Danny Shirley Interview
(Confederate Railroad)

They started out as a Georgia bar band, but, they’ve taken their act all the way to the Top.

They were named Best New Group in 1993 by the Academy of Country Music.

They’ve sold some 5 million CD’s.

Their name is-----Confederate Railroad.

Lead vocalist and founding member Danny Shirley spoke with us about his group.

Q – You’ve got this new CD out called “Unleashed”. How are you promoting it? Are you out on the road?
A – Oh, yeah. Of course we still do about 120 shows a year anyway. On top of that, we’ve been going to a lot of radio stations, doing acoustic shows in several different towns. And so far-----so good! You know, I’ve been out of this for awhile, the recording end. This is the first album I’ve done in several years, but, it seems to be catching on pretty good.

Q – Why had you not recorded for so long?
A – Well, I didn’t record anything for about 5 years. I got married. I’ve got 2 small children. I really backed off of everything once the kids were born. I wanted to spend more time at home. I hadn’t planned on doing this album, but, Nick Hunter at Audium said, if you come do this record, here’s your budget, you do the record-----no interference from the label, telling me what I had to do, what I couldn’t do. It was a real pleasure making this record.

Q – How many groups are there in Nashville trying to do what Confederate Railroad is doing-----and has done?
A – Oh gosh, it’s unlimited. I don’t have any idea what the number of people in Nashville trying to get a record deal going would be. If you have dinner, chances are one of the waitresses is in Nashville trying to become a recording artist or a writer. If you stop and get your car worked on, chances are one of these guys are in Nashville trying to become a star. (Laughs). Nashville is just covered with people trying to get a break.

Q – Where did this name Confederate Railroad come from?
A – Well, actually the band had been together for about 10 years when we signed the record deal. I actually signed the deal as a solo artist and recorded the first album as a solo artist. At the time we were getting ready to release the first album back in ’92, there were so many new male vocalists out at the time that we were afraid I’d just get lost in the shuffle. So, the label and I got together and decided to re-name it as a group since the band and I had been together for so many years. A songwriter friend of mine came up with the name Confederate Railroad. I liked the Confederate part because the project was very Southeastern. Me, being born and raised in the Southeast, I liked that. The Railroad part if you’re familiar with Civil War history; I was living in Kennesaw, Georgia at the time, but, I was born and raised in Chattanooga, Tennessee. If you’re familiar with Civil War history the train, the General was hijacked by the North in Kennesaw and re-captured by the South in Chattanooga. So, there was a little personal thing there that made me go for that.

Q – You were the house band at Miss Kitty’s in Marietta, Georgia for awhile. What kind of a club was Miss Kitty’s?
A – Oh, it was a great club! That’s why I moved to down around Atlanta for several years. Back in the mid to late 80’s the rotation of bands there was me, Travis Tritt, Jon Berry, Diamond Rio, and Little Texas. That was before any of us had records. You can imagine with all 5 of us being able to go and further our career nationally, you can imagine how much fun that club was back then. It was just phenomenal. And it was so much fun coming up, all of us together and then becoming noticed later on. And, it’s still so much fun to run into each other and talk about those old days. It was a special time.

Q – Someone must’ve liked the “Gunsmoke” t.v. series to have named the bar “Miss Kitty’s”.
A – (Laughs). That’s true. That’s very true.

Q – From that club, you went on to back up David Allan Coe and Johnny Paycheck.
A – Yeah. We were the David Allan Coe Band for I guess about 5 or 6 years, leading up to the time when we got our record deal with Atlantic. On the new album, you probably noticed, David and I got to do a duet together. First time we ever recorded together and that was a lot of fun. We still see each other pretty regularly and still do several shows together in the course of a year.

Q – How much roadwork did you do for those 2 acts?
A – With Paycheck it was really a deal to where John and I were friends. If you’ll remember back in the late 80’s, he went to prison in Ohio. A year before he went in, we went out with John and basically just helped him stockpile some cash. He wanted to work all he could and got him ready to get his family took care of before he was incarcerated for a couple of years there. With David, we were his band, full-time for several years. Back then, we were probably doing 200 shows a year with David.

Q – How far did you travel?
A – We toured Europe together.

Q – I guess you did do some roadwork then!
A – Oh,yeah. July (2002) will be 26 years I’ve been doing this for a living.

Q – That’s actually pretty good isn’t it?
A – That’s great-----yeah, to get to go that long without having to work. (Laughs). No, it has been really good to me. I have no complaints what-so-ever.

