• Charles Kelley

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It was December 2014, and Charles Kelley was getting antsy. His group—the multi-platinum, Grammy-winning trio Lady Antebellum—had released its sixth album, 747, in September, and they wouldn’t be going on tour until February.

“It’s winter,” he thought, “I’m bored and I want to make some music.”

He called up producer Paul Worley and said that he wanted to try out a new song called “The Driver.” Kelley felt that it might be something special, but that it might not be a fit for Lady A; “the perspective seemed like a Crosby, Stills, and Nash story song,” he says.

So they set up in the “kind of ratty” studio in the back of Worley’s offices, just to see what happened. “We went in with no agenda,” says Kelley. “Maybe it’ll be the start of the next Lady Antebellum record, maybe we’ll scrap it, maybe I’ll pitch the song to other singers.”

But after a first session, the singer had a good feeling. He brought in a couple of other songs that he had set aside over the years and started sensing some momentum. What eventually emerged was his first-ever solo album, named The Driver after that first exploratory song—a project that’s picked up some extra wind in its sails as “The Driver” earned a GRAMMY nomination in the Best Country Duo/Group Performance category.

“I knew I wanted to go in a little more raw, gritty direction,” says Kelley. “I definitely had a sound I wanted to chase, getting back to more of a Seventies, Southern rock feel.”

The initial batch of songs gave him a sense that he was going to be diving into some new territory, with a real sense of range—“Lonely Girl” and “Your Love” both had something of a Hall and Oates-style white soul feel, while Kelley’s cover of Tom Petty’s “Southern Accents” had a stark and melancholy feel.

“At first, it was really weird to go in the booth and be like, ‘Where’s Hillary? Where’s Dave?’“ Kelley says with a laugh. “But it was very exciting to be the leader in there and go, ‘This is it, I’m doing this.’ It took me out of my comfort zone, and as artists we sometimes get way too comfortable and start repeating ourselves.”

One thing that Kelley and Worley knew was that they wanted to push the actual sound of his voice back into a lower, grittier key than what listeners have been hearing from him in the group setting. “With the success of ‘Need You Now’ especially, where that song put my voice was a little sweeter than where it started,” he says. “When you’ve got three vocalists, a lot of time we’re each sacrificing our own sweet spot to find the blend. So I wanted to bring out that gravelly part of my voice, get a little bit of Gregg Allman back in there.”

Thrilled with the first studio go-round, they made plans to reconvene a few months later, after the first leg of Lady Antebellum’s Wheels Up Tour. The day before recording, though, Kelley had a sense that he was missing something; he called co-writers Abe Stoklasa and Daniel Tashian and almost instantly, they came up with “Dancing Around It,” adding a shot of sexiness into the mix.

The second session also included “Leaving Nashville,” an emotional powerhouse of a song about the ups and downs, heartaches and disappointments, of life as a songwriter. “It was something we could all relate to,” says Kelley. “Even the session guys said, ‘This is all of our story’—if you’re in the music business, one day you’re the king and the next you’re not. And after that song, I thought, ‘We’re probably on to something special here.’“

Three final songs were cut later in the year, which added to the album’s moody feel and personal focus. “Round in Circles” (with what he describes as a “cool, mesmerizing sound”) marks the first time that Charles and his brother, singer-songwriter Josh Kelley, have recorded together since Josh’s early work.

The last song recorded was a different kind of landmark for Kelley. “The Only One Who Gets Me” marks the first time he has written a song specifically for and about his wife, Cassie. “It’s a story wholly about my relationship with her,” he says. “Each line is so obviously about us—she tolerates me for who I am, which I know isn’t so easy.”

Though mostly recorded live in Worley’s simple studio, The Driver also benefits from appearances by a couple of Kelley’s superstar friends. He wanted a third voice on the title track alongside him and co-writer Eric Paslay, and thought Dierks Bentley might fit the track. “I love that really raw, weathered voice of his,” says Kelley, “and when he said he wanted to be a part of it, it felt like the stars were aligning for this project.”

