Confederate Railroad joins Kentucky Headhunters for Martinsburg show
MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Being in the music business for more than 40 years has taught Danny Shirley that no two shows are ever the same.
The Confederate Railroad frontman said during a telephone interview from Nashville, Tenn., that using a set list has never worked for him.
“I kinda tell the band as we’re walking on stage, I get a look at the crowd and I say, ‘here’s the first song,’ and from there we just wing it,” he said.
Still, Shirley said, there are some standbys in all the band’s gigs.
“We’ll do all the hits. We’ve been fortunate enough to sell enough records a lot of people have their favorite album cuts that get just as much reaction as a lot of the hits do. And we’ll do some of (those),” he said.
Also, during their show opening for Kentucky Headhunters at Big Bucks Live in Martinsburg on Friday, Feb. 10, fans might hear music from when Shirley performed with David Allan Coe and Johnny Paycheck.
“A lot of people remember that. So just about every show, we go back and do a tribute to those bands,” he said.
Confederate Railroad is known for their Southern rock-style country music with such hits as “Queen of Memphis,” “Elvis and Andy,” and the more poignant “Daddy Never Was the Cadillac Kind,” and “Jesus and Mama.” Perhaps their biggest hit was the 1993 novelty hit “Trashy Women.” The tongue-in-cheek single gets a reboot on their latest album, “Lucky To Be Alive,” with guest vocals by country icons Willie Nelson and John Anderson and newcomer Colt Ford.
Shirley said when he was first approached to re-record the hit, he was hesitant. “I said, ‘well there’s really no reason to do it. You know, we sold millions on it, I had a Grammy nomination for it and a couple other awards,’” he recalled.
But after more pondering, he had a change of heart.
“Well then I got to thinking, the only way I would do that is if I got a couple other artists to do it with me and give all the proceeds to charity,” he said.
The beneficiary of the song is the Hunter Worley foundation, which Shirley started to help families in the Chattanooga, Tenn., area, who have lost children. Hunter Worley was a 3-year-old boy who was accidentally killed when he was run over by a backhoe driven by his father.
“Being a parent ... I guess the only thing worse than losing your kid would be if it was your mistake that made it happen,” he said.
The foundation covers funeral expenses and provides clergy members and therapists to assist families to get through the tragedy of losing a child.
A ‘Trashy’ life of its own
Shirley said he never imagined that “Trashy Women” would be the hit it was.
“Back when we were doing that first Railroad album, market research was real big. Everything had to be tested. Everybody was like, ‘what’s the women gonna think of it? What’s the 18 to 24-year-olds gonna think about it?,’ and that was real foreign to me,” he said.
But Shirley experimented performing the song in live shows.
“That song was going over great. But market research said it was the worst song on our album ... but yet at our shows, it was 30, 40 year old women saying ‘hey, do that ‘‘Trashy Women” song.’ You know, the very people that were supposed to be offended by it,” he said.
Eventually the song, which Atlantic Records had placed in the last spot on Confederate Railroad’s debut album, began getting radio airplay.
“Rick Blackburn the president of Atlantic (at the time) came to me and he said, ‘you know, we’re getting a lot of phone calls on this one. What do you think? It could ruin your career, or it could be a hit.’ I said, ‘let’s go for it,’” Shirley said.
The band members went on to shake up the industry even more when they appeared in drag in the song’s video.
“We had to do something so outrageous that everybody knows this is just a joke. so to get over all the political (correctness) of it and everything, and just loosen up a little bit. It worked great and everything about that song was fun,” he said with a laugh.
In 40 years as a country musician, Shirley, who said his main influence was Waylon Jennings, has seen a lot of changes in the genre.
“Every generation has different influences. You know, when we first came out, people thought ‘well, you guys are too rock. They sound too much like a Southern rock band.’ You know, you’re always gonna have your naysayers,’” he said, noting he grew up with the Outlaw Movement of Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and George Jones.”
“But now these (new) guys were all influenced by the Beastie Boys and I know my generation isn’t supposed to like that,” Shirley, 60, said with a laugh. But as long as I’ve been listening to music, there’s some that come on the radio you turn some up, and you turn some down. And it’s still that way. There’s some great music out there, and some I don’t care for. But there’s a lot of really great stuff,” he said.
All in family
Shirley said he’s looking forward to sharing the bill for Friday’s show with the Kentucky Headhunters, which feature two of his distant cousins, frontman Richard Young, and his brother, Fred. Shirley said he was still a struggling musician when the Headhunters first rose to stardom with their 1989 album “Pickin’ On Nashville.”
“I had a uncle that kept up with that family tree stuff and he said, ‘have you heard that band the Kentucky Headhunters? Well Richard and Fred are your cousins. Their grandmother’s last name was Shirley.’” The uncle went on to suggest Shirley talk to the Youngs in an effort to get his career going.
Shirley didn’t think that was a good idea.
“‘I’m thinking, ‘I can’t really do that. Hey man, I love your record, I’m your cousin, can you help me?’ So I never said anything,” he said with a laugh.
But years later, Richard Young had made the family connection and yelled to Shirley across a ballroom in Nashville. “He said, ‘Hey Danny, hey Danny, did you realize we was cousins?’” Shirley said.
“But we do a lot of work with those guys. We always have a lot of fun,” Shirley said.
If you go ...WHAT: Confederate Railroad and Kentucky HeadhuntersWHEN: 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 10; doors open at 7 p.m. WHERE: Big Bucks Live, Berkeley Plaza, 215 Monroe St., Martinsburg, W.Va.COST: $20 for general admission in advance, $30 at the door; VIP tickets, which include table seating, cost $40 in advance; $50 at the doorCONTACT: Call 304-262-0022 or find Big Bucks Live on FacebookMORE: For more information about Confederate Railroad, go to www.confederaterailroad.com