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.”
On September 11, 2001, the world changed forever with the devastating attacks on both the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” embodied the thoughts and feelings of millions in the wake of the events that took place 16 years ago.
There is audio from country superstar Alan Jackson sharing memories and thoughts on the events of September 11, 2001 and discussing his song, “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning),” as well as remembrances from Lady Antebellum, Darius Rucker and Eric Church.
The chorus and melody of “Where Were You…” came to Jackson in the middle of the night several weeks after the 9/11 tragedies. He awoke…sang the words into a recorder and wrote down key elements of the chorus…and completed the lyrics and verses later that same day. Initially reluctant to record the song, he was convinced by family and friends to share it with the world and debuted “Where Were You…” live on national television in early November at the 35th annual CMA Awards.
AJ (Where Were You) 2 OC: …same feelings. 1:33
“Well, I don’t know – I think I was probably like most people that were impacted with that day and the months that followed. You know, everybody was glued to the news and television and I think it really affected a lot of people – their perspective on their lives and their jobs and their families and where they were and what they were wanting to do and how they looked at things. And I guess…I mean, that’s what I was thinking, too. And I just pretty much visualized a lot of those scenes and stories I’d heard and seen on television or heard people talk about. The song came out of nowhere in the middle of the night – the chorus did. Just a gift. And I got up and scribbled it down and put the melody down so I wouldn’t forget it, and then the next day I started piecing all those verses together that were the thoughts I’d had or visuals I’d had, and…that was about it. I think it was just really…I had so many people tell me that there’s always a line or something in there that they did, whether it was go to church or pick up their Bible or go see their mother or watch a sunset – I mean, just a lot of things in there people told me that they had actually done those things, so…I guess I was like everybody else, just feeling those same feelings.”
Alan Jackson (Where Were You) 3 OC: …meant something. :56
“It was a tough performance for me just the whole idea of releasing that song was a little big tough. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to put that out, but everybody convinced it was a good thing to do. In retrospect, I agree with that. But, I hadn’t sung the song much, first of all. It was just in the studio basically, you know, I wrote it. So, it was hard enough to go out there and sing something new anyway and then just the topic made it nerve-wracking to do. I didn’t think about what was gonna happen or anything. We just sang it, and I just remember other than being relieved that I got through it, I just felt very proud that it seemed to cause a reaction in people. I was proud that we got to do it, and it seemed like it meant something.”
Lady A (9-11 Charles) OC: …everybody. :30
“It was my birthday believe it or not. Yeah. 9/11. So, I was in college, and yeah, it was wild. I mean, woke up, was getting ready to go to class. And I had a roommate come in and say, ‘Man, turn on the TV. Classes are canceled. You won’t believe…’ He had had an earlier class, and he comes in and says, ‘Turn on the TV.’ And we all got up and watched it. It was just wild. So, it’s hard to put into words. But it is funny, that it’s still and I can remember it and everybody can. It had such a huge Effect on everybody.”
Lady A (9-11 Hillary) OC: …we’re protected. 1:19
“I was in 10th grade, which is weird to think that I was in 10th grade and Charles and Dave were in college. But I was actually on my way to history class, interestingly enough, and so we got to that class and turned the TV on, and we’re just watching the footage and then our, we ended up having an assembly that day where the whole school went into the gym and our headmaster got up and explained kind of everything that was going on and what happened. And it is. It’s one of those things that’s forever ingrained in your memory. And I actually had a close friend of mine, it’s actually my God sister’s dad has been in the military and he’s retired now. But he was on his way to the Pentagon and didn’t get there. But so luckily before everything happened but it’s just, I think everyone has that personal connection to it no matter if you knew someone there or not. It’s just … and I think too not only is it a time to reflect on those lost in that tragedy, I think it’s a time to really celebrate our military. And just another way of bringing praise to them and thanking them for what they do, which is protect us and protect our freedom on a daily basis. And thankfully nothing like that has happened since. And I think that that’s a testament to how well we’re protected.”
Darius Rucker (9-11) OC: …vicious day. :24
“[On] 9-11, I was playing golf with a friend early in the morning. Had an apartment in New York, and I lived in New York kind of at the time. If you looked out my bedroom window, we saw the World Trade Center. I was on my way back home. I was playing a 7 o’clock round of golf, and then I was catching a noon flight, and when I was finishing up, we stopped in to get a drink and I looked and we saw the second tower come down. It was a vicious day.”
