Billy Currington says Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings are two of his main influences.
These names aren’t too surprising, considering that Currington’s country star has been rising with such hits as “Must Be Doin’ Somethin’ Right” and “Good Directions” reaching No. 1 on the country charts in 2005 and 2006, respectively. His relaxed Southern drawl and easy, laid back manner during a phone interview further solidified his image as a country boy from Rincon, Ga. But within the same breath, Currington also named dropped Def Leppard and AC/DC, two metal bands that are, needless to say, quite far from country.
One listen to his single from last year, “Tangled Up,” with its distorted, ascending guitar riff and anthemic chorus, reveals the influence that those unlikely bands have had on Currington. It wasn’t a conscious move towards rock, though.
“That is a rockin’ song,” he said, speaking from Nashville at his record label Universal. “That was just the way the song presented itself; every song for me is different. I’ve always had stuff that will sound really, really country, and stuff that will sound really rockin’.”
Currington will bring both sides of his sound to the 15th annual WGNA Countryfest on Saturday. The stop is one in a line of festivals he will play this summer across the country.
Who: Trisha Yearwood, Phil Vassar, Billy Currington, Eric Church, James Otto, Ashton Shepherd, The Back 40 Band
When: Noon Saturday
Where: Altamont Fairgrounds, Route 146, Altamont
How much: $30 advance; $35 day of show; children 10 and under free
More info: www.wgna.com
“Festivals, for us, they’re a lot of fun; they’re usually outside, and that’s some of my favorite shows for sure, just being outside,” he said. “It just feels more energetic for some reason for me sometimes. And they pay well.”
The all-day festival begins at noon, with a lineup including Phil Vassar, Eric Church, James Otto, Ashton Shepherd, The Back 40 Band and this year’s headliner, Trisha Yearwood.
“Each year, I will say that we do a very good job of getting what people would consider a headliner, but we also do a very good job of getting supporting acts that are on their way up,” said Selena Dutcher, director of marketing at Country 107.7 WGNA.
“We have a track record of having artists that are unknown to people when they play here, but eventually become superstars. In past years, we’ve had Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith, Dierks Bentley, and neither were headliners — they were in the beginning of their careers. We’re very happy to have Ashton, James and Eric Church. They’re definitely on their way up.”
Currington could be considered somewhere in between headliner Yearwood and the supporting acts in terms of name recognition. He released his self-titled debut in 2002, scoring hits with the aforementioned “I Got a Feelin’” and “Walk a Little Straighter,” a slower, introspective song about his father’s alcoholism. Currington’s 2004 duet with Shania Twain, “Party for Two,” became another No. 1 hit, and introduced Currington to wider audiences.
The succession of hits from his debut and his 2005 sophomore effort “Doin’ Somethin’ Right” has led his songs to become well known, even while his name might not necessarily be, said Dutcher.
“Billy is great; he has a ton of songs, but when people hear the songs they don’t know necessarily that it’s Billy Currington,” Dutcher said. “Saturday will be a treat for those people, they’ll actually know that he sings those songs now.”
New game plan
Singing country songs wasn’t always Currington’s plan. When he was growing up in Rincon, his dream was to one day be a professional football player.
“[Football was] everything to me, it was my whole life, it was something I did since I was a kid,” he said. “But the paths turned, and the good Lord above showed me he had something else planned for me, and that was music. I definitely love and enjoy what I do now, and my health I’m sure is a lot better than it would have been.”
He picked up his first guitar when he was 17 at a pawnshop in Savannah, Ga. However, he’d been writing lyrics for some time already; the chorus to “Walk a Little Straighter” was written when he was 12.
He moved to Nashville the next year, taking a job at a concrete factory and then as a personal trainer, all while continuing to write. A tape of his eventually made its way to Universal, where he was signed. However, Currington admitted that initially, breaking into country radio was frustrating.
“In the beginning, just like every artist, you always get frustrated when you feel that a song should be played more than it is,” he said. “But as you grow up a bit, you kind of learn that people do what they’re gonna do, and play what they’re gonna play. When I do get played in a certain town, I count my blessings; there’s so much talent out there and very few spots to play that talent.”
Radio has continued to back Currington, with “Tangled Up” becoming a minor country hit last year. A new single, “Don’t,” will be released later this month, ahead of a forthcoming album, which Currington said will probably be released sometime in October. This will be the first song from the new album, as “Tangled Up” was just intended to be a single release, said Currington.
“We’re probably eight songs away from being complete,” he said. “We’ll be tracking eight songs in a couple of weeks, and we’ll be done within about a month and a half.”
Time to write
While Currington wrote or collaborated on most of the songs off his debut album, his writing contributions on “Doin’ Somethin’ Right” were limited to just four songs. It looks as if this trend will continue on the upcoming album, although he isn’t necessarily happy about that.
“I would love to have more songs that I’ve written on there,” he said. “I just don’t have as much time to write anymore like I used to.”
However, he hopes to remedy that situation next year.
“When this year’s over, my next year I’m gonna have me a little bit more space between gigs for writing songs,” Currington said. “This year, I just had to put the hammer down, work as much as I could out there.”