Billy Currington surveys the studio audience at The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson before he performs his latest No. 1 smash, “Pretty Good at Drinkin’ Beer,” and playfully asks the crowd for a small favor: “If you don’t like it, just look at me like you do.”
No need to worry. Billy’s taping is such a hit on the Los Angeles set that warm-up act Chunky B, who introduced the singer/songwriter, announces afterward, “I want you to know I’m 100 percent heterosexual, but when he was singing, he was turning me on.”
And Chunky B’s not the only one getting into Billy these days. Billy’s star is clearly ascending. “Beer,” the first single from his fourth studio album, Enjoy Yourself, marked his fourth consecutive Billboard No. 1 and his fifth overall. But the 36-year-old isn’t so far removed from his early days that he can’t reflect on some of the lessons learned along the way.
He grimaces as he remembers his first TV appearance on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno a few years back. “I let [the label] dress me up like a clown. I had a jacket on. I had these boots on; I don’t wear boots. I had all these crazy things on, necklaces, whatever,” Billy says, sitting on a sofa in a dark T-shirt and jeans in fellow Late Late Show guest Adam Brody’s small dressing room. (Actor Adam won’t arrive until later and Billy’s band is hanging in his dressing room.) “I remember being up there, feeling uncomfortable. . . . I just told them I can’t be dressing up like that anymore. That’s not me. I’m pretty dressed down now.”
Casual and laid-back are two words that often come to mind when describing Billy and his music. Although he can sing romantic ballads with the best of them, this self-declared beach bum’s trademark is easygoing, light, feel-good fare like “People Are Crazy” and “That’s How Country Boys Roll.”
Enjoy Yourself, as the album title suggests, focuses on primarily care-free, upbeat tracks, although that wasn’t the original intention. “When I looked through my iTunes folder [of songs], only the ones that were happy and fun kept rising to the top,” Billy says. “I had two sad ones that were really great, but they just didn’t fit.”
Unlike on his previous sets, Billy decided to leave the songwriting to others. “I started going through all the songs I’d written a couple of years back and the new ones and put them up against the ones I was finding and I just stopped. I didn’t come up with anything that I loved.”
Instead, Billy picked songs from writers who had played a part in his career along the way. “I went back through the catalogs of some songwriters who really helped me out in my early days, let me sing their demos. Every [song] was [by] a writer who was part of my life.”
Loyalty is a quality Billy prides himself on: he points out several times during the interview how the same team has been with him since 2001, which makes his ongoing rise all the sweeter, “not just for me,” he says. “They’re all excited, too.”
With the increase in popularity has come a surge of interest in Billy’s personal life. In a world where so many stars are willing, if not eager, to reveal every detail, he admits he likes to hold back.
“As you do this enough, you start learning the right things and the wrong things to say. I still ain’t perfect. I’m very private. I don’t let out much information. I just don’t think it’s necessary,” he says. Billy cites George Strait as a role model in letting the music speak for him. “He’s someone who keeps very to himself. I didn’t ever see it hurting him.”
Still, Billy has to laugh at some of the questions fans ask him, which he can’t, for the life of him, figure out why they would want to know. “I get asked ‘Boxers or briefs?’ way too much,” he says. “Guys and girls ask that. And every time I get asked that, I’m confused.” (For the record, we did not ask him to answer the question.)
Now that he’s established himself in Nashville, Billy is feeling the urge, as George Strait or Garth Brooks did before him, to move back home. The Rincon, Ga., native is resettling closer to where he grew up. “I’m in the middle at this very moment of moving back and I’m in search of the right spot,” he says. Tops on the list are the Barrier Islands off the coast of Georgia, around Savannah.
But he’s not leaving Music City for good. “I definitely want to come [to Nashville] a lot and continue to write with writers,” he says. “I like spending the fall and winter there.”
The move will also put Billy closer to his four sisters and two brothers, all of whom still live in Georgia. “They’re very protective,” he says. “I see them anytime I go home. That’s maybe three times a year. I got one sister that always blows the whistle, but the rest of them are very sweet. They’ll hide me out because they see that if they don’t, we don’t get no time together. Once that one sister stops, it’s going to be great,” he says with a good-natured laugh.
For the next several weeks, his home will be on the road. Billy is opening for Carrie Underwood through December. With his catalog of hits, he knows he might be able to headline his own shows—he set an attendance record at the Kentucky State Fair this summer— but in this tough economic climate, he sees no downside to waiting.
“I’ve been watching other people that are about on the same level as I feel we are try to do their own headlining shows and every one of them’s been crashing,” Billy says. “I don’t feel like I’m any better than them, so I might as well wait another year or two and then go for it.”
