By: Lauren Tingle
If I could live on wishes, every night of music would be Tuesday nights in May at The Five Spot in East Nashville. Where else might one hear new Charlie Worsham music live with a new band for a $5 donation and spare change for a tip jar? All the proceeds went to support sarcoma research through T.J. Martell Foundation’s For the Linds Fund — a charity initiative named after Warner Music Nashville’s Lindsay Walleman, who lost her battle with the disease at age 28 in 2013. We were born a day apart and she was the most vibrant woman I’ve ever met. I try to live every day by one of her final Facebook posts, “Remember to love and cherish every moment, chase every dream, and never settle for anything less than you deserve in life.”
Every week, fans packed Charlie’s month-long residency. Miranda Lambert was spotted in the crowd one of the final shows, and Robert Ellis sat in on the closing night. The sets included selections from his full-length debut Rubberband, and fans were crazy about the new material, including “Please People Please,” “Runnin’ My Own Race,” “Glad to Be Here” and “Pretty Girls.” Charlie brought out a flying V for “Roman Candle.” “Birthday Suit” was full of Cake hilarity and offered humorous insight on the number-one thing on men’s minds. Charlie even mixed Led Zeppelin’s “Ramble On,” with Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Every note and every word had purpose. The solos, phrasing and arrangements were fluid and in good taste.
No Limits Nashville caught up with Charlie for a Friday morning phone chat about the importance of the residency, new music and the stuff that makes grown men cry.
Good morning, Charlie! Sorry, I couldn’t resist. You probably get that all the time.
Oh my gosh, no! And it took me a second to register. Now, it’s even more awesome!
How are you?
I’m good. I’m writing with Ryan Tyndell and Brent Cobb today. That means it’s going to be a good day. I’m probably going to eat Mas Tacos for lunch. It’s kind of a double-edged sword because it doesn’t make for a good touring physique. But gah! It’s perfect!
Did you know they accept checks? You can write a check for Mas Tacos and in the memo put “tacos.”
Oh man! Now I need to go get a checkbook just so I can go do that.
I loved everything I heard at The Five Spot. Who came up with the idea for the event?
Aw thanks! When I made the first record, most of the songs I recorded I had not played live very much. Then I was on the road for the last couple years very heavily. The arrangements of all these songs evolved and I came up with cool ideas with my band to do things live that we haven’t done on the record. I thought, “Man, it would be so much fun to test out some of these new songs live.” There’s so much that you can’t learn as a band until you get in front of people. If I remember correctly we were probably somewhere having beers and came up with the idea of a residency. True to my hypothesis, it was everything I hoped it would be for the new songs and for us as a band. It was everything that you just can’t predict. You have to be onstage for it to make sense.
No one has the guts to do that. I think Little Big Town might be the only folks I know to play an entire album from start to finish live in front of the entire community. So, kudos to you. It’s a brilliant idea. It was a historic event to me.
Thanks. This is really just fun for me, for the band and for my team. I think it takes some pressure off for everybody in a weird way. It might have been different if we had had this happen somewhere else where there’s an expectation when you walk in the door. Aldi Freed and Don Schlitz just did residencies. I was checking out their shows in Five Points where people care only in that they appreciate good live music. Beyond that, they’re not open arms about, “Well, I don’t know if that’s a single or not,” or “I don’t know if that’s going to make your record or not.” I think that allowed us to accomplish what we wanted to accomplish. I’ve got a great team at Warner Brothers. They know what I’m trying to do and know what I’m not trying to do. They were really sweet to come out and support me over here and not bring their expectations within walls of the label. They kept them at the label, which is great because it’s fun.
Yes! It’s music without judgment. They’re only new songs. You can’t judge something new. And too much judgment is toxic.
That’s what I love about the residency because there was none of that. I was grateful. I don’t think I saw one set of crossed arms.
How much money did you raise for the For the Linds Fund?
We’re at $2,100.
That’s amazing. I went back to the ATM for more money. I thought, “Tingle, whatever bill you put in the tip jar better have at least one zero.”
