Although success has carried country singer/songwriter Billy Currington far away from his beloved hometown of Rincon, Georgia, he remains the same simple man who was indelibly shaped by his upbringing in this small Southern town with a population of 4,376.
Currington burst onto the music scene in 2003 with his eponymous debut CD, which contained the powerful Top 10 hit "Walk a Little Straighter" and the fun Top 5 smash "I Got a Feelin'," which was accompanied by the memorable video co-starring Baywatch beauty Gena Lee Nolin.
When superstar Shania Twain heard Currington's soulful Southern voice, she knew she had found the perfect partner for the country duet "Party for Two," so Currington excitedly boarded a plane for Europe to work in the studio with Twain and legendary producer Robert "Mutt" Lange. Currington and Twain performed the song live on the 2004 Country Music Association Awards and a special Good Morning America show from Nashville.
His musical success brought national media attention, including People magazine and USA Today, which named Currington an "On the Verge" artist. Soon the media began celebrating the bachelor's other attributes as well: Playgirl magazine featured a (clothed) Currington on its March 2005 cover and Nashville Lifestyles magazine named him one of its "25 Most Beautiful People."
Despite the world traveling, magazine photo sessions and celebrity encounters, Currington adamantly refuses to live life in the fast lane. "The bigger and better is nice," he says of the comforts success brings. "The hotels are nice and visiting different countries is great. But I always try to picture it at the end. When you are 80, what are you really going to want? What's really going to matter? It's not a lot of materialistic things for me. It's just maybe a front porch, a couple of rocking chairs, a simple life."
His music captures the lives of hard-working people who often live off the beaten path. The only luxury they can afford perhaps is time, so they relish the few moments they have off the clock, when their time is finally their own. Sometimes it's the thought of Saturday night that gets them through an exhausting week, so when the weekend rolls around, it's time to forget their troubles and celebrate.
"I go to all of these small towns often and it seems like there isn't much there," he says. "That's how it was where I grew up. You walked the railroad tracks or walked down to the store or sat in your backyard. It's all a part of the slow life. You aren't battling 20 red lights and horns and sirens and having to get from job to job."
In his sophomore CD, Doin' Somethin' Right, Currington unveils a more mature Southern sound of blues-tinged country in songs such as the debut single, "Must Be Doin' Somethin' Right," "Why, Why, Why," "Whole Lot More," "Here I Am" and "She's Got A Way With Me," a duet with legendary singer Michael McDonald. "I wanted to make sure it was country," he says. "After the Shania duet, people asked me, 'Have you changed your direction? Are you going more pop?' I don't want anybody to be confused about where I am musically because in my heart I am the same."
The same, perhaps, but also better. Since he recorded his first CD, he's spent four years on the road, performing five nights a week in clubs and concert halls. The dedication to his craft has resulted in a voice that is bigger and deeper and a performer who knows what works well with his audience during his raucous 90-minute show. "With every song, you've got to picture standing on that stage and singing to that audience," he says. "All of these songs I sang on the first record, I quickly learned which ones work and which ones don't work for a bar atmosphere or for a huge stadium. Before making this album, I made myself picture every song live in front of a crowd."
Doin' Somethin' Right contains such crowd-pleasers as the up-tempo rocking "She Knows What To Do With A Saturday Night" and "Hillbilly," a romping, three-chord country song that salutes the backwoods way of life. "It's a part of me," he says. "It says, 'I wanna be a hillbilly,' not, 'I am a hillbilly.' I've got so many songs to sing and things I want to say. It spans from love songs to my hillbilly side."
While he may sometimes be romantic, rebellious or reflective, he's always Southern, especially when he's behind the microphone. You can almost hear the molasses slowly dripping off every note. "Southern means down home fried chicken, my grandparents, my family and the way they raised me and the way we carry ourselves through life. My music is based on the life that a Southern boy has lived -- the way we do things. Music lives and breathes down there. The gospel lives there, and the blues and the steel guitars and the fiddles. They are definitely part of the Southern heritage."
That love of all things Southern and country, especially the music, was instilled in him by his mother and step-father, who played records by Kenny Rogers, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and the Statler Brothers. "The first album I ever got was Kenny Rogers, which my mom gave me for Christmas when I was 10," he says. "After that, I went out and bought every one of them and played them all the time. Then she took me to a concert and I fell in love with Kenny Rogers. He's a guy who can sing it all and sell the song."
To show his appreciation of Rogers' music, Currington has included a cover of "Lucille" on the new album. "I've always wanted to cut a waltz," he says. "And I just love the lyrics of the song, the whole feel of it; it's such a great story."
Currington began writing songs as a teenager and began playing guitar at age 17. "I still have my first guitar and the receipt for it," he says. "I bought it at a pawn shop in Savannah, Georgia, for about $120."
While he was a high school junior, he attended church with a friend and was overwhelmed by the church's blend of gospel and country. When he complimented the preacher on the music, the preacher invited him back to sing the next Sunday. Blown away by Currington's burgeoning talents as the two spent more time together, the preacher personally drove Currington to Nashville to audition for the Opryland USA theme park. Although he didn't get hired, the trip proved life changing because Currington suddenly knew his destiny after graduation: he was going to move to Nashville and become a country singer/songwriter.
And that's what he did. He took a lucrative day job at a concrete company to support himself while pursuing his musical dream. Unfortunately, the job took six days a week, 16 hours a day, so it left little time for dreaming, much less writing or singing. At the urging of songwriter friends, he quit his job and took a part-time job as a personal trainer so that he could truly focus on his music. As fate would have it, Currington met Gary Voorhies, a client at the gym who also worked for a music publishing company. The two got to know each other and Gary invited Currington to sing and play some music for him. Not long after that meeting, Billy got a publishing deal.
From there, a Carson Chamberlain-produced demo eventually found its way to Universal Music Group Nashville's Co-Chairman Luke Lewis, who signed him to Mercury Records because he was impressed by the Georgian's singing and songwriting.
Currington co-wrote four songs on Doin' Somethin' Right "Why, Why, Why," "Here I Am," "Whole Lot More" and "She's Got A Way With Me," which he wrote with Michael McDonald at his Franklin home. "The Michael McDonald experience has been my favorite yet," Currington says. "Having the opportunity to share whatever it was the studio in his house where we recorded the demo, the small room we wrote it in, the conversations on the phone, the invitations to hang out together all of those things are my favorite experiences of this year."
Although he seems to be a long way from Rincon, Georgia, Currington regularly remembers his roots and the hard work it took to get him to Nashville. "I think about that all the time," he says. "I've never been to a town where I didn't see a concrete truck. I always remember doing that work and am so thankful that I don't do that anymore. I'm not above it, it's just not what I love. I love what I'm doing now. I am so thankful that I get to do what I love."