Eric Church (9-11) OC: …that feeling. :23
“I was driving into work — the Shop-At-Home Network — I was listening to Gerry House, I remember that, and the news broke. [I] really couldn’t grasp what had happened until I got to work and saw it for myself on television. I remember I watched the second plane hit the tower in real time. I had just moved to Nashville earlier that year, and all I remember is wanting to go home and be with those I loved. I’ll never, I’ll never forget that feeling.”
Lady Antebellum‘s Charles Kelley has teamed up with his brother John and Top Golf for a new video series, The Hook With Charles Kelley. The two siblings are very competitive and both are good golfers; in fact, John is a former pro golfer.
When Charles isn’t in the studio or on the road performing for fans, you can catch him on a golf course, so this video series is absolutely perfect for the singer. Charles also brings along some famous friends to help him best his older brother.
Special guests in the series include Darius Rucker, The Bachelorette‘s Shawn Booth and Kaitlyn Bristowe and Charles and John’s famous brother Josh Kelley.
Catch episodes 1-3 below.
Father’s Day is on Sunday (June 18th), and many of your favorite country artists will be celebrating.
AJ (parenting style) OC: …what they did. :19
“We try to be just not pushy hands-on parents. We let them live and be their own way. I’m not stern with them. You know, I’m funny and light, and try to give them guidance and let them live and learn their own ways. And that’s something, I think, my parents did. It was accidental, but that’s what they did.”
Canaan Smith (Father’s Day) OC: …I love him. :35
“My dad, I think is just the greatest man. He’s always provided for us. He was always there. He was always a great dad. He worked his butt off, you know, and showed me what it was like to work hard and provide for a family, and I just hope I can do that one day too. We’ve always had a special bond. He’s been a songwriter and a singer too for a long, long time, and so I got to grow up listening to him do his thing, sitting in the other room while they do band rehearsal. I’d be sitting on the couch in the other room just taking it all in, dreaming one day to be behind that microphone, so he’s definitely been an inspiration. I love him.”
Charles Kelley (qualities as a father) OC: …tolerance. :24
“I hope I’m a great father. My dad, I’ve always looked up to. He’s such a hard worker and an amazing man. He’s always showed me and the rest of my siblings a lot of love, and so yeah, I hope to instill a strong work ethic into Ward, but also a lot of love and a lot of tolerance.”
Darius Rucker (Father’s Day) OC: …loving dad. :41
“I think if you asked my kids what kind of Dad I was they would probably say…Dani would say that I was a fun Dad. My little daughter would say that I was a fun dad; she thinks I’m a lot of fun. I think if you caught them at the right moment they would say I was mean [laughs] because when I’m home I’m not afraid to discipline them. I’m all fun until it’s not fun anymore and then daddy’s not the fun guy. I think that they’d say that I was a fun Dad, I’m a loving Dad and I think they would say that. I’m gone so much that when I’m home, I just shower love upon my kids. I say ‘I love you’ probably fifty times a day. We hug, we kiss all the time. I’m always wanting them to know how much I love them. So I’d hope they’d say that I was a loving dad.”
Dierks Bentley (dad & performer) OC: …to do both. :28
“When I get home, it’s a totally different reality that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. Just hanging with my girls and doing the things we do and seeing life through their eyes, it’s incredible. It takes a man to do it. It’s not a boys’ game. It takes a man to do it. I love the juxtaposition to be able to be that man and to also go on the road and act like I’m 13 years old and play video games all afternoon waiting for the fans to show up. So, it’s really a blessing to be able to do both.”
Dierks Bentley (how fatherhood has changed him) OC: …different. :07
“There’s a whole kind of different universe that has opened up that I never knew existed, and I’m not the center of it, which is really cool. It just makes you look at things totally different.”
Eric Church (his father’s influence) OC: …same thing. :32
“My daddy’s always preached, and it’s something that rung true, he’s always preached authenticity. He’s always preached being honest and being true. My daddy’s from a small town, you know it’s a blue collar town, and he’s just always been pretty even-keeled; never too high and never too low. He’s always been honest and authentic. I think it’s a good template. It has been for me thus far, especially with this industry, ‘cause it’s really easy to get high and low. So, I think just keeping everything in perspective and trying to be real, and I think people can sense that, and I certainly will tell my kids the same thing.”