Aw man, that’s sweet. I felt kind of bad because at the first two shows, we didn’t really know what we were going to get and the money kept growing each week. Before the show I saw friends post on Facebook that the For the Linds Fund was $2,400 away from their $100,000 goal. That third week, I was like, “We’ve got to close this gap.” So we passed the hat an extra time.
Do you hope these shows encourage other acts to give back at every stage in their career?
You know what, I don’t think there’s anything I can show. For somebody that’s just stepped off the bus, maybe I’ll be one of 15 things they see in a month living here. But I’m not leading the pack in any way. I was just on the road with Vince Gill, Ashley Monroe and Jenny Gill. We did our four shows on the road, and he invited us to do this Beat the Blues show at the Ryman. Everybody there did it for nothing. I mean, I would pay money to get to play music with Vince. I think that’s part of the community here. I’m just trying to do what I picked up from so many others. Part of the reason we wanted to do this is we thought, “Well, we might not have any body show up, and we might have a lot of people show up.” Lindsay was the first person that came to mind because she emitted the most positive vibes of anybody I’ve ever met. I found out halfway through that the shows were going to be the thing that knocks the T.J. Martell fund over the edge. It was a good month. I don’t mean to ramble.
Who else came out to support? I heard Miranda Lambert was at the third show.
So many! Miranda is one of my favorite people. Her guitar player Scotty Ray, Aldi Freed, Ryan Beaver … And then just so many people I know from playing sessions and being on the road came to show support. My Warner family came out in strong numbers. What’s crazy is one of the guitar players from Bad Company came. I do a terrible British accent but it was like being visited by the roadie from Wayne’s World. Only it was the real thing!
No way! Everybody knows “Bad Company” by Bad Company from the album Bad Company.
And I’m a big fan, too. I always knew Paul Rodgers’ name because his voice is so great. But the guitar playing is killer and this guy. I’m not going to remember who he is and that’s terrible. My 12-year-old self is so disappointed. Crazy.
How do you stay so positive?
Probably from being negative part of the year last year. I played 160 shows last year and I was really bummed and burned out. My second single had died. And I remember I was out on a West Coast run for three weeks and very homesick. We were talking about not doing another single off my first record and that was a huge heartbreak for me. And I knew it was the right decision. I trust my team and everyone has my best intentions, but it didn’t change the fact that it destroyed me.
It hurt me. Those are my babies and I spent a long, long time …
…Just getting to that point!
Yeah. And then I was on a tour and another tour in situations where it was a real struggle to play for an audience that didn’t really know me. You would see a look of recognition when I’d play “Could It Be.” But other than that, I didn’t have a lot of familiarity. So, I handled it with some degree of negative energy to put it nicely. When I finally got through with last year, I just started this process of knowing that if I wanted to keep doing this for a living, I had to detach my happiness from charts and results. Maybe I shouldn’t always play 160 shows a year. Maybe I should wait until I’m making bank and hit after hit. That makes it a lot easier to play 160 shows. That’s kind of half a joke and half dead serious. But yeah, I had some time off and time to process all of that. If you would have asked me nine months ago how I felt about all of this, you would have gotten a really bitter-sounding guy on the phone. I now believe that having my first album kind of break my heart and having a second single die and not getting another single, in some ways is going to save my career — or my sanity at least in having a career — because of how I’m having to grow from the experience. I hope when I go back out there with a song at radio, I’ll be able to see the forest for the trees. There are a lot of people out there in radio land that really care about me and want to support me. And I know I’ve got a great team back here at home. I’ve got great family and friends even further back at home in Mississippi and now a band that is going to be really happy, even though we’re sweating buckets at 2 p.m. for a sea of white chairs. We’re still going to have the time of our lives. And that’s what’s really important. You know? Good Lord. Music is the coolest job in the world, but what makes it cool is you’re doing what you love and you’re having fun.
I heard you’re working with Frank Liddell, and I think that’s such a great pairing. How did that relationship get started?
