Image courtesy of Worthy Duncan
When Think Country decided to start our “Shine a Light On” series, I was so excited. It’s always important and fun to interview artists who may be considered “up and coming” or have a strong following in their hometowns, yet are largely unknown elsewhere, but this was distinctly different. When this idea came up, Annette Gibbons, the founder and CEO of Think Country, took it very seriously. She told us to look for people we thought were really good and showed promise. No doubt, there are thousands upon thousands of extremely talented guys and gals out there doing the country music thing, so this was going to be like choosing the best shade of blue to paint a room, when there are at least a hundred that look the same.
I was definitely up for the challenge though, but being here in Nashville, I’m completely surrounded by the best of the best all the time. I knew if I really was going to be fair, I was going to have to stretch myself out a little further sometimes. I decided for my first attempt, I would just start scrolling the Facebook video feed and see what came up.
I trolled around for about an hour, watching various artists playing country covers and originals, not paying much attention to names or cities. I was just watching and listening, but mostly listening. I was more interested in how these artists sounded. One of my biggest pet peeves is how much emphasis the music industry places on how someone looks, rather than their raw talent and what kind of entertainer they are. I found some good ones, but I found myself stopping and replaying one in particular.
It wasn’t the greatest video ever, it was a slide show promoting an upcoming gig for an artist named Worthy Duncan, at a place called Docksiders in Hilton, New York. They have a large cheeseburger at Docksiders that looks amazing. I know this because the cheeseburger was pictured in the video, as well as one really incredible song that played in the background of this promo. It wasn’t the video that caught my attention, it was the song. In fact, it’s a good thing the music started immediately, or I’m sure I would have just kept on scrolling and never would have heard it at all.
So, who WAS this Worthy Duncan guy? He had to have been the one singing the song in the background. I went on a little investigative run and quickly found him on Spotify. It turned out the cool tune was Duncan’s single, “Gypsy Runnin” and it was enough to make me want to listen to the other two songs on his Spotify page. I was one happy girl when I found that they were also right up my alley. The only downside is there were only three. Do I have them memorized? You bet.
The question remained, was this going to be my first “Shine a Light On” interview person? Absolutely. Maybe. I had to try and contact him and see if he even wanted to partake in this little party of mine first. I found him, he agreed, and here we are. Let’s jump in, shall we?
Worthy Duncan. You might be wondering about his name. Well, maybe you aren’t, but I was, so I asked. You have to admit, it’s unusual. I thought it was one of the coolest names ever, but I decided ahead of time it was either a family name or a stage name. It turns out, it’s a family name. “Worthy” goes at least as far back as “our” Worthy’s great grandfather and now, there’s a “new” Worthy in town. In November of 2018, Worthy Duncan and his wife welcomed their son, Worthy into the world. It may not be a stage name, but it has proven itself to be useful in the music business world. Stay with me and you’ll find out why.
A lifelong New Yorker, Duncan was born in Rochester and raised in the suburb of Irondequoit. Even though Duncan didn’t play any instruments as a young child, there may have been just enough music in his life to foreshadow what was to come via the songs he heard his parents listening to. His mom was a fan of James Taylor, Stevie Wonder and Kenny Rogers. His dad had a taste for everything from Jim Croce and AC/DC to 90’s country. All of these sounds emanating from cassette tapes in the family pickup truck helped influence who Duncan is today as an artist.
Image courtesy of TownMapsUSA.com
While attending Eastridge High School in Irondequoit, Duncan was active in both music and sports, football especially, but ironically, it was a serious football injury that would force him to make music his sole focus. It was during a football game, that Duncan suffered a concussion so severe, that it was called the equivalent to a stroke. He was injured so badly that he developed amnesia during that game and does not recall anything from it. “I was actually blocking dead air. There’s video of it.” He didn’t even recognize his own father. His neurologist told him he had to stop playing football completely because one more injury could have devastating results. Music moved to the front burner.