Such a hectic schedule leaves no time for Billy to maintain a romantic relationship, much less even get one started. “I don’t have anything going on,” Billy says with a laugh. “I have just such a busy life that it wouldn’t be fair to be married right now and try to have kids,” he says. “But I really feel within a couple of years that I’ll be at a point where I can’t use this excuse no more. Most of all, I’ll be in a situation where I don’t have to do 180 shows [a year] anymore. I can bring it down to 80 to 100 and survive.”
Kids? Does that mean he hears the patter of little feet in his future? Absolutely, says Billy. He glows when he talks about the kind of father he’d be. “I’d be very simple and very open and very energetic,” he says. “I would do a lot of things different than I’ve seen in the past. That’s one thing I’m excited about one day.”
There are many other things that get him excited as well, some of them a little surprising, such as his desire to launch his own line of organic beverages. It turns out that Billy, unlike the song says, isn’t so good at drinking beer after all; he prefers tea and he now concocts his own blend. “I started making this one particular tea that consists of tropical flowers from other countries,” he says. “I learned from a very nice sweet lady who told me how to do it. I get [the flowers] through a guy who owns a coffee shop. He gets coffee from all these third-world countries. He gets me these flowers, too. They’re dried. They’re all crumbled up and you make tea with them.”
He also wants to flex his musical muscles and stretch beyond country music. “I want to do about 50 different kinds of albums,” he says. “I want to do a soul album, a kids album, a Christmas album. I’d love to be part of a jazz-type orchestra and be the singer—Sinatra-type music. I’ll always be part of country music, but life’s short and I’ve got a lot of dreams.” He pauses, then adds with a smile, “I’ve got big dreams that are driving me crazy right now.” CW
Paco’s got floppy ears, a shiny coat and an enviable job description: Billy Currington’s best friend.
Billy adopted the Labrador retriever four years ago when he was a mere pup and now the two are inseparable.“I got [him] off the Internet. I looked for a year for a chocolate Lab and I just kept going to different websites. I’d look at the puppies and something wouldn’t strike me that it was the right one,” Billy says. “Then one day I seen old Mr. Purple; that was his name, Mr. Purple. I found him on the Internet at 6 weeks old and they shipped him to me.”
Mr. Purple became Paco, after a goofy nickname that Billy and one of his friends were calling each other at the time. “But he still knows that name,” Billy says. “When you say [‘Mr. Purple’], he jumps up.”
Paco, who is on the road with his master on Carrie Underwood’s tour, took to the traveling life instantly. “He’s just the best road companion. He’s got so much energy,” Billy says. “Not only does he keep it fun for me, he does for the whole band and fans that know him and people that get to hang out with him. He just lights everybody up. He’s never sad; he’s never unhappy. I like having that positive energy around me.”
Just like Billy, Paco has his fair share of admirers who come bearing gifts. Paco prefers the bouncy kind. “When he gets balls and things like that from [fans], he loves that and we do, too, because he chews them up still.”
Billy has one request: no food, please. Paco adheres to a strict diet, so any rawhide snacks go to other grateful pets.
Mind & Body
If you’re driving around your hometown and you see a lost, befuddled runner who bears a strong resemblance to Billy Currington, you may want to offer him a ride. He’s got a show to do.
“I get lost all the time,” admits the exercise buff, who loves to go for a jog when he’s on tour. “I run so far, sometimes I’ll do, like, two hours and just go and go and go. Sometimes, I’ll get in this position where I’ll be like, ‘OK, which road do I take to get back?’ I’ll either call the road manager to get someone to come pick me up or pull into a store and ask. I need a GPS.”
Sense of direction aside, running helps Billy’s mind and body. “It definitely relieves stress naturally and it makes me feel like I’m becoming a better person mentally and physically,” he says. “Every mile that I run I know that I’m getting better in some form or another.”
For Billy, a former personal trainer, working out on the road has become much easier since he recently expanded to two tour buses, allowing him to carry weights and a bench press with him. His workouts alternate between his bus, a gym, running and swimming in whatever body of water is closest. “My routine is to keep it mixed up,” he says. He and his band also play soccer.
Billy carefully watches what he eats, although he admits he can’t always control that on the road since he’s usually eating what backstage catering has to offer. “The first thing I do is drink a couple bottles of water in the morning,” he says. “Then I have grains with lots of fiber in it [and] fruit. I’m surrounded by people who are health freaks anyway, so everyone’s contributing to [my] trying to stay healthy on the road.”
He has good advice for anyone seeking to get in shape: it starts with lifting a book. “The first thing to do is go buy the book The Secret. Read it twice. It will help you, allow you, to do things like get in shape,” he says. Follow that with drinking lots of water. Then find some activity you like to do. “Whether it be a gym, running, swimming . . . everybody’s different,” he says. “Find something you’ll love and not hate to do every day.” Then keep doing it. Most important, says Billy, “take some time for yourself and treat yourself after you’ve done all that work.”