Charlie Worsham Talks The Meaning of 'Country' & Stax Records Influences On New Album
“Cut Your Groove,” the latest single from Charlie Worsham, is a song that pushes the philosophy of letting life happen around you -- and not expecting things to be perfect.
“I think in our society today, it’s really easy to get the urge to try to perfect everything -- not even for OCD people -- but to try to make everything happy and fit the way that things look like they should on social media,” the Warner Music Nashville recording artist said. “The truth of the matter is that we humans have been on the earth for some time, and you can point to any part of our history and it doesn’t work out like that. If you’re a cave man, and you’re building your fire in the mouth of a cave, the lion might be ready to pounce, and you’ve got to be ready to run,” he explained to Billboard. 'Cut Your Groove’ is all about how to do life, I believe.”
The single is the first from Beginning of Things, the long-awaited sophomore album from the critically-acclaimed Worsham. When the album drops on Friday (April 21), it will have been almost four years since Rubberband, his 2013 debut, hit stores.
“I’m so proud of the first record, and I’m so proud that I made a record that would hold up for four years,” he says with pride. “One of the lessons I’ve learned the past few years is that you never know how long that record is going to need to carry you."
But even with his first album's longevity, Worsham said that making the sophomore album rekindled his fire for creating new material. “Making this music made me as excited and as in love with making music as I have been since I was a teenager. It’s a part of the journey that I think most of us artists, at least in the first part of our career, have to deal with in one way or the other. You can not avoid comparisons in this business. That’s where you run into trouble. Everything in the music business is of higher contrasts and higher drama by the nature of it. I caught myself comparing and using that as a tool to figure out things. I found out that was not a good idea. I kind of got away from the noise, and it was pure music like I first discovered it. That was when the songs started to come, and I became infatuated again -- up till three in the morning playing guitar. Now, I know to resist comparing myself to anything. Maybe I’m better equipped to handle the business side these days,” he reflects honestly.
Beginning Of Things is all over the map, from a musical level -- which is how Worsham prefers it. Take the jazzy feel of “Call You Up,” which was penned by Daniel Tashien and Abe Stoklasa. He says that fit right in with his Mississippi upbringing. “It was fun to record a couple songs that I didn’t write. That one, in particular, speaks to my musical geography. A big part of this record for me was discovering and claiming that. I grew up a hundred miles south of Memphis where Sun and Stax Records were at -- Al Green, The Staple Singers, Booker T -- and for me, ‘Call You Up’ was my Stax Record. I got to have the horns, the strings, and that soul vibe. There’s a little bit of Mississippi thrown into the mix, too.”
His down-home roots come into play on “Southern By The Grace Of God,” which he penned with Luke Dick and Shane McAnally. That traditional sound is very much a part of his fabric, but he also says that everyone has the freedom to march to their own artistic drumbeat. “I heard this Tom T Hall song called ‘Country Is,’ and I went on a Tom T Hall and Jerry Reed kick over the last few years. I know it doesn’t exactly sound like one of theirs, but it’s inspired by those songs. I think Tom wrote that song when there was a lot of controversy over what is Country and what isn’t,” he says, noting that the argument hasn’t gone away in the four decades since that Hall song hit the chart. “So, that phrase about not being able to ‘outcountry me’ is my way of saying ‘Are we really going to waste our time arm-wrestling over this?’ Let’s make music, and if it’s true to you, then it’s country. Period. End of discussion. For me, it’s also about that I got to record the acoustics live with a couple of musicians, so it speaks to my bluegrass side. There are also some Zeppelin moments, so it’s out there.”
His formative years all over the nostalgic sheen of “I-55,” titled about the interstate highway that runs through his hometown of Grenada. Giving back to that area is something he has been able to do the past few years with the establishment of the Follow Your Heart Scholarship Fund, which allows him to help others of similar backgrounds to himself.
“A couple of years ago, I was back home visiting, and my hometown gave me a key to the city. I’m up there on the courthouse square with these people that have known me my entire life, and I’m thinking ‘What have I done to get this?’ There are teachers who have saved lives, as well as policemen and firemen, veterans, people who are true heroes. I thought I need to keep this ‘Give back’ theme going. My dad has always been a banker, but has always been a drummer, and my mom was a teacher. So, music and education have always been my things. They would drive me an hour and a half each way to Starkville for banjo lessons, paying out of pocket for them every week. I want the kids growing up in Grenada now to get the same opportunities I had,” he says, noting that the name of the scholarship stems from an autograph that Marty Stuart once gave to him -- that he has tattooed on his arm. “The CMA has helped out as well, in providing us with a grant for music lessons. I don’t know that music education gets enough credit for all that it does for a young person’s life."
In between his first and second records, Worsham has spent time on the road with Kenny Rogers as of late, opening shows on the Country Music Hall of Fame member’s farewell tour overseas. He calls it an eye-opening experience, watching an entertainer at the top of his game.
“The most beautiful thing about touring with Kenny in the UK and Europe was seeing a guy who has been visiting those countries for decades, and the audience was across the board in age and backgrounds, but the older audience members, you could feel the emotions that they had. They have been on this entire journey with Kenny, and you could feel him receiving it and giving it back. That was so amazing. To watch a master of entertainment like Kenny Rogers, and to see the breadth of the experience of his career -- he has done everything. He could not have been more humble and welcoming. I learned such a great deal on that tour.”
This spring will see Worsham on the road with labelmate Brandy Clark, and he says it’s going to be an unforgettable experience. “Every time I have been on a stage or in the writing room with her, magic happens. It always has, and I believe it will every single time going forward. I respect her as much or more than any other artist. She’s stuck to her guns, which isn’t always easy to do. I relate so much of my story to hers. I think some great songs are going to be written on this tour between the dates. I couldn’t be more excited about the tour.”