Darrell Scott

by

August 16, 2008

Darrell Scott was born on a tobacco farm in 1959 in London, Kentucky, but was raised in East Gary, Indiana where his father worked as a steel worker. When he was eleven, his family moved to Southern California where his musical father, Wayne, started a band comprised of Darrell and his four brothers. His father’s band played in roadhouses and taverns all over the United States, including traveling as far North as Alaska.

After studying Literature and earning a degree in Poetry at Tufts University, Darrell finally moved to Nashville to realize his dream of singing and songwriting in the Music City. For a while, he worked as a skilled session musician and played guitar and banjo on albums for people such as Patty Loveless, Randy Travis, Steve Earle and Guy Clark, among others.

The first of his songs to be recorded was “No Way Out,” which was released by Suzy Bogguss in 1996. Following that cut, many other artists started to record Scott’s songs as well, including The Dixie Chicks who took “Long Time Gone” into the top ten on the charts, which also earned a Grammy nomination in 2003. “Long Time Gone” famously and cleverly reproaches Nashville for its slick productions that often fails to consider art or authenticity: ” Now they sound tired but they don’t sound haggard/They’ve got money but they don’t have cash/They got junior but they don’t have hank/I think, I think, I think/The rest is a long time gone…”

Other artists who have had the good taste to record his songs include Garth Brooks, Guy Clark, Faith Hill, Patty Loveless, Sara Evans, Tim McGraw, Travis Tritt, Brad Paisley, Darryl Worley and Kathy Mattea. In an article for the Houston Chronicle, Scott admits: “They were written for me and first appeared on my records before they ever became hits. I’ve tried to write hits, and all I ever end up with are lousy songs that sound like I was sitting around trying to write for the radio. So I stopped doing that. Now I only sit down to write when I have something to say. I’m not the kind of disciplined writer who fills up notebooks or who gets up every day at 9 to write. I wait till something taps me on the shoulder.”

One of the most memorable of Darrell Scott’s compositions is the chilling “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive.” While it has not received the same commercial acclaim as “Long Time Gone” or Travis Tritt’s “Great Day to Be Alive”, it leaves an indelible impression. It has been recorded by Patty Loveless, Brad Paisley and most recently, Kathy Mattea. It’s the bleak tale of the dark fate that befalls coal mine workers. As the song describes:

“But the times got hard and tobacco wasn’t selling

And ole granddad knew what he’d do to survive

He went and dug for Harlan coal

And sent the money back to granny

But he never left Harlan alive

Where the sun comes up about ten in the morning

And the sun goes down about three in the day

And you fill your cup with whatever bitter brew you’re drinking

And you spend your life just thinkin’ of how to get away”

“You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” is one of the few modern songs that instantly sounds like a classic. In fact, people could easily be fooled into thinking that this song was already a classic if they weren’t aware that it is just over a decade old. While “Harlan” and Faith Hill’s insightful “We’ve Got Only Love to Prove” (which was somewhat altered from the original “Goodle, USA”) are a couple of the many songs that displays Scott’s social conscience, he also has a notable funny side that should not be overlooked. “Darryl Worley’s “Family Tree” and Scott’s own “Title Of The Song” and “Spelling Bee Romance,” among many others, aptly demonstrate his wry and clever sense of humor.

Although Darrell Scott is most well known for his songwriting and musicianship, including still being a member of Steve Earle’s Bluegrass Dukes, he is also a very engaging singer and interpreter of his own songs. So far, he has released five excellent studio albums, in cluding a collaboration with Tim O’Brien, and is about to release a sixth on August 19, which will be a tribute to some of his favorite songwriters. His voice is both understated and soulful and as the Dixie Chicks explain, “He is one of the great writers of our time. He brings a complete package through perfectly crafted lyrics, groove and melody. When you listen to his songs you can tell he’s lived them.”

There is something to be said about Darrell Scott that cannot always be said of all singer/songwriters and it’s that His own versions of his songs are just as compelling and, sometimes, even more appealing than their popular counterparts. Moreover, among the current crop of Nashville songwriters, Scott is one of the most talented. In fact, it would not be far fetched to predict that he will someday be regarded as highly as Harlan Howard or Kris Kristofferson. Perhaps Rodney Crowell says it best: “Darrell Scott’s music is equal parts talent and heart, soul and grace, power and poetry, charm and wit, funk and grit… all in service of the better parts of humanity. Darrell Scott is scary good. Listen and learn.”

The Darrell Scott Songbook:

  • “Another Day” – Tim O’Brien; Karen Casey
  • “Born to Fly” – Sara Evans
  • “Family Tree” – Darryl Worley
  • “Feel It Comin’ On” – Sara Evans
  • “Head South” – Neal McCoy/Robinella
  • “Heartbreak Town” – Dixie Chicks
  • “Honky Tonk Mona Lisa” – Marcus Hummon; Doug Stone
  • “I’m Trying” – Diamond Rio with Chely Wright
  • “I’m Workin’” – Tim McGraw
  • “It’s a Great Day to Be Alive” – Travis Tritt; Cory Morrow
  • “Long Time Gone” – Dixie Chicks
  • “Love’s Not Through With Me Yet” – Kathy Mattea
  • “Mama’s Night Out” – Sara Evans
  • “My Kind Of Beautiful” – Andy Griggs
  • “No Way Out”- Suzy Bogguss; Julie Roberts
  • “Old Town New” – Tim McGraw
  • “Out in the Parking Lot” – Guy Clark; Brad Paisley with Alan Jackson
  • “Proving You Wrong” – Keb’ Mo’
  • “River Take Me” – Sam Bush
  • “We’ve Got Nothing But Love to Prove” – Faith Hill
  • “Someday” – Trace Adkins
  • “When There’s No One Around” – Garth Brooks; Tim O’Brien
  • “With A Memory Like Mine”- John Cowan
  • “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” – Brad Paisley; Patty Loveless; Kathy Mattea
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8 Comments

Category: Songwriter Series
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  1. LibbyNo Gravatar says:

    I didn’t realize he co-wrote “I’m Workin’” with Lori McKenna. Good song!

  2. TomNo Gravatar says:

    this feature couldn’t have started any better, excellent job, leeann.

    if you were one of the boys i’d give you a friendly smack on the back. you know one of those that chandler bing loved so much – just a little higher up though. :)

  3. Paul W DennisNo Gravatar says:

    While I wouldn’t lump him with the immortals yet, it looks like he is off to a good start

  4. Matt BNo Gravatar says:

    I have just downloaded his new record from eMusic! His voice is so good and he really mixes in the old-world Irish into his folk/country tunes.

  5. Matt BNo Gravatar says:

    Ohh, little known fact,

    The Sky Kings recorded “It’s A Great Day To Be Alive” BEFORE anyone other than Darrell.

  6. Leeann WardNo Gravatar says:

    I don’t think I’ve heard of The Sky Kings before. Is their version any good?

  7. Leeann WardNo Gravatar says:

    As I go along, I will add more songs that I discover have been written by Darrell Scott. I’ve added “I’m Trying”, recorded by Diamond Rio with Chely Wright, to the list.

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