When we were thinking about the end of the first album cycle and the beginning of the second, I think that one of the first things I realized was, “Man, my face is on the damn cover of this thing. I don’t think I need any more credit. And I’m sure there’s somebody better suited to have an objective perspective on this thing.” It was not so much that I needed to change my team, but add to it. I’ve been working with Arturo Buenahora, Jr. from day one. He’s the reason I have a publishing deal and a record deal. He got me started. And I got to make the first record with some of my best friends Ryan Tyndell and Eric Massey. I’ve known Eric since day one and Ryan and I continue to be very close friends and songwriting partners. Ryan has gone on to produce several records — really good records. He’s been working with Drake White, and he’s done stuff with Canaan Smith. I’ve probably left someone off that list. I was just looking at records that have come out recently that I really admire. Two names came up on those records more than any other — Arturo’s and Frank’s. I had met Frank a few times and oddly enough, played a couple of sessions for him. I loved his vibe and his energy. Frank had become friends with Eric Massey and had invited Eric to this event. I got a text from Eric, “Yeah! I’ll see you there!” I’m like, “What? Awesome!” One of the first things Frank said to me and Eric was, “Man, I love what you guys are doing together. I want you guys to take that and go further.” If you know Frank at all, you know he has a gah-jillion sayings and one-liners that will have you laughing constantly. I would have fought for Eric. But before I even had a chance to do that, I think Frank knew I wanted Eric to be part of the process. And that’s a huge thing. That’s a trust thing and trust is huge in any relationship, but certainly when making records. We’ve been having a lot of fun, and I’ve grown so much. I think the next time we hung out we just listened to music for days. He made me a playlist that I have probably listened to 100 times now and it makes more sense to me every time I listen to it. I’m being asked to raise the bar more than ever. I’ve not once been asked, “Give us a hit! Write us something for radio!” That will take care of itself. It goes back to that song title, “Runnin’ My Own Race.” I’m competing with myself. I just think that’s where you win. I’m the only person I’m competing with. I’ve got this killer team and I’m itching like crazy to get into the studio, and I think that’s going to happen.
I loved “Glad to Be Here.”
That’s a Brent Cobb song.
Oddly enough, I am cutting outside songs, which I didn’t do on the first record. But I’m excited to do now. So far, the songs that I’ve got in the pile to cut are that one and the “Birthday Suit” song. Neither of them were pitched to me, which is hilarious. In a town known for pitching, Matthew Miller at Carnival just gave me some old record sides. Ironically, I played on some of those. But I’ve always been a fan of Brent’s from playing on his sessions. Matthew at my request sent me some new Brent stuff because I’m a fan. And the next thing you know, I’m like, “Gawlee! I need to learn this.”
Did you play at Brent’s wedding?
Oh yes. Well, I was there for most of it, I think we were being served glasses of white wine in 16-ounce Dixie cups that were full to the brim. And it was my birthday. And yeah. That was one of the greatest nights in my life and also one of the most painful hangovers the next day.
White wine in a Dixie cup!
I don’t recommend it unless you get the little baby Dixie cups maybe. For your own safety. You know?
Is “Birthday Suit” another Brent song?
That’s a Luke Dick song. Luke is my neighbor and a member of my Little Louder publishing family at Arturo’s. I call him Arthur. People on award shows thank him as Arturo. But Luke and I met through Arthur. A lot of the songs that I played at The Five Spot I’ve written with Luke. He and I have a habit of sharing music with each other and he had just written that. He knew I’d get a laugh out of it. And I did. I hope to get pitched some songs that I end up cutting because I’ve heard some great ones. But sometimes ears hear things differently when you’re not being sold something.
Definitely. It’s like you’re being invited to like something instead of feeling intimidated into liking something.
“Birthday Suit” reminded me of what I love about Cake and their hilariousness. It also felt like, “Oh, this is what a guy really thinks at a bar at 3 a.m. when it’s closing time.”
It really is! And I love Cake! I used to cover “Short Skirt Long Jacket” when I was in high school and had a ball doing it. That song is in my pre-show playlist, which is also huge for good vibes. Yeah. So awesome. That was the perfect reference saying Cake. That was dead-on.
