Confederate Railroad - Danny Shirley


I've asked every country act I've talked with the last two or three years this one question, and I enjoy seeing the different responses I get from it. So, here it is. How has country reinvented itself, again?

That's a good question. That's a very valid question, really. The influences have changed. The people that were on top in the 70s were influenced by the artists of, like, the 50s. People who were the stars in the 80s were influenced by the people who were like, ten, 15, 20 years before them. The influences that people have nowadays - not all of us, but a lot of us - are not only the Hank (Williams) Seniors, and the George Joneses, but you've also got the Lynyrd Skynyrds, the Marshall Tuckers ... and even, like, Garth (Brooks) likes Kiss. I mean, I never cared for 'em, but, you know, the influences are that varied. I think that's what's caused the difference in the music you hear today.
I think the reason you hear that difference now, is Top 40 (radio) dropped the ball.


(Courtesy Atlantic Records)

I can agree with that.

I think it got too inner city, too ... like I've said before, I think rap is the best thing that's happened to country. Because it turned so many people off to listen to that format. I could see it happening, and I didn't realize it at first, and then I caught myself and thought, that suddenly I was listening to classic rock stations, and all my friends were listening to classic rock stations. And I thought, "If we choose to listen to something that's 20 years old, that means there's something wrong with the new stuff." If the classic rock stations are getting this kind of (ratings).
And I think Nashville deserves a lot of credit, because it saw that was goin' on, and they thought, "there's a whole generation here that's being left out. So, we'll loosen our reins, we'll let 'em hear a song like 'Trashy Women.'" Ten years ago, you would have never gotten that on the radio. And, like I say, I think a lot of the credit goes to the country music business in general, because they were aware of this, and they were open-minded enough to say, "Okay; they've dropped the ball, let's us pick it up. It gives us an opportunity to grow." And, I think that's what happened.

Over the last 20 years, country was the only radio format that widened its scope, while all the others ...

Narrowed; you're right. I hadn't thought about that, but you're absolutely right.

You've had a great deal of success with your videos, for "Trashy Women" and "Elvis And Andy" and the like. How much input or influence do you have on how those videos are done?

I have a real good relationship with that. The first video we did was (for) "She Took It Like A Man." I had never been around a video being made, I knew nothing about it, so I pretty much just sat back and watched it. The second video, same thing, we used a different production company and I sat back and studied it. By the third one, we hired a third production company, Think Pictures, and I started saying, "Okay, let's get together and talk about this." I had a little bit of understanding about it, and our third one was "When You Leave That Way, You Can Never Go Back." That was the first one I had input in, and it went to #1 (video charts). And since then, I've kept that same production company, doin' all our videos. And we've had great luck with 'em. Next was "Trashy Women," then "Daddy Never Was The Cadillac Kind," "Elvis And Andy" ... we've had a great string of videos.
The credit actually goes to (director) Martin Kahan, who thinks this stuff up, and it's really scary (laughs) to know his mind works that way. I do have a lot of input, but, like I say, 99 percent of the credit goes to Martin Kahan.

But, you didn't plan on getting hurt this last time (for "When And Where").

No, I didn't plan on that at all. And that won't happen again, either! (NOTE: For this video, the band members were depicted as construction workers on a high-rise building site. -- T.W.) You know how Southern rednecks are, you know, "Watch'is!" (NOTE: Southern for "Watch this." -- T.W.) (Laughs) The last words of a redneck, "Watch'is."
I have a fear of heights, anyway. Now, I used to do carpenter work, and it was nothing to be on top of a two-story house, to roof it or whatever, but cliffs bother me. Like, I can't walk out to the edge of a cliff and look over, it's like something's pullin' me, or tellin' me to jump or something, you know.

For someone who grew up that close to Lookout Mountain, and you're afraid of that?

Yeah! (Laughs) But I grew up on the down side; I used to look up at it. (Laughs) Lookin' up don't scare me.

(Laughs) Oh, okay.

So, we had this platform that was about 25 (feet) high. They didn't know if I would do it anyway, and he didn't know I had this fear of heights. And, he asked me, "What is it you call it when you have a fear of heights?" And I said, "Common sense." (Laughs) I said, it means, "don't get your ass up there; you might fall." But it was the last minute, and I said, "We can't change it, it would be stupid," so I climbed up there, and like I said, it wasn't like it was a cliff, it was only like 25 (feet) ... They put a stunt mat down there, and those things jar you a little more than you think they would. It was a little stronger jolt than I was expecting.
So, I hit the stunt mat, but I bounced back up and got back into the (camera) frame. So they said, "Well, we can't use the stunt mat." (Laughs) So, I climb back up there, and they've put down two little gynmastics mats, like you'd see for someone jumpin' down from a balance beam. And I'm like, "I don't know ..."

(Laughs) So, did you get it that time?

So, here I go. I climbed back up there and they said, "Go!" And I went. Knocked the hell out of me. I mean, it felt like someone had taken a two-by-four right across (my) back, and just about knocked the breath out of me. So, they said, "We have to have one more (take) ..."

Oh, no!

And, I climb back up there, and that 25 feet looked like 25 miles that time ... I knew I was gonna get hurt when I jumped, and I guess I just tensed up ... I broke my wrist, and it twisted my spine so hard that it snapped two ribs. I've already broken those ribs three times before, so it doesn't take much to break 'em anymore ... And then, we had to shoot the rest of the video, and you can see in some scenes where my wrist is all (swollen) and I have this funny look on my face (laughs).

