Four years after the release of his critically acclaimed album Beginning of Things, Mississippi native and triple-threat singer/songwriter/guitar-slinger Charlie Worsham is back – and he’s wearing his heart on his sleeve.
Through a pair of new songs from his upcoming Jay Joyce-produced project, including the sentimental ‘Believe in Love’ and the fiery, defiant ‘Fist Through This Town’, Worsham is cementing his new sound to the world. Having put his solo output aside to contribute to projects by Eric Church, Luke Combs, Carrie Underwood and Dierks Bentley - while also performing with Old Crow Medicine Show over the last few years - Worsham feels ready to dedicate his time towards his own creative ventures again. That’s not to say he hasn’t been working on it behind the scenes - since 2014, he’s met a daily challenge he prescribed for himself: to write one full page each day.
“It can be anything, as long as it’s true,” he says. “I believe in kicking your inner songwriter out of bed in the morning. Those of us with creative spirits, we have that creative person living in our brains like a roommate, but they tend to want to sleep in. Filling up a blank page forces them to wake up and spend the day with you.”
Worsham has one of his biggest influences, Vince Gill, to thank for his new music. The Gibson guitar he plays across the new record and in the video for ‘Fist Through This Town’ was a wedding present Worsham received from Gill himself. “When I went to record ‘Fist’, one of the things Jay challenged me to do was to stick with one guitar while recording. He said, 'Man, B.B. King has one guitar. Keith Richards has one guitar. Stick to one guitar and find your sound that way'. Of course, the guitar I used was the one Vince gave me.”
With ‘Fist’, Worsham channels the frustrations he weathered earlier in his career, trying to find his place within an industry where others were overtaking him commercially. Now, as he careens into rapid-fire guitar riffs that convey his rock influences, he’s focused on finding that sound that simply speaks to him.
“Around 2014, I was on tour with Sam Hunt and Kip Moore,” he recalls. “A lot of people in the audience were dedicated Kip fans, and Sam’s career was exploding. I was the guy that nobody really knew too much about and it was a frustrating time. In my ‘class’ in country music, it seemed everybody was leapfrogging me and finding their commercial stride. Now that I’m on the other side of it, and especially after this past year of the pandemic, I think we can all relate to those times when we feel the world is against us. I’m here to say you’ll get your gold jacket; you’ll get your guitar from Vince and it will be alright. That dream might be in playing for people, or it might be finding true love. There are always bumpy parts on those rides”.
As he picks the songs that have shaped his own music for Cuts The Deepest, Worsham offers an eclectic and vibrant taste - something that’s influencing his own work with rising success.
Vince shaped my guitar playing - he was my first real-life guitar hero. My family traveled to Nashville a lot, and when I was about 12, we went to Gruhn Guitars, when it was on Lower Broadway. I had saved up $500 to buy my first electric guitar. I found this Fender telecaster that I fell in love with - it was $600. Lucky for me, I had been playing banjo for a few years at that point - I went outside and played for a couple of hours to make the $100 I needed, walked in and bought my first electric. I spent hours playing ‘Liza Jane’. So much of my “chicken pickin’” style comes from playing that song, so it plays a very important part in my story.
I’ve always been a fan of The Staple Singers through Marty Stuart. He made an album, Souls’ Chapel, using Pops Staples’ guitar. My wife and I became huge Mavis Staples fans after that, and we saw her at her birthday concert at the Ryman. Pops was part of the Great Migration of Black Americans from the South to cities like Chicago, and Mavis’ story is such an American story. In the wake of everything that happened in 2020, with the reckoning of racial injustice towards George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and so many others, I found a lot worth listening to in the music of The Staples. I took it upon myself to try and learn more about how their story weaves into the story of race and racism in America. They marched with Dr. King, and there is a great Pops quote where he said, “If he can preach it, we can sing it.” Freedom Highway, the album, was a live album recorded in a church in Chicago. It’s an album made by Black Americans in the middle of a trauma, and you can feel the spirit in that song. There is so much righteous indignation, but there’s grace and love as well. It’s a powerful song that's as important today as it was when they released it. Here I am in my 30s, finding music that I am gravitating towards, that in many ways is new to me, and that makes me very hopeful.
I really discovered Paul Simon while at college in Boston. I was a Mississippi kid in Boston - what a beautiful culture shock that was. I was taking a songwriting class there, and I dove a little deeper into Paul Simon and James Taylor. He never makes the same record twice, and he’s always curious about the musical roots of other cultures. That song in particular taught me a great deal as a lyric writer about the importance of a song’s hook. Every time you go through that hook, you use the verse that precedes it to paint a new color onto it. ‘Train in the Distance’ is another way of saying the grass is greener on the other side. What a cool way to paint human nature.
I actually played on a version of ‘Lynyrd Skynyrd Jones’ that didn’t make the cut on the album. They were writing these songs in the morning and recording them at night. Some days we would try [to record] two in one day. On one of those days, we had ‘Lynyrd Skynyrd Jones’, and it was brand spanking new - so new that [Eric] didn’t know it well enough from memory to just sing it. So, we ended up playing along to a voicemail memo of it. We made something cool out of it in that moment, but in the six or so weeks they were up there at Banner Elk [North Carolina], they took another shot at it. I’m a huge Skynyrd fan and I love how that story weaves into the song.
I connected with that guitar solo, the one Steve Gaines played. It’s one of my favorite riffs and for all the guitar nerds, the key of B is such an underrated key to play rock riffs in. My guitar solo on ‘Fist Through This Town’ is straight ripped out of the book of Skynyrd for me, and I think it comes from that era of my journey where it felt like the world was against me. I needed a little ‘Workin’ for MCA’ as rocket fuel for when I was feeling angry, and I think ‘Fist’ is the most honest I had gotten to that point. Hopefully, my song can be that for other people too.
My wife and I welcomed our son Gabriel in April. When she was expecting, we learned that by the time a baby arrives, they will recognize their mother’s voice and other voices that were around on a consistent basis. So, I started singing this song to my son. Now I sing it to him and every once in a while, I think he recognizes it. That’s a cool perk of being a dad - I get to be the one to introduce him to artists like Willie and the Beatles. It’s going to be an adventure in the years to come.
Charlie Worsham's new single 'Believe In Love' is out now via Warner Music Nashville - watch the video below.
Photography by Jason Myers.