Confederate Railroad was among the hottest of the "modern country" bands to emerge in the 1990s, with their own unique blend of traditional country and Southern rock influences.
The band launched its assault on the country charts in 1992, and its debut album spawned six singles and sold in the neighborhood of three million copies.
Over the years, the band also politely thumbed its collective nose at the growing "political correctness" of the era, and became well known for its music videos, often displaying a sense of humor sorely lacking in those of the band's contemporaries.
And, like most "overnight" success stories, the Railroad's track to the top was a long journey.
The band's story begins with founder and lead singer Danny Shirley, who was born in the shadow of Lookout Mountain, near Chattanooga, Tennessee. Interested in music at an early age, Danny was taught guitar by his grandfather.
By his teen years, Shirley was becoming more serious about his music, with his principal influence being Waylon Jennings, who, along with Willie Nelson and singer/producer Tompall Glaser, spearheaded the "outlaw" movement in country music in the 1970s.
By the early 80s, Shirley had his own group, the Crossroads Band, and was establishing a regional touring base in the Chattanooga area. The band later became the "house band" at Miss Kitty's, a club near Atlanta, Georgia, recorded three independent albums, and spent a few years on the road backing singer David Allan Coe.
By the late 80s, the band's lineup had solidified with Shirley on lead vocals and acoustic guitar, lead guitarist Michael Lamb, keyboardist Chris McDaniel, Wayne Secrest on bass, drummer Mark DuFresne and Gates Nichols on pedal steel guitar.
After almost a decade on the road, Nashville came calling, in the form of a record contract offered by Atlantic Records, which had just launched its Nashville division.
With a name change to Confederate Railroad, the band entered the studio with Barry Beckett to record its debut for the label. Beckett's musical resume is extensive and legendary, for, as a member of the noted Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, he played keyboards for many Stax/Volt/Atlantic soul singers in the 1960s and 70s (Percy Sledge, Aretha Franklin, the Staple Singers, etc.).
Later, with his bandmates Jimmy Johnson, David Hood and Roger Hawkins, he established Musicle Shoals Sound Studio, and produced and played on albums by such notables as Traffic, Bob Seger and Bob Dylan, before putting his cowboy hat on.
The Confederate Railroad album was released in late April, 1992, following the first single, "She Took It Like A Man," up the charts. The band reached the Top 10 with its second single, the ballad "Jesus And Mama," which was followed by the uptempo "Queen Of Memphis," the ballad "When You Leave That Way (You Can Never Go Back)," the bawdy "Trashy Women," and "She Never Cried" onto the country hit parade.
The Railroad was clearly saluting its Southern heritage, although "Trashy Women" and "She Never Cried," for example, drew some criticism. A video for "Trashy Women," including a segment with the entire band in drag, became a much-requested item for Country Music Television (CMT) and other video outlets.
The politically correct crowd didn't seem to realize that "Trashy Women," like "She Took It Like A Man" (in which the jilted female responded with masculine aggressiveness) and "She Never Cried" ("when 'Old Yeller' died," the song continues), were done with tongue firmly planted in cheek.
The fans, however, did see the humor, and so did some of the band's peers, as they were awarded the Best Vocal Group award by the Academy of Country Music in 1993. Over the next couple of years, the band was also presented awards by the British Country Music Association, and its records and videos became popular in Ireland, France and Germany.
And, there were noteworthy fans at home, as Shirley recalled being told by the legendary George Jones that he sang "Jesus And Mama" very well. That compliment, he recalled, was "like getting a blessing from the Pope."
The band's second album, Notorious, spawned additional hits upon its release in '94, most notably the ballad "Daddy Never Was The Cadillac Kind," and the raucous "Elvis And Andy," a tribute to "old Graceland and Mayberry
R.F.D." A video for the latter song featured a giant pig as well as a "Barney Fife"
lookalike, and became another staple of the video outlets.
||By 1995, guitarist Lamb left the band, and was replaced by Jimmy Dormire, and recording commenced on the When And Where album, also produced by Beckett. Songs such as the title tune, "Toss A Little Bone" (a plea to the government to assist the working man), and "Bill's Laundromat, Bar And Grill" became concert favorites.|
Atlantic released a Greatest Hits package in June of '96, and the band took a two-year break from recording before emerging with Keep On Rockin', which was released in October of 1998.
This album, like its predecessors, displayed the three-part persona of the Railroad, with the uptempo title song, the politically incorrect "I Hate Rap" and the sensitive "A Bible And A Bus Ticket Home."
Atlantic released a second compilation album, Rockin' Country Party Pack, in August of 2000, which included the hits, a a few selected album tracks, and a couple of "club remixes" of some of the popular Railroad tunes.
There was also a new song, "Tonight Is Mine," and a newly-recorded version of "Toss A Little Bone."
The Party Pack also marked the end of the band's association with Atlantic, which had apparently decided to close down its Nashville division.
With one additional personnel change, Cody McCarver taking over on keyboards for the departed McDaniel, Confederate Railroad signed a new recording deal, this with Audium Records, in 2001. The album Unleashed followed, in late August of that year.
The latest collection features what Railroad fans have by now come to expect; a mixture of up-tempo songs, ballads and a finely-honed jab at political correctness.
The thumping "I'm Diggin' It" is an example of the uptempo, while "White Trash With Money" and "That 'R' Word" (a salute to flatulence, penned by Dennis Linde of "Goodbye Earl" and "Burnin' Love" fame) are songs which would draw more cringes from the PC group. The first single from the album, "That's What Brothers Do," along with "Wasted Time" and "Between The Rainbows And The Rain," are more fine ballads.
The band was also joined by David Allan Coe for "Still One Outlaw Left," and by George Jones for "Body Like A Temple."
Ten years after its first hit, Confederate Railroad chugs along, still playing some 150 concerts per year and waving its own musical Southern flag.