Listening to his new album, you get the feeling that Billy Currington is the most relaxed country singer since Don Williams. On Little Bit of Everything, he draws on some of those cool sounds from a few generations ago — with several tunes sounding like they could have fit on an Alabama album from the 1980s.
“The vibe in the studio really was so relaxed. It was so easy,” said Currington. “I had a little voice rest going on at the time, so I didn’t feel the strain or that it was hard to sing for this album. It was pretty easy and went over really smooth.”
Fresh from a huge hit in “Must Be Doin’ Something Right,” Currington dropped out of sight last year to heal from acute laryngitis and to undergo a trauma recovery program due to childhood abuse by his stepfather. Now, the Georgia native is focused on living a positive life. Here, he talks about moving to Nashville, skipping the sad songs and the most important thing he’s ever done for his career.
CMT: That’s a cool guitar intro on “Don’t.” How did that come about?
Currington: The little “wah-wah,” right? I just got in there and everybody was setting up. I just put my headphones on. We had two guitar players. One of them was actually Brent Mason, who started doing that on his guitar. I was like, “I don’t know who’s doing that” — because I couldn’t see — “but whoever’s doing that, keep doing that! It sounds so good!” That’s what we did. We kicked it off with that. One take with “Don’t.” It sounded so good and so fresh. … It’s got that Barry White thing. (laughs)
When you first started getting interested in country music, did you take it upon yourself to go back and learn a bunch of the classics?
The first cover band I was a part of, I was 18 years old. They had been playing for a few years. They had four hours worth of songs that I had to learn to join that band, so I had learn all that old stuff. That’s where I cut my teeth — on the ’80s and ’70s music.
When you got your break, how important was it that you already knew how to play on stage for four hours a night?
Looking back, I was so glad. I moved to Nashville when I was right out of high school, like three weeks later. I came here with no band experience. I stayed here about eight months. I did everything I could to get in these bars and play, but you have to be 21 to do that around here, so I kept being asked to leave when 9:00 came. It didn’t happen. I got discouraged, and I went back home. I moved back to Georgia and ended up in a band. I just fell into one. The most important thing I ever did for my career, looking back, was to play those four-hour shows … six nights a week. It really teaches you how to learn to communicate with the crowd, even though it was on a really small level back then. How to talk to them, how to learn to play the right songs to make them feel like dancing or singing along.
Did you always play at the same bar?
No, I started out at a place called Turkey’s Lounge. The first night I played there, the owner pulled a knife on this guy that got in a fight with this other dude right in front of the stage. I was like, “Uh, yeah, I’m in the right place.” … But I ended up playing at a place called the Cavalier Lounge. I got a house gig there for about six months. I played there and started playing other places around Georgia and then eventually moved right back to Nashville. … I just turned 20 when I moved back. I was able to get into bars the second time. I don’t know how, I just worked my way into them.
How encouraging were your friends and family when you decided to move to Nashville?
In high school, the whole time, I was telling people I was going to college to play football. That’s where I had my mind set. At the last minute, when I decided music was more my thing, I told everyone I was going to Nashville, Tenn., right when I graduated from high school. It’s kind of weird for people, especially my own family. They didn’t understand it, but they were, of course, supportive. The story goes on. They’re still supportive.
Did people try to pitch you the darker, soul-searching songs this time around?
Yeah. This time, I guess because of “Must Be Doin’ Something Right,” I got pitched a lot of soulful R&B type of songs. A bunch of it. And there were a lot of ballads in there, too, and a lot of it was on the sad side. I wasn’t really about that this time. (laughs) I just wanted to make a really positive, happy record.
How would you describe that positive energy you have now?
Well, I guess you’d have to feel the negative energy to know what the positive energy is. The negatives are free from my mind. I don’t even think of them anymore. Just let them go. Every thought that you think, every word that you speak, is all just nothing but happy and positive thoughts.
With those first two records, you were so busy. Did you even have time to think?
When the first one was made, I had a little bit more time because I was writing so much before I even got a record deal, so I had songs stacked up. But after it came, it all changed. Things started going so fast. When that Shania thing happened [a collaboration with Shania Twain on “Party for Two”], that’s when it really picked up. I didn’t have time to hardly breathe after that. And I was so thankful. And then “Good Directions” and “Must Be Doin’ Something Right.” Yeah, it was a crash course about to happen. But it was fun, a great ride. It’s still a great ride.