Photo courtesy of Worthy Duncan
He actually was in a band in his teens. He hesitated to mention it, but I pulled it out of him. He was 16 and it was the height of the boy band frenzy, so he and some friends took a cue from what was trending at the time (and what attracted girls), and formed their own boy band called “Hot Zone”. Yes, it’s a cheesy name, but weren’t they all kind of cheesy? If memory serves me correctly, it was a bit of an entire decade of cheese, when boy bands were king. I think, if anything, Duncan and his pals were just capitalizing on what was cool at the time. No apologies required, but was this really where Duncan’s musical future was destined to go? Were he and Justin Timberlake living parallel lives? Not if you ask the Musical Director at his school.
That Musical Director pulled Duncan aside one day and asked him what was going on with his voice. Confused by the question, Duncan asked for some clarification. It seemed the Musical Director detected a “twang” in Duncan’s voice. I think you can see where this is going. His voice was good enough, but he wasn’t cut out to be a Broadway star, he was much better suited for country music. Duncan went country and never turned back.
The next step had arrived. Duncan started moving on to singing competitions. It was the Colgate Country Showdown in Darien Lake, New York that Duncan entered when he was 19-years old that spurred him to learn to play guitar. The problem is, he should have learned to play guitar BEFORE the competition because he would have won if he had. He lost by one point because he didn’t play an instrument. If he’d sung something original, he would have earned an additional ten points. What’s even more ironic, is he could have learned to play guitar quite a while beforehand. He actually had a guitar lying underneath his bed. His great uncle had brought it home from Vietnam years before, and since Duncan didn’t feel the need to learn how to play it, it just kind of stayed under the bed. Suddenly, there was a great reason to drag it out. Duncan quickly taught himself the chords to a few songs he liked and began to learn the guitar. Now, he had all the skills necessary to win competitions, and do something else, write songs.
If we now flash forward a bit, Duncan met the woman he would eventually marry, and who would become the mother of his two children, Olivia and Worthy. In addition to writing and performing country music, he continues to play his greatest roles as husband and father, but he’s passionate about taking his music career to the next level, and says he has some promising things in the works for the next year.
His EP is out with the single that brought me to this interview, “Gypsy Runnin”. Let me give you my take on how catchy this tune was to me. I heard what essentially was, in my mind, “background noise” for a promo video. A promo video that I normally wouldn’t have even watched for any reason unless it was a friend of mine that was in it. I heard the first couple notes of this song and it caught my attention enough that I abruptly stopped scrolling my Facebook video feed (and trust me, I was a split second away from scrolling right by this thing). That’s how interested I was in giving this song another few seconds of my time.
Not only did I give it a few more seconds, I gave it all the seconds. Then I gave it all the seconds again and again. Then I went and looked up the artist on Spotify so I could hear the song in its entirety. Do I like it? Yes. You might say so. I liked everything I heard. Most of all, I have to give props to Duncan’s voice and style. It’s positively country, but just enough edge for me to put it on that shelf with guys like Jason Aldean and Jake Owen, and to further give him extra credit, he can even sit pretty somewhere near Luke Combs, who just scored his fifth number one hit on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart with “Beautiful Crazy”.
If I’m willing to reach out and compare Duncan with these superstars, why isn’t he in Nashville living the dream? Life. He’s up in New York doing the family thing and playing a lot of local gigs, but I did ask him if he’s happy with all that or does he have aspirations of taking his music further? He definitely would like to make music a full-time career and go as far as he can go with it.
He’s proud of the current EP (all songs were written himself), which was recorded in Webster, New York, just outside of Rochester in 2017. I found it interesting that Webster’s town motto is, “Where Life is WORTH Living”. I guess a guy named WORTHY might be smart to record an EP there. Hopefully, there might be a little luck involved. Apparently, I’m not the only one who loves the single either. Multiple radio stations in New York are playing it, but certainly, taking it to a national level would be better and international would be best of all. The songs were recorded and co-produced by Duncan and Doug Zogby at GFI Studios, and aside from Duncan’s lead guitarist, Josh Schaff, who did play on the tracks, it was his old band that you’ll hear on the EP. He has since changed musicians with the exception of Shaff.
Photo courtesy of John Welch Enterprise, Inc.
