Charlie Worsham Wants To Tell You The Truth

May 2, 2017
Originally published on May 2, 2017 6:18 pm

Nashville has no shortage of country acts gunning for their breakthrough hits, and Charlie Worsham is one of them. But the singer, songwriter and guitarist is hardly your typical country hopeful. The few who heard the album he released four years ago understand that he's the sort of artist who can do it all. As he returns with his second album, Beginning Of Things, he's got everybody in the know in Nashville rooting for him.

In the living room of the cottage he rents in East Nashville, Worsham is preparing to head out on tour and introduce live audiences to his new album as a one-man band. The 31-year-old grabs a guitar and starts tapping out a rhythm on its body. He presses a looping pedal, adds a couple of guitar parts and finally lays his vocal on top.

Surrounding Worsham are music gear, records and mementos. Hanging proudly on the wall in the hallway: the key to his hometown of Grenada, Miss.

"They gave it to me and I just kept thinking, 'Good lord, y'all,' " he says with a chuckle. "We've got army veterans and teachers who've changed lives and nurses who've saved lives and here I am still trying to be a permanent part of the music business."

Still, Worsham is one of Grenada's biggest claims to fame. He left home to study at Berklee College of Music, then got recruited by a band in Nashville, where he became the consummate student: showing up for gigs and sessions, watching, listening and learning from some of the city's most accomplished musicians.

One of those he admired most was country star Vince Gill -- who's now a Worsham fan himself.

"He can play anything, and he can play it well," Gill says. "He's got great ears, and he'll find an audience that'll wanna go with him. ... It may take him a while, but people are gonna keep betting on him. He's pretty undeniable once you hear him, once you get the opportunity."

Worsham eventually got the opportunity to launch a solo career on a major label. But his 2013 debut album, Rubberband, just wasn't delivering the down-home revelry that country radio favored four years ago.

"I really know now I couldn't blame myself for trying to be me, but it sure felt like that's where the problem was," Worsham says.

So he bought himself a pack of notebooks while he was on tour.

"I went back to my hotel room and I scrawled 'Tell the truth' and the Roman numeral I on the cover," he says. "I promised myself I would fill up a page every day, and it wouldn't matter how terrible the writing was or how crazy it was. The only rule was it had to come from a place of truth."

Back in Nashville, Worsham booked a series of shows at small clubs to escape the pressure of expectations and experiment with whimsical ideas, and he handed his new stuff over to producers Frank Liddell and Eric Masse. After recording what Worsham thought were scratch tracks with a rhythm section, he showed up at the studio ready to perform for real.

"They said, 'Well, wait a second.' And they hit play," Worsham remembers. "And the more I listened the more I thought, 'Golly, I'll never beat that.' That was me not thinking about it. That was me getting out of my own way. I would not have been able to consciously do that had they not fooled me into doing it."

Liddell says he thought the sneakiness was justified by the results.

"He had transformed from a person desperate to make everybody happy — from us, his record label, his parents, his fans — to all of the sudden just adamant that this was his record and it was gonna turn out the way he wanted it and he would start here," Lidell says.

The finished album veers from hot picking to pop crooning, serious storytelling and silliness. The way Worsham sees it, he's given people options.

"People are gonna connect with my music for whatever reason they might connect with it," he says. "And if it's how I play instruments, awesome. If it isn't, awesome. They're still here. ... And I understand that being a commercial country music artist, that's a different itch to scratch."

Basically, Charlie Worsham is trying to figure out how to please big crowds just by being himself.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Nashville has no shortage of country acts hoping for a break, and Charlie Worsham is one of them. The few who heard his debut album four years ago know that the singer-songwriter and guitarist can really do it all. And now with album two, Worsham has got more fans in Nashville rooting for him. Jewly Hight of member station WPLN has this profile.

JEWLY HIGHT, BYLINE: Charlie Worsham is preparing to head out on tour and introduce live audiences to his new album, "The Beginning Of Things," as a one-man band.

CHARLIE WORSHAM: So this is not the fully realized loop situation, but it's great practice.

HIGHT: In the living room of the bungalow he rents in East Nashville, the 31-year-old grabs a guitar and starts tapping out a rhythm on its body.

(SOUNDBITE OF TAP PERCUSSION)

HIGHT: Then he presses a looping pedal.