Eric Paslay (Father’s Day) OC: …ceiling fan. :23
“He just taught me that working hard and sticking it out, even when you know things aren’t right, that if you stick it out, it’s worth it in the end. And he just taught me to work hard, and there’s a lot of things that you don’t have to pay someone else to do, and it feels more rewarding when you’re able to put in new light fixtures or paint your own walls or put in a new ceiling fan.”
Keith Urban (Father’s Day) OC: …experience that. :36
“The first thing is probably just having someone call you dad. I’m like, ‘Omigosh! I’m her dad! That’s amazing.’ That’s probably the first thing to me. I don’t know, I mean, the different personalities that our two daughters have, that’s amazing. It’s such a long list I think. I always say…I think for the people that haven’t had kids – which I hadn’t for a long, long time. I didn’t have kids ‘til later on, and being around it is not the same as having them, you know? I realize that it’s not something that can be explained until you actually sort of have it, so I’m glad I got to experience that.”
Kip Moore (Father’s Day-dad’s influence) OC: …of us singin’ ‘em. :29
“He would just play all those classic records – Little River Band, Jackson Brown, Springsteen, Seeger, Willie Nelson, the Red-Headed Stranger, Kristofferson, Sam Cook – like classic music. He’d be singing the songs and telling us why it was such good music. And I looked up to him so much, that’s the music I gravitated towards and that’s what I continue to listen to. Whenever I think about those old fishing trips, that’s what I think about is on the way down there, him singing those songs and all of us singin’ ‘em.”
Lady A (Father’s Day-Hillary) OC: …my children. :33
“I definitely got my Type-A personality from my dad. He’s the same way, but one thing I’m so appreciative of – especially from a father-daughter relationship – my dad always, always talked to me, even when I didn’t want to talk to him. He would force me to communicate and talk through things, and not always the easy stuff, which is such a rare quality in a man, truthfully. And so, I am very, very thankful for that. I think it helped me find the right husband for me, and I also know that it will help me be that much of a better communicator to my children.”
Lady A (Father’s Day-Dave) OC: …like that. :39
“My dad was a really hard worker growing up and was always great, however hard he worked, he’d always make important time for family, important time to be home for dinner and be there for a lot of special moments for us growing up. For all the money he would make, he would always give a portion of it back to charity or to the church, and so that was always important for me to watch. We had a great relationship growing up. My dad plays guitar; he’s very musical. I learned how to play acoustic guitar with him playing ‘Day Tripper’ by the Beatles and all these old songs we’d play together when he’d show me how to play these James Taylor songs and things like that. So, definitely want to pass along music, of course, to my children, as well, like that.”
Little Big Town (Jimi-Father’s Day) OC: …beautiful. :32
“It’s still such a new experience for us, and man, I’m telling you, people can tell you all day long how great it’s going to be, but it still never touches it. That little man looking back at me, it’s the most unbelievable feeling. And every day, for me who hates mornings [laughs], waking up to a slap in the face; he’s like pounding on me, then he’s like kissing on me and stuff. It’s unbelievable. It’s absolutely beautiful.”
Luke Bryan (Father’s Day) OC: …for me. :34
“Father’s Day is certainly always really, really special. With the boys, just the simple things with boys. Caroline’s like, ‘Hey! Pick who you want to go fishing with and y’all just go fishing and have a little morning.’ It’s stuff like that and half the time I load the boat up with all the boys and it’s Father’s Day and I’m untangling fishing line all day. So, Father’s Day is really, really special, and Caroline’s always great about creating some fun stuff…she’s always really proactive in making days like that really special for me.”
Sam Hunt (Father’s Day) OC: …he’s great. :27
“I’m obviously biased about my parents, but I’ve been around a lot of great men of integrity, but he is by far the best man that I know. He’s just taught me so much about being a man, doing the right thing, knowing the difference between right and wrong. And even though I don’t always follow his lead, I definitely know better because of him, and that means a whole lot to me. I was just really fortunate to have him as a dad, and he’s great.”