“I Wish You Were Here” also benefits from the help of a guest. “Miranda Lambert came to a show and said she was proud of what I was doing,” says Kelley. “I thought it would be cool to get her on here—and she sounds like Emmylou Harris on this track, a very beautiful texture that fits so perfectly.”

Tom Petty’s “Southern Accents,” meanwhile, features the presence of true rock and roll royalty, with Stevie Nicks adding her incomparable voice. She and Lady Antebellum had performed together for an episode of CMT Crossroads, and when she heard Kelley’s version of the song, she immediately wanted to contribute. “Just to have her say that she liked my version was enough for me,” says Kelley. “You’re treading on some sacred ground with Tom Petty, and his fans are pretty die-hard, but with Stevie in there, I figure they can’t be too harsh!”

Another inspiration for Kelley was the possibility of getting back to a more stripped-down touring set-up. “Lady Antebellum has gotten so big that we’re playing arenas and amphitheaters,” he says, “and it’s amazing, but as great as those are, I miss those dirty clubs and people grabbing on your legs and being able to see every face. In arenas, it really is hard to connect to someone way up in the nosebleeds. And you’re tied down musically with all the videos and lights, so I’m really excited about being able to scrap the set list and play what we feel like playing.”

Of course, Charles Kelley knows that he faces a very obvious challenge with The Driver—stepping outside of one of the world’s most popular groups and getting people to accept him in a different context. “My biggest fear is being sure that the fans understand that the band isn’t breaking up,” he says. “We love each other and we’re having a blast. This was just a pure musical left turn, to take myself out of my own head and bring in a fresh perspective when we go back in to make the next Lady Antebellum record.

“It’s hard to break away from a group, for the fans to separate that in their minds. But the one thing I know I can do is lay my head down at night and feel like I’ve made a great project that I’m really proud of.”

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LADY ANTEBELLUM’S CHARLES KELLEY’S TWO-YEAR-OLD SON LOVES GOING ON THE ROAD.

If you follow Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelley on social media, you will see a lot of posts featuring his son, Ward, who can be seen strumming his little guitar or ukulele and singing along to some Lady A hits. The two-and-a-half-year-old may just take over on stage since he’s been on the road a few times since the band kicked off their Summer Plays On Tour with pal Darius Rucker.

 

“Ward is all about the road. I mean it’s crazy. During our soundchecks he brings his little ukulele guitar out there on stage and dances around. He loves it and he’s obsessed with Hillary’s little girl, Eisele, and Dave’s little boy, Cash. They’re both older so he just kinda follows them around and does whatever they do, and it’s really cute to see,” says proud daddy Charles. “He got to see his first show because he usually goes to bed around 7:30 and we did a show here in Nashville for the Fourth of July and it started at 8. So, I begged my wife to keep him up to see it, and he loved it. He sat side stage on her lap the whole time for our show with those little headphones on, and I don’t know that was just one of those cool, proud and warm moments for me. And I don’t know if I want him to be a musician, but I do love that my family does get to come out on the road with me. They come about half the time, and it really is a special thing.”

Fellow bandmates Hillary Scott and Dave Haywood may have their children on the road at times. Hillary is the mother of three — 5-year-old daughter Eisele and 6-month-old identical twin girls Betsy and Emory — while Dave is Dad to two — 4-year-old son Cash and 7-month-old daughter Lillie.

The members of Lady Antebellum, who are making their way up the country charts with “Heart Break,” will take their Summer Plays On Tour to Bethel, New York on Thursday (July 25th) and Gilford, New Hampshire on Friday (July 26th).

Audio / Lady Antebellum's Charles Kelley talks about taking his son Ward on the road on their Summer Plays On Tour with Darius Rucker.

