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article imageConfederate Railroad's Danny Shirley feels lucky to be alive Special

By Adrian Peel     May 18, 2016 in Music
Thanks to their sunny disposition and good-time tunes, Atlanta's Confederate Railroad were one of the top American country/southern rock bands of the 1990s. Now they're back with a new album - their seventh.
Formed in 1987, Confederate Railroad started out as a backup band for country outlaws David Allan Coe and Johnny Paycheck. They then rose to prominence in their own right in the early 1990s with their unique style and sound. These days, only three of the group's original members - Danny Shirley (vocals/guitar), Mark Dufresne (drums) and Wayne Secrest (bass) - remain in the six-man lineup.
The band, who have sold over five million records, enjoyed the bulk of their chart success between 1992 and 1994. Their biggest hits during that time were "Jesus and Mama," "Queen of Memphis," "Trashy Women," "When You Leave That Way You Can Never Go Back" and "Daddy Never Was the Cadillac Kind." The guys won Best New Group at the ACM Awards in 1993 and continue to play 100 shows a year.
July 2016 will see the release of their first album of new material since 2007's Cheap Thrills. Made up of 12 tracks, it will include a new version of "Trashy Women" (CR's signature song) featuring Willie Nelson, John Anderson and Colt Ford. Dan Tyminski of Union Station also guests on "Don’t Feel As Young As I Used To."
Joining the three founding members on musical duties are guitarist Rusty Hendrix, steel guitarist and fiddle player Bobby Randall (formerly part of fellow country act Sawyer Brown) and Mo Thaxton, another guitarist and vocalist. I spoke to bandleader Danny Shirley.
Please could you tell me about your upcoming new album. What's it called?
"It’s called Lucky to Be Alive. I’ve been working on it off and on in my spare time for about the past three years... Me and Blue Miller from the Gibson Miller Band produced it and I'd say 75% of it is pure vintage with updated Confederate Railroad music.
"The other 25% we stretched out and did some different things. I’ve always stayed away from love songs most of my recording career, but we did a couple of those on this album and even went so far as to write and record a bluegrass song."
How did the new version of "Trashy Women" with Willie Nelson, John Anderson and Colt Ford come about? What made you decide to redo that particular song?
"A friend of mine, a songwriter who co-wrote 'Daddy Never Was the Cadillac Kind,' Bernie Nelson, had the idea of going back and re-cutting one of the old hits. I wasn't really into that, but then we decided if we're going to do this, let's do 'Trashy Women,' use some friends on it to make it different and give all the money to charity.
"John Anderson sang the first verse, Willie Nelson (coolest guy ever) did the second and then Colt Ford did the third verse - and I sang the choruses. All the proceeds from that go towards the Hunter Worley Foundation."
What themes do you address on the album?
"Well, I wrote eight of the 12 songs on there. Any time you write something, some of your private life, personal life, personal feelings and personality go into it, so you've got a lot of that on this album - more than usual. I was going through a divorce at the time so I think some of that definitely came through on a couple of the songs."
How would you define the sound on Lucky to Be Alive?
"Most of it is vintage Confederate Railroad, but we did use some different EQs and different tones. If you listen to the old records then listen to this one, you'll hear a slight difference in the production, but it's still Confederate Railroad music."
After so many years, what keeps you together and out on the road? Do you still enjoy playing music together as much as you ever have? What are some of your fondest memories of the last 30 years?
"Yeah, we do still enjoy it. Things don't last that long if you're not having a good time... When you keep playing music, even as a kid learning how to play guitar, you do it because it's fun. You put together a little band because it's fun.
"Then you wake up one day and you've got hit records, you're a corporation, you have 40 families depending on you, you get up and sing every night, you're dealing with the business end of it, you're dealing with the charts, with radio, and if you're not careful you do lose some of the fun.
"But, if you're fortunate enough to keep doing it as long as we have, it's like now we get to go back and do it all for fun again. All the pressure is off us. It was a real pleasure making this album and if it works it works, if it doesn't we're not going to go broke and we're still going to be working.
"As far as fondest memories, it's not how many tickets you sold in Omaha or how many records you sold, it's things like the first time George Jones asked me to get up and sing with him on stage.
"I'd known George for quite a while before Railroad and all of a sudden he does that and you forget 'This is my buddy George Jones who I watch football with' and you think, 'Oh my God, I'm about to sing with George Jones!'"
What are your plans for the rest of 2016 and beyond? Do you still have any ambitions left to fulfil?
"We'll keep touring from now on. Somebody asked me in an interview a while back, 'How long are you gonna do this?' and I said I'll do it from now on. I'm not qualified for anything else and I'm too old to learn a trade, so I guess we'll just keep playing music till nobody comes and nobody books us.
"I do have ambitions. I think the one thing I would like to do - and I've been in this business for 40 years now - is find somebody like I was 40 years ago who's wanting to get into music and to share with them some of the experiences and knowledge I've gained over the years. I think that would be a lot of fun to work with a new act and help bring them up."
Lucky to Be Alive is out July 15.
To pre-order it, go to Confederate Railroad's official website.
More about confederate railroad, danny shirley, Country music, david allan coe, johnny paycheck
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