When it comes to hard rain, Darryl Worley has had his share of soakings, but as the title track of his debut album, Hard Rain Don’t Last, suggests, he understands that the downpours, and the clouds that bring them will pass.
Among the torrents he has endured: having a fingertip shot off, so that playing a guitar became a painful experience; teaching kids whose success depended on special attention and nurturing; and giving up a partnership in his own lucrative chemical business for the high-risk, low-pay life of a fledgling songwriter.
Worley has faced his stormclouds with determination and uncommon courage. His music reflects those qualities, and it resonates with an honesty and sincerity often missing in country these days.
A native of tiny Pyburn, just north of the Mississippi and Alabama borders in Hardin County, Tenn., Worley’s background is the stuff country legends are built on. He picked on the back porch with his banjo-playing grandfather at 9; he ran wild on the streets, courting trouble as a teen; he had his fingertip shot off by a cousin in a freak accident.
Freak accidents, as it turns out, were a common occurrence around the Worley household. “I had two brothers, and we were live wires,” Worley says in a recent interview. “My poor mother was gray-headed by the time she was 31. She jokes about how we had our own special room at the emergency room just for the Worley boys, because she was always taking someone in to get sewed up or plaster-casted.
“It was crazy and intense around our house, because Mom and Dad were both strong-willed, outspoken people, and my brothers and I fought like cats and dogs,” he continues. “It was volatile, but we always knew we were loved.
“It was a very spiritual atmosphere, too. But sometimes my grandparents would call and say, ‘Is everything all right up there? We heard screaming.’ And we’d say, ‘Yeah, Grandma, everything’s pretty normal,'” Worley recalls, laughing.
His father took up the ministry when Worley was 14, uprooting the family. His hopes of earning an athletic scholarship ended when Worley broke his back playing basketball. Attending college in northern Alabama, he began to concentrate on his music, performing whenever possible and dabbling with melodies and rhymes. Studying biology and chemistry, he graduated with highest honors and took a teaching position for a year after college.
“I got the lower level learners who didn’t care about being there,” he remembers. “It was like babysitting, but I decided we were going to learn something, or go down trying, so I wound up getting some kids out of those classes who I knew were too sharp to be there. When I see one now, they say I was the best teacher they had, because I was the only one who cared to make sure they learned. I wouldn’t take a million dollars for that year. It was a great experience.”
Worley and two buddies later pooled their contacts and knowledge to open a paper chemical company. The company thrived, but for Worley something was out of kilter. “We were making a fortune, planning to retire by the time we were 40, but I kept missing music,” he says. “I decided to walk away, and my family thought I had lost my mind. They couldn’t understand. But I didn’t have a passion for what I was doing. I worked seven days a week and hated it. That decision cost me a relationship with a girlfriend as well.”
On the strength of some demos he cut at a Muscle Shoals, Ala., studio, Worley eventually landed a deal with Fame Publishing. To be closer to the action and to focus on his music, he left Fame and began commuting to Nashville. It was a tough time, and he nearly burned himself out. “I remember sleeping in my truck in that parking lot right over there,” he recalls wistfully, looking out at the lot behind his Music Row management company. “I didn’t want to be a burden to anyone, so I’d write during the day, sleep out there, and then drive home to play the clubs. I was walking the edge, playing four nights a week, pushing as hard as I could. And I hated it. I hated myself. My relationship had gone bad, and everything seemed to be getting further and further away. It was a bad time for me.”
Dark skies gave way to sunny days when Worley’s writing impressed the brass at EMI Music Publishing, who signed him to a songwriting deal. DreamWorks execs caught his club act back home and offered him the chance to record his music. “Instead of showcases, I’d have labels come to the clubs [around my home],” he says. “One time, some execs flew in to see me and asked where the rental car place was. The guy at the airport just laughed, because there was no rental car place. But when they mentioned my name, he lent them his own car to get to my show.”
With the help of his producers — James Stroud, head of DreamWorks’ Nashville office, and Frank Rogers, the man behind Brad Paisley’s debut — Worley is beginning to realize his dreams. The guy in his debut hit single, “When You Need My Love,” knows his time on the sidelines will end one day and he’ll find love and happiness. Worley’s moment seems finally to have come. He recently made his first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry, and there are sure to be more affirming moments in the future. No matter what happens, Worley is satisfied just being in the game. Hard Rain Don’t Last, which debuted at No. 33 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart, stands as testimony to his honesty and conviction and a reminder of how far he has come and the price he has had to pay.
“A few years ago, I had to be a little sleazy in the business I was in, and that didn’t feel right to me,” he reveals. “I realized from that experience you have to be willing to say ‘the hell with all of it’ and just do what’s right, stick to your guns.
“There’s a line in one of my songs, ‘I’ve learned to live behind these fences,’ and I think we’ve all done that,” he continues. “But if you don’t maintain your integrity and be who you are, you don’t have much to offer. I couldn’t have made this record 10 years ago. I think who I am really comes through on it, and I wouldn’t change a thing about it. I’m really proud of it.”