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Lady Antebellum (Ward on the Road) OC: …special thing. :58

“Ward is all about the road. I mean it’s crazy. During our soundchecks he brings his little ukulele guitar out there on stage and dances around. He loves it and he’s obsessed with Hillary’s little girl, Eisele, and Dave’s little boy, Cash. They’re both older so he just kinda follows them around and does whatever they do, and it’s really cute to see. He’s two and a half now. He got to see his first show because he usually goes to bed around 7:30 and we did a show here in Nashville for the Fourth of July and it started at 8. So, I begged my wife to keep him up to see it, and he loved it. He sat side stage on her lap the whole time for our show with those little headphones on, and I don’t know that was just one of those cool, proud and warm moments for me. And I don’t know if I want him to be a musician, but I do love that my family does get to come out on the road with me. They come about half the time and it really is a special thing.”

DARIUS RUCKER DECIDED TO RECORD ‘STRAIGHT TO HELL’ AFTER SPENDING SOME HANG TIME WITH LADY A’S CHARLES KELLEY.

Darius Rucker has released his new single, “Straight to Hell,” a remake of the 1989 Drivin’ ‘N Cryin’ hit, featuring his famous friends Luke Bryan, Charles Kelley of Lady Antebellum and Jason Aldean. Darius recorded the favorite bar singalong once Charles talked him into it, and he enlisted even more star power once he decided to take it into the studio when working on his new album, When Was the Last Time.

“It came out in ’89 when I was just playing clubs with Hootie [& the Blowfish]. It was a big song to us. It was a big song to everybody around us. It was a big Southern song, and I always thought it was a country song,” says Darius from the set of the video for “Straight to Hell.”

“I wanted to cut it and Charles told me I should cut it one day, and I just started calling my friends. I called Charles. I called Jason. I called Luke, and I said, ‘Hey man, I’m doing this song.’ They all loved the song, and we got to do a video for it.”

“It was funny. We were sitting around one night — ‘cause we hang out all the time, we play a lot of golf — we were drinking and listening to Drivin’ ‘N Cryin’ and ‘Straight to Hell’ came on and I was like, ‘Dude, you could do ‘Straight to Hell,’ recalls Charles. “I was like, man, it kind of reminded me a little bit kind of the phenomenon of ‘Wagon Wheel,’ how big that song is. We had the crazy idea of like, ‘Dude you should do this.’ And he goes, ‘If I’m gonna sing it, you’ve got to be on it.’ And so the next thing you know, we start talking and he goes, ‘We need some other people.’ Literally, I think he reached out to Luke, and the next thing you know – I can’t remember how it all happened – but I think Jason was like, ‘Why didn’t you call me and ask me?’ And so all of a sudden, we have this little foursome, The Troublemakers as Darius likes to call it.”

Darius will kick off his co-headline Summer Plays On Tour with Lady Antebellum July 19th in Toronto, Ontario.

Audio / On the set of the video for “Straight to Hell,” Darius Rucker explains how the collaboration all came together.

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Darius Rucker (STH) OC: …great day. :30
“This is an old Drivin’ ‘N Cryin’ song. It came out in ’89 when I was just playing clubs with Hootie [& the Blowfish]. It was a big song to us. It was a big song to everybody around us. It was a big Southern song, and I always thought it was a country song. Drivin’ ‘N Cryin’ is a big rock band, and I always thought it was a country song. I wanted to cut it and Charles told me I should cut it one day, and I just started calling my friends. I called Charles. I called Jason. I called Luke, and I said, ‘Hey man, I’m doing this song.’ They all loved the song, and we got to do a video for it. This is really cool, man. It’s been a great day.”

Audio / On the set of the video for “Straight to Hell,” Charles Kelley of Lady Antebellum talks about how The Troublemakers got together for the song.

