In 1994, Confederate Railroad was nominated for two Christian music awards for “Jesus and Mama” and a Grammy for “Trashy Women.”
That kind of feat doesn’t happen to most musicians every day.
But that’s what makes Confederate Railroad special: its ability to create music - a hybrid of honky tonk, Southern rock, traditional country and a dash of pop - that appeals to a wide audience.
It’s also one of the reasons why the band spends the summer and fall months playing fairs. There’s a colorful diversity of people, from toddlers to old-timers, in attendance.
“We look forward to it every year. It’s one of the most fun times of the year for us,” said Danny Shirley in recent phone interview. “The age of our crowd is so varied. You have the little kids coming to hear ‘Trashy Women’ and ‘Elvis and Andy’ and you have the grandparents that come because of ‘Jesus and Mama’ and ‘Daddy Never Was the Cadillac Kind.’ Fairs are the perfect venue for that.”
Confederate Railroad had been together for 13 years before the band struck a major label deal.
During the ‘80s, the country favorite could have signed, but the interested label wanted Confederated Railroad to hide its roots and jump aboard the traditional bandwagon, a la George Strait and Randy Travis.
Shirley and his crew held out, however, in hopes that some label might sign the group for what it was, not what someone wanted it to be. He almost regretted the decision.
“There were several nights playing the clubs when you had 20 people there thinking ‘What the heck did I do wrong? Why didn’t I take the deal?”’
Deliverance came in the form of Atlantic Records, which signed the group in 1991.
“The reason I jumped on the Atlantic offer, the first day I met with Rick Blackburn (president of Atlantic Nashville), was that he said ‘I don’t want you to change anything,”’ said Shirley. “He said, ‘I don’t want you to change the way you look, the way you act and the type of music you’re doing or anything.”’
When it came time to release “Trashy Women,” Atlantic’s market research department found the song, though it was meant to be humorous, deeply offended women and urged the band to reject it. But Shirley assured the label that it wouldn’t and the song subsequently became one of the band’s biggest hits.
So now, when it comes to recording albums, Atlantic gives Confederate Railroad complete creative freedom.
They recently issued their third album, “When and Where.” “I went back and studied the first two albums as far as the things that worked well and the few things that didn’t work and tried to put all the best on this new album,” said Shirley.
And it’s worked. Critics are calling “When and Where” Confederate Railroad’s best album so far.