Darryl Worley Looks Back on 9/11 and ‘Have You Forgotten?’ Before Tribute Concert
Darryl Worley's daughter is too young to have forgotten, so he tries to teach her. Seven-year-old Savannah likely has a leg up on her classmates. Her parents go out of their way to explain the importance of the American flag, patriotism, faith and the commitment required of an American soldier. Plus her father wrote what is arguably the most important song of the years following the attack on the World Trade Center, Pentagon and American liberty.
Fourteen years after the 9/11 attacks, Worley is a popular act for memorial concerts, and this year he's booked a good one. On Sept. 11, the "Have You Forgetten?" singer will play for fans in Watertown, N.Y., during an event that will be broadcast live on the American Forces Network and Wrangler Network and live-streamed at WPBS in Watertown. A half million troops overseas will have an opportunity to watch, something Worley takes tremendous pride in knowing.
His first trip to play for the troops overseas came just months after the attacks, before "Have You Forgotten?" was released. He refers to it as a survival test. Accommodations were ... rustic, little more than tarp stretched over poles and a personal space heater stashed beneath a pint-sized cot to keep the winter chill away at night.
I still catch myself breaking out in a sweat when I sing that song,” he says. “I was so angered. I was just so angered by the coward of the attacks.
“I remember my head hanging off one end and my feet off the other,” he tells Taste of Country, laughing at an experience he calls one of his favorites. It was then he began to truly learn how troops were fighting a war, but also rebuilding a nation that wasn't their own. During future trips he watched bridges get built, schools become staffed and water systems become operational. The relief effort is overwhelming, Worley says.
“I think a lot of times American people get caught up in this idea that only thing our troops are doing over in these foreign countries is blowing stuff up," he says, "and it’s quite the contrary.” This fall he could lead another trip to Iraq. The presences of ISIS has created a need, the singer insists.
"Have You Forgotten?" was written out of anger, and that's what Worley still feels each time he performs it. Savannah notices, once commenting on how intense her daddy gets singing it.
“I still catch myself breaking out in a sweat when I sing that song,” the 50-year-old says. “I was so angered. I was just so angered by the coward of the attacks.”
“I don’t think anything compares to it, except maybe Pearl Harbor.”
While time has changed how he views the events that led to its recording (he's more educated now, he says), time hasn't changed the response to "Have You Forgotten?" It's still a unifying force, much like it was in 2003 when it climbed to No. 1 on the Billboard chart in just five weeks. At times he will get a cool reception, but those times are few, far between and unpredictable.
More often Worley is surprised by the positive reception in situations where he's expecting the opposite. Early on he took the song to Canada, naively thinking his fans north of the border wouldn't get it. He admits he allowed himself to think that was a more liberal-minded country that wasn't "all about this war," but he was wrong.
Later he'd learn what a strong ally Canada was, and how per capita they lost more men and women than any other American ally in the war that'd follow.
“I think it’s so simple, and so straightforward and it was so in the moment — and really there’s not a lot in that song you can argue with," Worley says. "It speaks the truth.”
For him, there was a tremendous professional upside to recording "Have You Forgotten?" But it came with a small price to pay. For one, how do you follow that up? The bluegrassy "Tennessee River Run" was his next single, and while fun and appealing, it only charted inside the Top 40. One year later he'd hit No. 1 with "Awful Beautiful Life" before beginning a slow fall from radio's good graces.
Worley isn't complaining about this, and in fairness, he didn't suggest that his commercial decline had anything to do with the song. It did put him in a few conversations he wasn't comfortable with, and as a result of those talks, he's occasionally been misrepresented.
"I’m not a politician. I’ve been cast into some pretty intense situations, some that I handled well and did okay in, and some that I probably got frustrated and probably let my temper dictate my response and maybe didn’t do so well," he shares.
Some analysts, moderators or interviewers came at Worley with mistruths designed to shake him and stir up an argument, he says. If there's a positive side effect to not being as visible now, it's that there are fewer of these conversations. His aim is, and always has been, to show support and love to the American military.
His fans and family understand that. Savannah gets it.
“She understands why her daddy goes off to the war zones to entertain our troops and she understands why they are there," he explains after proudly recalling how his daughter was the only one in school to have the Pledge of Allegiance memorized on the first day of kindergarten. He keeps his history lessons age-appropriate, but doesn't shy away from the facts. When a terror cell was broken up not far from his Tennessee home, he reinforced his message that this is why our military is so important.
During the 9/11 show in Watertown, Worley says he'll likely interact plenty with troops watching overseas, but aside from that it's going to be a pretty typical 9/11 show for him. Songs like his "POW 369" are likely to make the setlist, and others that touch on war ("I Just Got Back from a War," "If Something Should Happen") seem likely.
“We’re here we are today because there are people, and there always have been people, that care enough about our lifestyle and cared enough about our way of life and our freedom to go out there and lay it all out on the line," the singer says. At the end of the night, that is the message he will make sure everyone watching receives.
The pre-recorded portion of the show from the Clayton Opera House will feature footage from Worley's Music and Memories documentary filmed during his many overseas trips, and salutes from celebrities like Colt Ford, Charlie Pride and more. Those not able to attend can watch it live on the at the 9/11 Tribute Concert website. The live broadcast will begin at 9PM ET on Sept. 11.
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