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Charles Kelley (STH idea) OC: …call it. :58
“It was funny. We were sitting around one night — ‘cause we hang out all the time, we play a lot of golf — we were drinking and listening to Drivin’ ‘N Cryin’ and ‘Straight to Hell’ came on and I was like, ‘Dude, you could do ‘Straight to Hell.’ I said, ‘It’s one of those songs that was such a big regional hit, kind of in the Southeast, you know. I went to the University of Georgia, and it was a huge bar band, cover band type of song. But like people like my wife, who went to Arizona State, never had heard of the song. I was like, man, it kind of reminded me a little bit kind of the phenomenon of ‘Wagon Wheel,’ how big that song is. We had the crazy idea of like, ‘Dude you should do this.’ And he goes, ‘If I’m gonna sing it, you’ve got to be on it.’ And so the next thing you know, we start talking and he goes, ‘We need some other people.’ Literally, I think he reached out to Luke, and the next thing you know – I can’t remember how it all happened – but I think Jason was like, ‘Why didn’t you call me and ask me?’ And so all of a sudden, we have this little foursome, The Troublemakers as Darius likes to call it.”

Audio / On the set of the video for “Straight to Hell,” Charles Kelley of Lady Antebellum says it’s “fitting” that the four of them finally do a song together.

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Charles Kelley (STH idea) 2 OC: …together. :13
“You know, we kinda started this whole thing. It’s really fun. I hope it leads to something else too. We’ve been laughing…we’ve been such close friends, the four of us, for so many years that I think it’s only fitting that we finally do a song together.”

Audio / On the set of the video for “Straight to Hell,” Luke Bryan talks about taking part in the vocal collaboration with Darius Rucker, Jason Aldean and Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelley.

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Luke Bryan (STH idea) OC: …and Charles. :16
“Darius called me up and asked me to be a part of this song. When I was in college, I’m Going ‘Straight to Hell’ was one of the biggest college anthems that there was, and I was honored to be a part of this with Darius and Jason and Charles.”

Audio / LINER Darius Rucker (Straight to Hell) 1 1

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Audio / LINER Darius Rucker (Straight to Hell) 2

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Audio / LINER Darius Rucker (Straight to Hell) 3

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Video / Straight to Hell video

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DARIUS RUCKER RELEASES THE VIDEO FOR HIS ALL-STAR COLLABORATION FOR ‘STRAIGHT TO HELL.’

Darius Rucker enlisted some famous friends to join him on the remake of “Straight to Hell,” which was released in 1989. Pals Luke Bryan, Charles Kelley of Lady Antebellum and Jason Aldean joined Darius on the song and the video, which was just released. The four of them seemed to have a rowdy good time on the set of the clip, which features them in a speakeasy during Prohibition back in the 1920s.

“When you’re friends with people in the business, you see ‘em when you can. If you tour with ‘em, you get to hang out sometime, but there’s never really day where the four of us have gotten to sit together all day. We did just about every scene together and it was all of us together, and we just had, man, there was some funny stuff said that day. I was losing my mind laughing. That was a fun day.”

Hopefully, Darius and Lady A will perform the song during their tour together. They’re set to kick off their Summer Plays On Tour, which kicks off July 19th in Toronto.

Audio / Darius Rucker talks about the video for "Straight to Hell," which also features Luke Bryan, Charles Kelley and Jason Aldean.

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Darius Rucker (Straight to Hell video) OC: …to see it. :57
“I went to Capitol and said, ‘I’ve never asked for anything, but if you guys would just do me a favor. Whether ‘Straight to Hell’ is a single or not, I really want to make a video, and I want it to be a Western video.’ I was thinking horses and stuff. I’m really glad they weren’t thinking that [laughs], ‘cause I don’t want to be riding nobody’s horse out there. I’d kill myself. It was so much fun. The four of us, I mean when you’re friends with people in the business, you see ‘em when you can. If you tour with ‘em, you get to hang out sometime, but there’s never really day where the four of us have gotten to sit together all day. We did just about every scene together and it was all of us together, and we just had, man, there was some funny stuff said that day. I was losing my mind laughing. That was a fun day, and the video turned out, and it was by far my favorite video I’ve ever made in country music. I mean, ‘Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It’ might be a little above it [because it’s the first], but it’s so much fun and I can’t wait for people to see it.”

Video / Darius Rucker's 'For the First Time' video

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