I dig it! And “Roman Candle.”
That one has been a lot of fun to play. I’ve been getting a lot of compliments. I’m excited to record it. Another neighbor of mine is John Osborne. He and I go way back to the Kingbilly days. I’m the biggest Brothers Osborne fan in the world.
John has single-handedly brought back the guitar solo with “Stay a Little Longer” –not to mention TJ’s crazy good voice. But they were quoted in an interview as saying, “Country needs more Nirvana.” That’s also why I cover “Teen Spirit” oddly enough. But I’ve been saying the same thing. John and I have had that conversation numerous times. “Roman Candle” lets me just be a pissed off 15-year-old in a garage for three-and-a-half minutes. I think it’s a good thing.
“Cut Your Groove” reminded me of one of my first trips through Nashville in college. My ex-boyfriend would drive me back to MTSU from Memphis. He’d ask, “Do you want to go around the north side or the south side of Nashville?” If you go around the north side of I-40, it looks like the Batman building is the middle of the record. And Nashville is literally a spinning record. Folks say Nashville is set up like a wheel and spokes. But I believe the city is laid out like a record.
That’s perfect! The guitar player, Oscar Charles, who looks like he could have been an extra in Inglorious Basterds, he’s the sweetest guy you’ll ever meet and the youngest guy in the band. I wrote “Cut Your Groove” with him. He’s another member of my family at Little Louder Publishing with Arthur, Luke and Ryan. I bought three notebooks back in the fall in Austin, Texas at Waterloo Records to get back into pen and paper songwriting on my own in the morning. I try and fill a page a day. The motto I put on the front of each these notebooks is “Tell the Truth.” A side effect of that is these songs — whether it’s “Runnin’ My Own Race,” or “Cut Your Groove” or “Please People Please” — they’re kind of theme songs. That’s the biggest life lesson I learned is you’ve got to do you. You’ve got to create your own happiness. And “Cut Your Groove” is very much that. It’s a little inside in that it talks about records on the charts and all that. But I think people get the sentiment. And that’s a fun one to play. It’s very country. It gets more twang every time we play it, which I love.
“My Kind of Drinkin’ Song” is great, too.
I actually wrote that one by myself. I’m so proud that I actually finished a song that I dig by myself. It’s been so long since I’ve done that. I’m trying to do more of that. Frank encouraged me to do that. That one is just for me, sometimes you write something just for you and it actually ends up working for a lot of people. It came from a place of missing country music.
I noticed you were in my hometown of Memphis not too long ago. What were you doing in Memphis? Tell me about that trip.
I had gone to Muscle Shoals earlier that weekend to play and I had never been to Muscle Shoals. I toured both of the FAME studios there and got to know Rick Hall and Jerry Phillips. Memphis is just a quick drive from Muscle Shoals. So, we took a road trip and had fun. I had been to Graceland but not since I was a kid. I had never seen Sun Studios. But I’ve always loved Memphis. One of my favorite places on the planet is the lobby of the Peabody. I used to go there with my dad for some of my first concerts. He and I would camp out in the lobby waiting for The Stones or Aerosmith to come through the elevator. I met Steven Tyler and Joe Perry that way. There’s a piece of my growing up there. It’s the music that made me do music honestly. I actually got teary-eyed at Sun. I don’t know that people realize, I mean, I still argue that America’s music from the ’50s and ’60s — and to a certain extent, the ’70s — is the reason we haven’t been invaded by China or something yet.
They are still giving us a hall pass for all the dumb crap we’ve done. Read into that what you will — conservative people will think I’m saying one thing. But liberals will think I’m saying another. But I think we can all agree that America’s not this perfect parent of the world, right?
We’re no angels. That’s for sure.
