They were good, too. One brother was a great drummer, another was a prodigy on the guitar. For his part, Darrell loved not only music but also literature, which would eventually come in handy when he started writing songs. He realized from an early age that there wasn’t much difference between the poetry of Dylan Thomas and the lyrics of Hank Williams.
“My basis for taking off onto poetry was Cash and Haggard and people my father introduced me to,” Scott says. “Since my dad was a great songwriter, he knew the great songwriters. It’s a form of literature, too. And so then I went on to Shaver, Guy Clark, Mickey Newbury, Kristofferson. There’s always been a real literate group of songwriters in country music.”
Scott encountered many of those songwriters firsthand during trips to the Grand Ole Opry. “My father never really did vacations, but he would take us to Nashville occasionally, and we’d go see the shows. We all loved the Opry, loved country music,” Scott says. “I got my first bass at a pawn shop right off Broadway in Nashville when I was 9 years old.”
His father is Wayne Scott, who always played music but put aside his dreams of performing professionally so he could raise his five sons. Wayne co-wrote one of Darrell’s most requested songs, “With A Memory Like Mine”, which first appeared on Real Time and is also on Live In NC. Last year Wayne released This Weary Way, which was produced by Darrell.
“My father is a restless spirit, but he also has this incredibly strong work ethic, and he always did,” Darrell says. “He instilled that in all of us. He was raised working the fields, raising tobacco. And he kept us busy by working, by moving.”
After playing roadhouses in Southern California from the age of 16, Darrell paid some dues in Toronto, where he hit the honky-tonks as a pedal steel player for the Mercy Brothers. They won several Juno awards (Canada’s equivalent to a Grammy) and had three top hits in Canada with songs written by Scott. But he moved on to Boston, attending a community college, and later Tufts University, where he studied poetry under Phillip Levine.
While at Tufts, Scott managed to get into the offices of EMI subsidiary SBK Records to audition, and they loved what they heard. In 1991, he recorded an entire album with producer Norbert Putnam (Joan Baez, John Hiatt), but SBK decided against releasing the album when they deemed it had no commercial appeal and wouldn’t produce a hit single.
Confused and disenchanted, Scott moved to Nashville shortly after the non-launch of his album. During this time, however, he became friends with people such as Bill Miller, Verlon Thompson and Sam Bush (who had played fiddle at Scott’s request on the unreleased album).
Before he knew it, he was playing sessions, and then he had a publishing deal, and then he was playing on a Guy Clark album. “It certainly wasn’t a case of overnight success, but each thing led to another, slowly and surely,” he says.
As one of Nashville’s most in-demand session players and a songwriter whose songs were beginning to not only be cut by major artists but also charting, Scott was living a good life. But he wanted more. “I began to wonder,” he recalls, “when I was going to get to do my music.”
Since then, he has released six albums, including 1999′s Family Tree, widely considered his best by fans, and 2003′s Theatre Of The Unheard, which is actually the collected songs of the unreleased SBK album. The latter was named Album of the Year at the Independent Music Awards and was selected one of the year’s best records by Rolling Stone.
Besides his solo releases, Scott is also known for Real Time, an album recorded with his friend Tim O’Brien that resulted in a Grammy-nominated instrumental called “The Second Mouse”. The disc also became a favorite of the Dixie Chicks, who plucked two of its songs for their Home album.
Indeed, Scott is a favorite of many of mainstream country’s top acts. His songs have been cut by Garth Brooks (“When There’s No One Around”), Sara Evans (“Born To Fly”), Faith Hill (“We’ve Got Nothing To Prove But Love”), Tim McGraw (“Old Town New”), Travis Tritt (“Great Day To Be Alive”), Patty Loveless (“You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive”), and many others.
How does such a fiercely independent spirit and artist become a darling of mainstream country? It’s a question much like the one concerning a dreamer living in an unavoidably realistic world.