(SOUNDBITE OF TAP PERCUSSION)

HIGHT: Over that, he layer's a couple of guitar parts.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUITAR MUSIC)

HIGHT: Last comes the singing.

WORSHAM: (Singing) It's not that I don't ever wonder where you been, whose roof you been under. I can never cross my mind, happens every day.

HIGHT: Worsham's surrounded by music gear, records and mementos. Hanging proudly on the wall in the hallway is the key to his hometown of Grenada, Miss.

WORSHAM: They gave it to me, and I just kept thinking, good Lord, y'all. We've got Army veterans and teachers who change lives and nurses who save lives. And here I am still trying to be a permanent part of the music business (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CALL YOU UP")

WORSHAM: (Singing) It's not that I don't ever wonder how you been, whose roof you've been under. I can never cross my mind, happens every day.

HIGHT: Still, Worsham is one of Grenada's biggest claims to fame. He left home to study at Berklee College of Music, then got recruited by a band in Nashville. There he became the consummate student, showing up for gigs and sessions, watching, listening and learning from some of the city's most accomplished musicians. One of those he admired most was Country star Vince Gill.

VINCE GILL: He can play anything, and he can play it well. He's got great ears, and he'll find an audience that'll want to go with him. It may take him a while, but he's pretty undeniable once you hear him once you get the opportunity.

HIGHT: Worsham eventually got the opportunity to launch a solo career on a major label.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COULD IT BE")

WORSHAM: (Singing) Oh, the way I'm feeling now - it's worth sticking around to see. Is this love, or could it be?

HIGHT: But his debut album, "Rubberband," just wasn't delivering the downhome revelry that country radio favored four years ago.

WORSHAM: And I really know now I couldn't blame myself for trying to be me. But it sure felt like that's where the problem was.

HIGHT: So Worsham bought himself a pack of notebooks while he was on tour.

WORSHAM: And I went back to my hotel room, and I scrawled tell the truth and the Roman numeral I on the cover, and I promised myself I would fill up a page every day, and it wouldn't matter how terrible the writing was or how crazy it was. The only rule was it had to come from a place of truth. It had to come from what I was feeling that day, that moment.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE")

WORSHAM: (Singing) From now on, I'll be choosing based on what I feel. You can't win for losing. If unanimous appeal is the target you're shooting for, you might as well give your pistol back. Please people, please people, please - you can't please people, please people, please. You can beg so pretty from your knees, but you can't please people, please people.

HIGHT: Back in Nashville, Worsham booked a series of shows at small clubs to escape the pressure of expectations and experiment with whimsical ideas.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PANTS")

WORSHAM: (Singing) I got out of bed, put on my shoes, headed out the door. I turned around, went back inside, took off my shoes and put on my pants.

HIGHT: Worsham handed his new stuff over to producers Frank Liddell and Eric Masse. After recording what Worsham thought were scratch tracks with a rhythm section, he showed up at the studio ready to perform for real.

WORSHAM: And they said, well, wait a second, and they hit play. And the more I listened, the more I thought, golly, I'll never beat that. That was me not thinking about it. That was me getting out of my own way. And I would not have been able to consciously do that had they not fooled me into doing it.

HIGHT: Producer Frank Liddell thought the sneakiness was justified by the results.

FRANK LIDDELL: He had transformed from a person desperate to make everybody happy, you know, from us, his record label, his parents, you know, his fans, to all of a sudden just adamant that this was his record. It was going to turn out the way he wanted it, and he would start here.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I AIN'T GOIN' NOWHERE")

WORSHAM: (Singing) I ain't goin' nowhere. I ain't goin' nowhere. Well, give me your best. Give me your worst. Don't hold back even if it hurts. I ain't goin' nowhere.

HIGHT: To finished album veers from hot picking to pop crooning, serious storytelling and silliness. The way Worsham sees it, he's giving people options.

WORSHAM: People are going to connect with my music for whatever reason they might. And if it's how I play instruments, awesome. If it isn't, awesome. They - they're still here. I understand that being a commercial country music artist - that's a different itch to scratch.

HIGHT: Basically, Charlie Worsham is figuring out how to please big crowds just by being himself. For NPR News, I'm Jewly Hight in Nashville.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I AIN'T GOIN' NOWHERE")

WORSHAM: (Singing) Don't matter who let you down before, walked right out of your door. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.