No we’re not. And honest to God, I believe we’re still rocking because we’ve created the world’s greatest damn music ever. Period. Hands down. And the rest of the world is going, “Let’s get them a hall pass. They might have another Elvis. We don’t want to screw that up.” And it goes back to Elvis. It goes back to our race relations in this country at that time. There was a time when you couldn’t be black and be Elvis. The saving grace of all of it was Sam Phillips. He loved rhythm and blues. He didn’t care if you were white, black, blue or green. He didn’t care. He just loved what he loved. He would record everybody. They would record funerals, weddings and graduations. “Have recording device, will travel.” He recorded “Rocket 88” by Jackie Brenston and the Delta Cats, which is considered the world’s first rock ‘n’ roll record. The speakers flew out of the car on the road from Clarksdale, Mississippi. And a lot of it was because of Sam Phillips. He wasn’t prejudiced. Out of all the places in the world, black and white didn’t exist there for a minute. And just because of a little bit of that magic, we have this music — Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and all these other icons, not to mention, down the street was STAX, which had the first integrated rhythm section. Strikes and marches were happening in Memphis, and meanwhile down the road, white and black musicians were getting together and they could care less. I just started cryin’ because it’s where I’m from and I’ve always been proud of where I’m from. But you have to be careful about that, too. I remember being in Boston at Berklee. People would ask, “Oh where you from?” “I’m from Mississippi,” and people would look at me and say, “Oh you must be racist.” It was this cathartic trip for me from Muscle Shoals to Memphis. It’s the records I learned to play music to and if it weren’t for a handful of people who didn’t see black and white, I don’t know if we’d have that music. And I’d be the world’s worst accountant right now. I’m very grateful for Sun, STAX and Muscle Shoals.
You’ve toured overseas, right?
I got to tour in Australia this year and we were up in Canada. When I was a kid, I got to play in Ireland. And I’m dying to go back to Ireland and to Europe as soon as I can make that happen.
They eat our culture up!
If you’re just an American with a fanny pack, they kind of look at you like, “Man, screw you guys,” in a lot of places. I remember being in Ireland in this bluegrass band when I was 12. We were getting tuned up and we were watching this sweet old lady in Ireland singing to an outdoor crowd. She was singing to old karaoke tapes of Tammy Wynette, and it was like Elvis was on stage. I remember thinking, “My God, this is crazy! ‘Stand By Your Man’ is #1 in Ireland today!” And that’s the thing — you whip out a guitar and it’s a whole different ball game. My grandmother used to always say — she loved that I played music — She said, “There are two things in this world that will stop wars if only for a minute. And it’s sports and music.” And she’s right. People will put down their guns to watch a good game. I don’t know sports for anything. But I get it. I was in Boston when the Red Sox won. I know that feeling. But that’s the power of those two things. And I’m really lucky to get to do one of them. That’s what it’s all about.
How do you take care of your mind, body and spirit so you’re able to do this forever and ever, amen?
Oh gosh. I started working out with Bill Crutchfield. He taught me how to get a decent workout with 15 minutes and a hotel room and what’s the healthiest thing you can order at Taco Bell. Between that and keeping a book in my hand to read over all social media, that helps. Then of course the band and having good people around you.
What’s one story you’ll tell your grandkids?
Brent Cobb, Ryan Tyndell and I have recently developed a writing relationship that has been so much fun. We did this writing retreat in Destin, Florida. We didn’t leave Nashville until about 6 p.m. and we ended up driving through the night. We made it right as the sun was coming up and then we went to bed. But part of the reason it took us so long to get down there was we stopped at Hank Williams grave in Montgomery, Alabama. We just noticed it was approaching midnight and we were listening to a lot of old country. We thought, “Whatever! Let’s go pay homage to Hank. ‘Midnight in Montgomery,’ right? Living the song!” We sat out by the grave for about 20 minutes right at midnight. We sang “I Saw the Light,” and had this really amazing memory. Right as we were leaving, I had the windows rolled down and was driving off. I just kind of looked back at the grave and out loud, I said, “Thank, you, Hank.” The whole time we had been there it was dead still. No sound. Dark. Quiet. Nothing. The minute I said, “Thank you, Hank,” a train whistle blew off in the distance. We were all just screaming and freaking out. I will remember that story until the day I die.
Donate directly to the For the Linds Sarcoma Fund at TJMartell.org