Confederate Railroad blends country, rock sounds

For years, the informal agreement was that country got the twang, rock got the bang, and never the twain shall meet.


There were exceptions. The Byrds and Gram Parsons played with both rock and country in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and the Eagles found success with a soft rock sound that owed more to Nashville than New York. But for the most part, country and rock were closely related relatives that rarely spoke.

That's no longer the case.

Over the past several years, a significant number of acts have started bulking up country crooning with rock riffs or adding soulful steel guitar to the hard and heavy rock recipe. Artists such as Shooter Jennings, the Drive-by Truckers and Old 97's have found success paying tribute to influences on both sides of the musical fence.

Confederate Railroad was something of a ground-breaker in terms of bringing together elements of both country and rock. Danny Shirley, the band's lead singer, toured with country legends David Allan Coe and Johnny PayCheck before his own band took off. He said that finding country acts willing to rock on the radio was difficult but that in the honky-tonks where country fans gathered, it was par for the course.

"Sure, it was unusual as far as national acts," he said in a telephone interview. "But it was very common in the bars. I mean, when I was playing Augusta in the mid-1980s, country acts all had to throw a Bob Seger tune or two into the set."

Mr. Shirley said that with Confederate Railroad, the goal was never to bring together disparate styles. The band's aims were far more simple: Confederate Railroad just wanted to be a really great bar band.

He said that after the band hit with the single Trashy Women , he discovered something unusual happening in the audience.

"We started seeing Metallica shorts at our show," he said with a laugh. "It's interesting, because even today people will tell us that Confederate Railroad is the only country CD they own."

Dakota West, the promotions manager at The Country Club, said much of the divide was generational.

"Country music was my mom and dad's music," he said with a laugh. "But today, the people that are really starting to make it big are people like me, people that grew up listening to Ratt and Def Leppard -- the '80s rock."

Ken Stephens performs with and writes for two Augusta acts, the Livingroom Legends and Dew Hickies. Each band reflects Mr. Stephens' interest in both country and rock. He said combining the sounds isn't difficult. They are structurally similar, with only the approach and lyrics separating the two, he explained.

"Really, pop, rock, country, folk or blues is all one chord progression," he said. "The difference is the accent, subject matter and beat. An A, G, C and D might be strummed. In rock, it would be a power chord. But basically they are the same."

Mr. West said there was a time when country and rock audiences seemed mutually exclusive, when even Johnny Cash and Hank Williams Jr. were marginalized as a country product. Today, he said, Mr. Williams shares the stage with rock acts,

"I mean, he's doing shows with Kid Rock," Mr. West said. "Who would have thunk it? It's no longer about the genre of music; it's about the quality."

Mr. Shirley said the ability of rock and country to come together, for him, stems from simplicity. He said the surprise success of the first Confederate Railroad record wasn't because of careful crafting of a sound or making sure there were equal parts raucous riffs and country shuffle. Years spent looking for the songs and styles that entertained audiences in smoke-filled bars showed up on every track.

"Those were our orders," he said. "We were to make that first record sound like a bar band. It was intentional and natural, because that's exactly what we are. Of course, then we got bad review in USA Today . They said we sounded like a bar band."


Click here to listen to a portion of a song from Confederate Railroad.


WHAT: Confederate Railroad

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday

WHERE: The Country Club, 2834 Washington Road

COST: $15 in advance, $20 at the door;

CALL: (706) 364-1862