When you hear “Cowboy Up and Party Down,” the latest single from newcomer Darren Warren, you might think the Kentucky-born singer doesn’t have a care in the world. While he admits he tries to live his life with a smile now, there was a time where things were much different.
“At the age of 16, I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma,” he says. “I was diagnosed in Paducah, KY – the area where I’m from. They gave me less than a 50 percent chance to live.”
There was a hospital where doctors felt Warren might have a better chance for survival. “They said they wanted to send me to the ‘best place in the world’ – St. Jude’s Hospital in Memphis.”
Upon arriving there, Warren wasn’t too sure. “There’s a lot of things that stand out in your mind when you are going through something like that. I’ll never forget pulling into the hospital, and stopping outside the doors, and looking up. I remember asking God why he had put me in this hell. It just seemed like the scariest place because of the circumstances and everything.”
Over time, as the treatment began to work, his feelings changed. “I can truly say the hell on earth I thought it would be became a heaven on earth, and a place that would change my life. Everybody has your stumbling blocks in life. I don’t care what you’re doing — cancer, divorce, but if we can take them to places in life and make them stepping stones in life to do something better, I feel that’s what we are intended to do.”
Warren is currently at radio promoting both his single and EP by the same title. One of the cuts on the disc that has a special meaning to him is the beautiful “Go Get My Angel,” which features a guest appearance from Alabama’s Randy Owen. It takes him back to his days at St. Jude’s.
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“Some songs come from the heart, some from the mind, and some come straight from God. That was one of those. There was a little girl there who was about eight years old. I never really got that acquainted with her because she was so sick they asked you to stay away from her. She would come into the hospital to get her chemo, and she would just catch my eye. About two weeks went by, and I didn’t see her come in. I wondered what happened to her. One day, I was waiting for my chemo, and I decided to call my dad. When I went to grab the phone, I saw a lady at the phone booth just shaking and trying to talk. She told someone that I just wanted you to know that my baby girl has her wings, and she turned and looked at me, and it was that little girls’ mom.”
When asked about his upbringing, Warren smiles and talks fondly of his hometown. “There was a sign there that said ‘Welcome to Melbourne, Kentucky — population, a dozen or so.’ It’s just a tiny town. My dad was a Pentecostal pastor, and my mother a song leader. That’s where I learned to love music.”
A veteran of several Western Kentucky clubs, such as the Kentucky Opry, Warren received a major boost when one of his songs began to receive airplay on one of the larger stations in the region. “WKYQ, a station in Paducah had a thing on the weekends called ‘The Outlaw Hour,’ and they picked up a song of mine called ‘Kentucky Friday Night.’ They started playing it, and in 2007, it was the most requested song they had on the show,” he says with a smile.
Warren says that his current single is a reflection of his personality. “When I heard it, I thought it was something I would say. I don’t ride bulls, but I love the rodeo industry. The single has done so well. There hasn’t been a rodeo song in a long time. I wanted people to think of me as a very up-tempo person, hardly ever down about anything. That’s how I wanted people to see me.”
The singer feels fortunate to have some of Nashville’s best working with him – from PR guru Craig Campbell to radio promotion vets Regina Raleigh, Chuck Rhodes, and Ann Crisman. “I feel fortunate to have them behind me. They have guided me with so many things. We’ve got a great team that is really close. I feel like they really believe in me.”