Do you have any ultimate goals, such as some of the awards?

Oh, I don't know. I don't know how we'll do with awards from now on. I think maybe we're a little too left of center. One of the big award programs, to give an example, they were putting songs into nomination for "Song of the Year." Somebody brought up "Trashy Women," and another member spoke up and said, "We can't do that; it might win." Another one said, "Yeah, we can't have a song like that as 'Song of the Year.'" I'm not sayin' it would have won or anything, but just, with that attitude ...
Don't get me wrong; I'd love to do it. I'd love to win some. I felt we had a good shot at the (Academy of Country Music awards) in '94, and at the (Country Music Association awards) in '94. I would love to win one. That was one of the highlights, winning an ACM in '93. Country Weekly magazine, we won their award for favorite group. That was a poll - a survey they sent out - and 138,000 people responded to it. And that was a big thrill, knowing that the fans had put that to us.

Any other plans?

I think we'll do another Railroad album, and then a "greatest hits," and then sit back and take a look at it and see if it's going the way we want to, do we need to make a change as far as the direction. Have we had enough success so that we can say, "Heck with it; let's just play what we want to." Which, basically, we do anyway ... I went through a very costly divorce last year. Of all the money I made, 60 percent went to my ex-wife and 33 percent went to the government. And it would be nice to get to the point where, financially, you don't have that pressure on you. Where you can say, I want to do it now the way it was when I started, because I loved it so much.

Right.

We still do love it and all, but it's also a business. But it would be fun to go do it again just because you want to do it. We had a lot of fun last winter. You know, everybody slows down (touring) in January, February and March, and we decided instead to go back and play clubs. And we did three months of clubs, and went to some that absolutely could not afford us. They'd say, "Well, we can only pay this much," and I said, "Okay. That's not why we're comin', we're comin' because we just want to do that again."

Really?

Yeah, just for the fun of it. And (we) had some people didn't come to the show because, you know, we'd see 'em later on, like at Fan Fair, and they'd say, "Well, we heard you were at Joe's Bar, and didn't go because we didn't believe it! We thought it was a trick!" (Laughs) We had a great time doing that. And that would be fun, from now on, to just ... you know, little Janie's over here's got leukemia, let's go do a show there and see if we can help. That would be fun, to just do stuff like that.

I guess you have to be pleased, up to this point, with the kind of response you've gotten.

Oh, yeah.

"Politically Incorrect" or not.

(Laughs) Yeah. That we're not, I guess. I'm not a big believer in political correctness anyway. I think you've got about a half-dozen people that sit around a little room in Washington and say, "Okay; this is the way things are supposed to be, now everybody needs to conform." And they put it out in the media and the press that makes everybody think that, "If you don't think this way, you're the only one that feels that way."
It's just like the name Confederate Railroad. I honestly thought I'd get more flak than I did about it. And this is no exaggeration, for every one person that ever even questioned it, not just come out and say, "You're wrong to do this," but for every one of those I've had at least 100 people come up and thank me, for not backin' down to what is "supposed to be" right and wrong. I guess people get in the habit of just backin' down, and back down a little further, and a little further. And I just refuse to do it.

Sticking to what you believe in.

Yeah, I think it really helped us, in the long run. And, as far as the songs, like "Trashy Women" and "She Never Cried," you know, we get raked over the coals sometimes for them being politically incorrect, but what the hell, it's fun.
I think there's a movement going on to take all the regional characteristics away from the country, and I think they want everybody to be just alike. You know, think alike, talk alike, have the same ideals, the same values. And I think it would be a sad place if everyone was that way. I enjoy going to different parts of the country and meeting people with views that are different from mine, or their upbringing is different. I think it's a great thing.


(Courtesy Atlantic Records)

But I think you really nailed it with "Elvis And Andy." Because, if you grew up in the rural South like you did, and I did, that's two icons of Southern culture.

(Laughs) Right. It is. The reason I did that song, it isn't so much about Elvis and Andy, it's ... I have a lot of fun pickin' on myself. Like "She Took It Like A Man," and I think you have to be able to pick at your own faults, or your own little quirks, before you have the license to pick on somebody else.
Like "Elvis And Andy," the reason I went for that, it wasn't so much about Elvis and Andy as it was laughin' at myself for havin' these values that are different from some other people. I wouldn't ever be able to relate to someone who didn't like The Andy Griffith Show or Elvis Presley; I mean, I wouldn't be able to understand them, you know? And it's that way with a lot of things we feel here in the South, that people from outside the South just don't understand. Their views are totally different. So, basically, I was just makin' fun of myself for being that way.

Any other things that you are looking at, down the road?

I could foresee getting into management; I think that's a good possibility. I think, once the touring slows down a bit, that I'll get into writing more. It just got to the point, when I was with David Allan, that I got so caught up in taking care of business, and the more business you thought (about), the less creative you thought. But I really loved that end of it. I enjoy the business end more than I enjoy the songwriting ... But it got to the point where it was 24 hours a day, and I was just consumed with this. And finally I said, "This is it; I've got to cut something out," and so I just made the decision, "I'm not writing anymore."
I think right now, not only do I enjoy the business end more than the writing, but I think at this point in my career that it's more beneficial to me. But, I'm sure once the touring part slows down, that it will give me more time to get back into the writing. That would be fun.

Website: www.confederaterailroad.net

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