New Artist Feature: Billy Currington
Raised in Rincon, Ga., about 30 minutes outside of Savannah, Billy Currington notices fewer dirt roads every time he goes back.
"I used to call it a small town," he says, "but now it's growing. It's really rich in pine trees, so they stuck a paper plant in Rincon, which brought a lot of jobs, and people started building there. They started paving all the dirt roads and taking what I used to know as Rincon it's not the same place anymore."
Billy Currington's music often recalls a time when life seemed simpler, although the singer-songwriter certainly can't claim to have had an easy life. His mother married a man named Larry Currington when Billy was a year-and-a-half old. Through the next few years Billy experienced the turmoil that alcohol abuse can do to a family.
"He'd get drunk and a little crazy," Currington says. "He eventually died of drinking and cancer."
Nevertheless, it was Larry Currington who introduced Billy to country music.
"He'd play Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, The Statler Brothers, Kenny Rogers, all those guys. I loved it, and I'd play those myself when he wasn't around," Currington says. "I really loved Alabama. I remember taking a radio in the bathroom and singing like I was Randy Owen. I guess I developed a strong passion for wanting to be a singer in high school. It was in the 9th or 10th grade when I got turned on to Keith Whitley. I'd buy those tapes and sing those songs just like he did. And of course, George Strait came along and I wanted to be like that, too."
The heartbreaking song and debut single, "Walk A Little Straighter," tells the story of a child watching his father stumbling through the door and vowing not to make that same mistake when he becomes a father. Currington wrote the chorus at age 12.
"I've always been writing. Growing up, I'd get halfway through a song, but it wouldn't make any sense anymore, so I'd quit. I never thought, 'I'm going to move to Nashville to be a writer.' That was never my thing, but every year I was writing something."
As a high school junior, a classmate invited Currington to her father's church. Struck by the church's music a blend of gospel and country he complimented the preacher on the music. At the preacher's request, Currington sang the following Sunday. Impressed with what he heard, the preacher eventually drove Currington to Nashville to audition at the Opryland USA theme park.
"I didn't make it, but that didn't bother me, because all senior year I knew I was going back to Nashville."
After high school, Currington briefly worked at the paper plant until a run-in with his supervisor prompted him to quit on the spot. Because his car was in the shop, he called his grandmother to pick him up.
"I said, 'Come get me, I'm leaving this weekend. I'm moving out of here.' We talked about it on the way home. I was sure I was moving to Nashville that weekend, and I did. I got my car back, loaded it up with my shirts, my stereo and my cassette tapes. I didn't know where I was going to stay, but I knew I was gone."
His first move lasted less than a year, during which Currington worked in a local pawn shop. He returned to his grandmother's house and joined a local country band. After eight months of playing at the Cavalier Lounge, Currington decided to give Music City another shot. In time, he found a lucrative job at a concrete company 16 hours a day, six days a week and playing clubs on the side. Although the money was nice for someone who quietly admits to growing up with nothing, the steady paychecks didn't satisfy him.
At the recommendation of some songwriting friends, Currington secured part-time work as a personal trainer and spent the remainder of his time writing and singing. A long-time gym client happened to wear a BMI hat to the gym one day. Currington found out that he worked at a publishing company and the client invited him to audition. A few days later, an executive at the publishing company asked him to sing a demo.
Currington's rich, country-tinged baritone brought more demo work and, the publishing company signed him as a full-time songwriter. Unfortunately, he only got one song cut, and a development deal with another record label soured. His publishing contract was not renewed.
However, country singer Mark Wills had put a hold on a song Currington had co-written. Wills' producer Carson Chamberlain bumped into Currington a few weeks later. They agreed to write together and record some demos. Chamberlain took those demos to Mercury Chairman Luke Lewis, who liked what he heard and signed him to the label. Chamberlain produced the album.
Like every newcomer, Currington hopes for a long-term career, but his immediate goals have nothing to do with music.
"My first goal is to build my grandma a log cabin house," he says without hesitation. "We grew up in a trailer all our lives. That's something she's always wanted and could definitely not get on her own. Wherever she wants the house, that's where I'm going to put it."
That's not a surprising confession from someone who values his humble beginnings.
"Growing up in Georgia, the way it was then, and now living in the city, it is so different," he says. "Our Friday night parties weren't in somebody's house. They were in a field somewhere with a bonfire. We had trucks with loud stereos and kegs in the back. That was life for me back then. A lot of fishing, a lot of hunting, and a lot of chasing alligators. It was more peaceful. I like the city life, too. I've learned to adapt to that, but I've got good memories of dirt roads."