Duncan speaks highly of his band. He says they always show up and give everything they’ve got. Giving credit where credit is due, they are Josh Shaff, lead guitar, Joe Chimera, bass (Chimera also used to do sound for Vince Gill in Nashville), Mark Annal, drums and Mike Dydra, guitar.
These guys are all kept busy with a solid fan base in Rochester and Buffalo, New York. This is so weird because Buffalo is my hometown and I discovered Duncan randomly. I had no idea where he was from. We even share a common friend in country artist, Eric Van Houten, who now lives and works in Nashville. Duncan told me he has done shows in Buffalo with Van Houten, which completely blew my mind. The world is, indeed, very small. It’s Duncan’s goal to expand this fan base and it’s my hope that this interview will help do that. Once more people are turned on to his sound, hopefully the demand to see him live will go up. I know I want to see him on a live stage myself now.
Speaking of performing on stage, when I asked Duncan what things he feels he needs to improve upon as an artist, he said he could always use work on his confidence level. He said that once he actually gets up on stage, he’s fine, but he’s always second guessing himself before he’s there. I reassured him that I’ve talked to some big stars who have told me in confidence that they struggle with that type of thing, so I think it’s probably fairly normal.
Photo courtesy of Worthy Duncan
We spoke on the phone because Duncan is in New York and I’m in Tennessee. I was curious about his take on the current state of country music, seeing that he’s not right in the thick of Music City. I know what I’m accustomed to hearing on a daily basis. I wanted to hear what he had to say. His answer was about the best analogy I’ve heard yet. “I think country is going through what rock and roll did in the 80’s. It’s the country equivalent to the 80’s hairbands ‘feel good all the time’ music. I think it’s just a long phase.”
That spurred a brief discussion. It also got me thinking that even hairbands, which were very hot at the time, and were definitely all about partying and extravagance, had an expiration date. It took a while, but yes, even hairbands wound up in the rock and roll graveyard eventually, and what just about immediately followed them? Grunge. You couldn’t have gone much further to the extreme other side than that. From big hair, tight Spandex and the highest shoes to ripped flannel, dirty sneakers and a shower once or twice a week, maybe, that’s how extreme the change was, and that was just the look. The music was equally as different as can be. Hairbands were electrified and glitzy and screamed sex-driven, crazy 5-star hotel parties. Grunge, on the other hand, was dirty, no-tell motel, one-night stand rock. Whoever would have predicted things could flip like that? As I said to Duncan, after all of the pop country, we may truly end up totally “Willied out”, or something like that. Things tend to cycle. We’ll just have to wait and see.
I wondered if there was any of Duncan’s younger musical mindset left inside him from when he was a kid. He jumped right on that answer. “Absolutely! Yes!” He went on to explain that when he was a kid, he used to spend summers at his grandmother’s house and she would make him clean, which he hated. What he didn’t hate, however, was Elvis Presley. Grandma was no fool. “If Grandma played an Elvis record, she’d throw a towel at me and I cleaned.” Still an avid Elvis Presley fan and an Elvis memorabilia collector, Duncan has fond memories of those summer days at his grandmother’s house. Not the cleaning, but the Elvis tunes were a great incentive to get it done.
Photo courtesy of Worthy Duncan
Also, looking back on his life, I asked if there was any adult that made a positive impact on who Duncan is today. An adult that wasn’t a relative. He thought for a minute, and said it was his mom’s friend’s husband, Rich Hancy. Hancy was a guitar player who impressed Duncan with his bluesy stylings and even some of his outlaw country playing. As Duncan put it, “I latched on to that, and I haven’t let go yet.”
