets a ton of airplay across the country. A song like “Trashy Women” will always be relevant because there will always be trashy women out there - [laughs] - and guys who like them.

Some of the ballads have really held up, and I think maybe it was because it's things that anyone can relate to. “Jesus and Mama” was our first No. 1, and I guess that's still relevant because the lyrics are still relevant. No matter what generation it is you're talking about, they can relate to those lyrics. Same thing with “Daddy Never Was the Cadillac Kind.” “When You Leave That Way You Can Never Go Back” was one of my favorites, and it's still true today.

I didn't even understand why we hit as big as we did when we were new. I thought it was pretty good stuff, and when we first hit big, someone once asked me what it was about my voice that people can relate to. I hadn't really thought about it, but I said, “Well, pretty much anyone in a pick up truck riding down the road listening to me thinks, 'Hell, I could do that.'” [Laughs.]

I always took things personal trying to put together a record. I didn't put something on thinking it would be a hit; I wanted to put something on that people could relate to, and even if I didn't write it, it was something I should have written because I could relate to.

CP: Have you found that you relate to the songs differently now than you used to?

DS: Well, I still write a lot. I've probably written more in the last two years than I have in my life combined. As a writer, you're always looking for new things to talk about, but as a performer, every time you get on stage, you live for that reaction you get from the crowd. As long as they're still enjoying the songs, I still enjoy singing them and performing.

CP: What's behind your boom as a writer in the last couple of years? What are you writing about?

DS: Actually, I'll tell you what happened, as I got older and a new generation of country music artists were coming along, so many of these new guys were coming to me. Me and Charlie Daniels do a big benefit every year down in Tampa; actually, it's coming up before we do the Track 29 show. Jason Aldean was down there with us one year, and the radio girl came back and said that Jason would like to meet me. I told her to bring him back, and we sat and talked for a few minutes.

He's from Macon, Ga., and he told me that when we used to come down there and play at Whiskey River, he was in high school, and he and his buddies were such big fans that even though they couldn't get inside because they were underage, they'd stand outside the back door listening to the whole show. I thought that was pretty cool. He said they'd stand outside the back door and listen to the whole show. I thought that was pretty cool. Luke Bryan came to me one day and said something similar. So I got to thinking, “Man, I should be writing songs for these guys.”

So I buckled down and got together with a couple of songwriter friends of mine and started writing things that didn't necessarily relate to me. It was a lot of fun; I really enjoyed branching out and writing something other than Confederate Railroad songs.

Lo and behold, some record people heard this, and next spring, we have a new Confederate Railroad album coming out. It will be the first new material I've released since 2001. Out of the blue, it looks like I might be signing a record deal. I don't expect any hits, but it still feels good that executives in Nashville still think we're relevant and are willing to put their money behind putting this record out.

Summer of 1993 is when “Trashy Women” came out, and there's a good chance we'll re-cut “Trashy Women” and use a couple of these younger guys to sing it with me. That could really be something. I don't want to tell you who I'm talking to about it, because it might jinx it, but it's a couple of guys who were much bigger than I was in my hey day. We're talking about doing a video, and each of the three of us would take a third of the money and give it to a charity of our choice.

CP: Has writing songs that you can't necessarily relate to on a personal level made them harder or easier to perform live?

DS: Well, I've never performed these songs on stage. I've done maybe just a couple off the new album, and those were things I haven't written. They were written by Roger Alan Wade years ago when he and I were starting out in Chattanooga.

I've been putting some things on my website that I've been writing that are totally different from what people would associate with Confederate Railroad. I've put up acoustic demos of me and a guitar to get some feedback, and a lot of the feedback has actually been really good.

A ton of this, I won't put on my album, I don't think, but there will be a few things on the album that are vintage Railroad and a few things that probably aren't. I actually wrote a bluegrass song. I don't know much about bluegrass, but I got to hanging out with a guy who is a real big bluegrass performer and producer. Dan Tyminski is on the record with me, and so are a couple of my bluegrass buddies from here in Chattanooga, Roy Curry and Keith Mahan.

There's going to be some strange stuff on here. I've never been big on love songs, but I actually wrote a couple of those. It's going to be really interesting to see what happens and how its received. It's going to be very eclectic, from bluegrass to southern rock and everything in between. As soon I finish up this new “Trashy Women,” it will be on the album, too.

CP: You'll be sharing the stage at the Dec. 5 show with Lauren Alaina. Have you ever worked with her before?

DS: If I'm not mistaken, she won a talent contest one year and opened a show for us. I think that's the same girl. Tex at US101 called me about this. We don't normally do too many shows in Chattanooga. We close Lake Winnie every year, and that's about it. That's been a tradition for the last 15 years.

This year the weather was bad, so I thought that since there weren't a lot of people at that show that we'd go ahead and do this. It looks like it's going to work out really well. I'm really looking forward to the show. I was down at Track 29 about a year ago with Jamey Johnson and went and hung out with him and really liked the venue.

As far as Lauren goes, I don't watch a lot of reality shows, but of course when she was on there, we watched every week and were pulling for her. I was really pleased. I thought she represented the Chattanooga area really well. We were proud of her.

CP: Will the show include any collaborations between you and Lauren?

DS: Nah, we won't have any time to work that up. It's kind of a strange mix with the Lauren Alaina crowd and the Confederate Railroad crowd. It's two different sides of the track. It's going to be interesting with me playing to her crowd and her playing to my crowd. I'm looking forward to it, though.

I think it's going to be fun, and it's for a great cause. I've been able to help with Christmas for Kids down there for 20 years, and I think it's a very worthwhile deal. I haven't done the show, but I've made some donations and done some advertisements for them and taken up money for them, but this will be the first time I'm playing the concert.

CP: What do you plan to play at the show? What's on your potential set list?

DS: Every time I walk on stage, everybody expects to hear the big hits, so I have to do those. We'll be playing for an hour or an hour and 15 minutes, so obviously, I won't be able to do everything. If I'm not mistaken, I think we'll be going on first, so I won't go overtime and cut into Lauren's schedule or anything, but I'll do the hits.

I was fortunate enough to sell enough records that people have their favorite album cuts, so I'll do those. Then, I'll just do some local stuff that maybe no one has heard except people in Chattanooga.

Anytime we play around here, I have people I've known all my life who come out. I got a text the other day from some people I went to high school with who said a bunch of them were coming out. It's going to be fun.

This is like a no-lose situation. I get to go there and play music and have a good time. I get to play to some new people who probably haven't been Railroad fans from Lauren's crowd and hang out with buddies from high school and raise money for a good cause. You can't go wrong.

CP: What was Christmas like for you, growing up? Lots of presents?

DS: Oh yeah, it was great. I had a great childhood growing up in Chattanooga, and Christmas was always a big deal for me. Nowadays, I always blow it out for my kids. My wife gets on me every year telling me that I spend too much money on the kids; it's an argument we have every December. [Laughs.] Talking about growing up, someone once asked me in an interview if I had a rough childhood, and I said, “No. My childhood was great. My adult life went all to hell when I was in charge of everything.” [Laughs.]

No, we're big Christmas people. We decorate the house up big and have big dinners and really blow it out.

CP: I'm assuming you've done plenty of charity shows like this over the years. How does it make you feel, as a band, to play for a cause benefiting others?

DS: Well, we do a lot of concerts that help benefit charities. I don't advertise it a lot because I don't want people to think I'm doing it for the recognition, but it does feel good. I think it's my obligation since I've been as fortunate as I have. As an American and a Christian, I think it's our job to give back and I'm happy to do it.

Contact Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @Phillips CTFP.

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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