Darryl Worley Hasn’t Forgotten

“I’m sorry, I’m a little scattered,” Darryl Worley says, calling in on a cell phone. “I’ve got so many damn things going on, and I’m sitting in the middle of an airport. It’s not the greatest place to do an interview.”

A slight echo distorts everything he hears on the other end of the phone, although his own words come through loud and clear. That’s appropriate, considering the fiercely patriotic message of his No. 1 hit, “Have You Forgotten?” A bold statement from a traditional-minded singer, “Have You Forgotten?” has become country music’s rallying cry of 2003. The single currently enjoys its fourth consecutive week at No. 1 on Billboard’s country singles chart.

“I think the bottom line is that the majority of people that listen to country radio see this particular circumstance that we’re in as a nation the same way I do,” he says. “There’s a few people in this country that seem to have forgotten what happened to our nation on 9/11, but there’s a majority of people who haven’t forgotten.”

With the war coverage saturating the airwaves, it’s practically impossible to forget about the conflict overseas. However, “Have You Forgotten?” was not written about the war with Iraq. Instead, Worley composed the song (with Wynn Varble) the last week in December 2002 just after visiting American troops in Afghanistan. He debuted the song at the Grand Ole Opry on Jan. 10.

“I was on a mission to do something to honor those guys and gals who are over there laying their lives on the line,” Worley says. “I almost forgot the lyrics that night, because we’d never played it as a band before. We actually stood in the dressing room and learned it.”

After his Grand Ole Opry Live performance was telecast the following night on CMT, requests began pouring into country radio almost immediately. The single shot to No. 1 on the Billboard chart in five weeks, and Worley (along with labelmate Toby Keith ) accepted an invitation to sing for the President on March 26.

Earlier this month, he was honored with the USO Merit Award. During an Alabama concert, he was presented with an American flag flown at the Pentagon on the first anniversary of 9/11. Just last week (April 16), his performance at the Pentagon was piped into military bases around the world.

It’s an amazing trajectory for someone who was largely unknown this time last year — three singles had cracked the Top 15 and “I Miss My Friend” was very slowly crawling to No. 1. (It took six months to get there.)

Now, rather than releasing a third album of all-new material, Worley collects six songs each from 2000’s Hard Rain Don’t Last and 2002’s I Miss My Friend for the new album, Have You Forgotten? Four new songs were inspired by his Afghanistan trip, and Worley calls the first half of the project “a tribute to the American soldier.”

Asked if he’s concerned that the new patriotic songs will overshadow his other material, Worley takes the opposite view.

“If this one patriotic song is all I had, people would be going, ‘What’s this guy about?’” Worley says. “I think we’re not only going to honor these soldiers, but we’re gonna put a retrospective look at what we’ve done in my career and the music that best represents what I’m about. I think people are really going to have a chance to hear that and say, ‘Man, that guy has got some solid music.’”

A Tennessee native, the 38-year-old Worley says, “What I’m told more and more every day is that ‘Your songs say exactly how I feel’ and that’s a special thing. You only get a few of those in a lifetime and we didn’t plan this. This is such a fluke. I mean, the song is so in-your-face, I never dreamed it would be a single. You have to be so careful nowadays what you put out there. You might offend somebody or have something radio doesn’t endorse or whatever.”

He continues, “There are a lot of people out there who believe in our military and who believe in our president. They’re the silent majority. You won’t see them out running around in the streets preaching to people about their feelings on this. But they will stand up and say ‘Hell yeah’ when somebody strikes that chord in them.”