Photo courtesy of Rich Hancy
For an artist that’s playing venues mainly in New York, not a place that most people think of as a hotbed for country music, there have been quite a few high points for Duncan. He’s opened for some big names. Phil Vassar was one, but he didn’t have anything “extra” to say about him. Grab a drink, it’s story time…
Once upon a time, there was a kid named Worthy Duncan. He and his dad went to see a concert at a place called Dunn Tire Park, now called Coca-Cola Field. At least I think that’s what it is, it seems to change names as often as the wind. That’s in Buffalo, New York. The artist playing was Jo Dee Messina. The stage was in the middle of the field and the Duncans, well, they had some crummy seats. The crummiest of all. They were behind the stage, high up, they couldn’t see anything. The only thing that could have made it worse is if it had been raining. Maybe it was, I didn’t get a weather report. Anyway, the younger Worthy Duncan (the father was Worthy as well) dabbled in country music a little bit and he turned to his dad and said, “One day, I’m gonna play on the same stage as her (referring to Ms. Messina).” Of course, the elder Worthy amused his son and said something like, “I’d like to see that.” Rip a year of pages off a calendar and what was the younger Worthy doing? Opening up for Jo Dee Messina at The Ridge in LeRoy, New York. Bingo has been called.
Video courtesy of Worthy Duncan and YouTube
Hope you still have some of your drink left, because there’s one more story in this book. Once upon a time, a 16-year old boy named Worthy Duncan and his dad went to a Balloon Festival in Dansville, New York to see the Honky Tonk Tailgate Party featuring Darryl Worley, Rhett Akins, David Kersh, Daryle Singletary and Chad Brock. Before the show started the Duncans became friendly with the sound guy and while chatting with him, young Worthy caught sight of DARRYL WORLEY! Alerting his father to this astounding discovery, dad gave him the green light to go ahead and say hello to the country star.
Surprisingly, Worley didn’t tell the teenager to get lost and play in traffic as adults generally do to pesky kids. He was very hospitable and even invited him in to his trailer and talked country music with him, as the teenager was, of course, an aspiring artist himself. Here’s the kicker though. Do not try this yourself. It probably won’t work for you, UNLESS your name is WORTHY. As legend goes, Darryl Worley often had his surname mistaken for Worthy and Worthy Duncan often had his given name mistaken for Worley. Oh no! A commonality. In misery. A shared bond in the Hell that is having your name mispronounced over and over in the course of a lifetime. Even better, you each have the reverse mispronounced name. “Brother! Where have you BEEN all my life?!” Okay, they did not say those words. I made that quote up, but yes, that’s pretty much how that went down.
Photo courtesy of Worthy Duncan
Guess what? Years down the road, Duncan opened up for Worley, and Worley remembered their meeting. Why? His name of course! Do you recall early in this piece when I said you would find out about Worthy’s name later on? How it wasn’t a stage name, but how it would prove to be useful in the music business eventually? I keep my promises. You just have to stick with me. Thank you for doing that.
Those were just a few high points so far, but what are Duncan’s dreams? He’d love to collaborate with a few people. He really wishes he could have worked with Daryle Singletary, but sadly he passed away suddenly in 2018. Writing with Jeffrey Steele tops his list of dream co-writes because he admires his work so much. Collaborations that cross genres has become so common these days, it might not be all that surprising that Duncan said he has always thought it would be great to record a song with C.C. DeVille of the rock band, Poison. I’ll be keeping tabs on that bucket list to see if any of those items get checked off and I hope they do.
Photo courtesy of pollstar.com
Finally, when Worthy Duncan “Thinks Country”, what does he think? “I think of the truth of a song. Family unity. The country music family. There’s this brotherhood between country music artists.”
Photo courtesy of Worthy Duncan
For my very first “Shine a Light On” artist, I think I did really well. It was like finding buried treasure because I now have a new artist to follow that I believe in and I can be hopeful for. The music industry is hard. There are so many great artists that I want to see succeed. I wish every one of them well. I just keep adding to the pile that I’m watching and wishing the best for. Worthy Duncan, welcome to our Think Country world. Do give him a follow. Everywhere.
Worthy Duncan can be found:
*I asked a few Think Country readers on social media to listen to Worthy Duncan’s single, “Gypsy Runnin” and leave a comment with their thoughts on it. Here’s what they had to say:
Kelleye Troup: “I’m LIKIN’!!!”
Jessica Andrews: “Great voice!!!! Great song! Great name!”
Carmen Roth: “What a great voice and song.”
Leah Sklar Nerges: “Love the voice & song. Sounds a bit like Josh Turner & Jason Michael Carroll. Will be following him. For sure. #radioworthy