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He Engineered Success of Confederate Railroad : Country music: Danny Shirley sticks close to his roots and finds the big time. But that name? It’s ‘been a plus and has been very valuable in creating a marketable image.’

TIMES STAFF WRITER

“I don’t give a damn about being politically correct,” says a chuckling Danny Shirley, lead singer of the hot country band Confederate Railroad.

The band’s badge of political incorrectness is its logo--the Confederate flag. Keyboardist Chris McDaniel even wears a headband with the controversial symbol.

Isn’t the band, which is headlining a country show tonight at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre, playing into the hands of racists with that name and logo?

“We’re not racists,” says Shirley, bristling. “I don’t think we attract racists either--just people who like to drink beer and party and whoop it up. Being a redneck doesn’t mean you’re a racist. We were looking for a name that says we play Southeastern music. The name just helped get us some attention.”

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It’s also caused some problems--though, Shirley admits, fewer than he expected.

“Well, there was that reception some senators gave for us in Washington because we were involved in this POW-MIA issue,” Shirley recalls. “Some senators wouldn’t come because they were bothered by our name. In terms of endorsements, I think the name would present a problem. I’m sure many companies would shy away from us because of our name. I don’t think Coke or Pepsi or people like that would want us selling their products. On the whole, though, the name has been a plus and has been very valuable in creating a marketable image.”

That image has helped boost the band to the big time. Its first album, “Confederate Railroad,” which came out in 1992, has sold more than 1.6 million copies. Its second album, “Notorious,” is off to an impressive start, with more than 500,000 sold in about two months. Though it’s getting solid country airplay, such songs as “Elvis and Andy,” “Trashy Women,” “Redneck Romeo” and “Move Over Madonna” are closer to rollicking, ‘70s Southern rock.

Shirley, 37, has been playing this kind of music since he was a teen-ager back in his hometown, Chattanooga, Tenn. He recorded three solo albums in the ‘80s, but for small labels.

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“Major labels thought I was poison,” he recalls. “They didn’t like my music and they didn’t like the company I kept--'outlaws’ like David Allen Coe and Johnny Paycheck. Nashville was scared of that kind of act in those days. They were looking for traditionalists--people like Randy Travis and George Strait. They didn’t want some guy playing barroom music.”

Shifting to a Nashville-friendly style, he says, never even entered his mind.

“I would have sounded so fake,” he says. “I just kept on playing my rowdy, bar-band music and the climate eventually changed in my favor. Radio stations that wouldn’t play this kind of music five years ago are playing it now.”

He signed as a solo artist with Atlantic Records in 1991, but argued that being part of a band made better commercial sense.

“There were too many solo singers out there already,” he explains. “There was more of a void in the band category. I’d been playing with these guys since 1981, so it was natural to include them.

“I just didn’t want to be just another clean-cut singer in a white hat or a black hat, singing some sad songs about losing your love, or other stuff like that. I’m a bar-band kind of a guy.”

* Confederate Railroad plays with Little Texas, Patty Loveless and Boy Howdy at the Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre, 8800 Irvine Center Drive, Laguna Hills, (714) 855-4515, tonight at 7, $25.


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