Q –Confederate Railroad was named by the Academy of Country Music as Best New Group of 1993. Do you recall who your competition was?
A – I know Little Texas was one of the groups and if I’m not mistaken there was another group called The Great Divide. There was 3 of us in that category that year. And again, going back to the Miss Kitty’s days, it made it more exciting that it was us and Little Texas together, because we’d known each other so long. And, at the time we were actually touring together if I’m not mistaken.

Q – In this song of yours, “White Trash With Money”…..
A – (Laughs).

Q – It’s a funny song, with a funny title. But, there is one line in the song, “Doctors and lawyers don’t think it’s funny that they’re living next door to white trash with money”. Is that the way you’re viewed or is that the way you view yourself?
A – Well, I actually wrote that song based on a true experience. When things first started going really good for us, the first thing I did was buy a really nice house in a really nice sub-division there in Chattanooga. After I’d been there for awhile, a couple of months, one of my neighbors told me that when they heard I was moving into the sub-division they had a community meeting ‘cause they were concerned with an entertainer moving in, there would be wild parties, late-night goings on and all this, not realizing that when you entertain for a living, the last thing I want to do when I go home is have a party.

Q – Right.
A – We were laughing about it. They were thinking just the opposite of what it turned out. He said you’re like the calmest people in the whole neighborhood. We had a lot of doctors, a lot of lawyers, and a couple of professional athletes that lived close to me. I just couldn’t let that opportunity pass when they told me there was this concern about me moving in. So, that’s why I wrote the “White Trash With Money” song.

Q – Could they have stopped you from moving into the neighborhood?
A – No. No. There was no way about that. They were just real concerned about it because it is such a classy neighborhood. I guess with our reputation and songs like “Trashy Women”, they didn’t know what to expect. They thought that their little paradise on earth there was gonna go down hill. (Laughs).

Q – Why do you think Confederate Railroad succeeded where another group might not have? Was it talent? Persistence? Luck? A combination of all 3?
A – The way I’ve always seen it was I was never a great writer. I was never a great entertainer. We weren’t great musicians. But, something came together there that connected with the common people. I think a lot of it might’ve been the lyrical content. We’d sing about things so many people can relate to. Sometimes we sing about things that they can relate to, but other artists wouldn’t go so far as to say it. I think that having a good time onstage is contagious. The crowd sees us having fun and it makes them have fun which in turn makes us have more fun. I think there’s a diversity in the music we’ve done over the years that made Confederate Railroad’s music appealing to a wider range of people. They hear we were up for a Grammy for “Trashy Women” and we were also up for Christian Awards for “Jesus and Mama”. I think it’s just a combination of things there.

Q – I’ve heard there’s trouble in Paradise. Labels are dropping country acts. Management cos. are packing up and moving back to Los Angeles. What’s going on? Is that true?
A – Yeah, that is true. You know, if you look at the history of Country Music, you’ve got peaks and valleys. They early to mid 90’s was definitely the biggest time ever in Country Music history. You just can’t sustain that momentum forever, and so you’re gonna have a falling off. We’re down right now, but, I’m sure in a few years it’s gonna swing back up, ‘cause it always does. Of course, we have a theory that the hillbillies get things going real good in Nashville and we start making money and the L.A. people come and screw it up. They leave and the hillbillies get it built back up. (Laughs). We’ll see what happens this time. You know, I think a lot of what happened there in the mid 90’s; things were going so good that a lot of the upper management in Nashville, be it the record cos. or the radio people or whatever didn’t want to screw it up. So, they said o.k. we’ve got to be real careful what we do now. And I think that was the downfall in that they got so careful that the music became kind of sterile, kind of vanilla, where things started sounding alike. We don’t want to offend anybody. We don’t want to scare anybody off which I think the one thing that always make Country music so appealing to people when it is at it’s peak is that they do get a little off-center sometimes and maybe a little controversial. In my experience, looking back on the peaks and valleys, that’s always when it went to its peak. You have the Outlaw movement with Waylon and Willie which was just so far left of what Country music had been up to that time, that it brought people into Country music. It was interesting again. I think that when you make it so vanilla and so generic you take a lot of the personality out of it, and I think that’s what happened this time.

Q – Maybe the record cos. shouldn’t have signed so many acts at one time and devoted their promotional budgets to breaking a select few acts.
A – At one time, I think Nashville was more concerned with building a career than they are right now. Here in the past few years they’ve been more concerned about getting that one hit record. We want to get a hit out of this guy and then we’ll go on to the next guy and get a hit out of him, instead of let’s take this artist and build his career.

Q – Let’s hope that Audium Records is behind Confederate Railroad.
A – Well, it’s hard for me to complain. We still do, like I said, 120 shows a year and that’s by choice. That’s all I want to work. If you can turn down work, something’s going right for you

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