Darryl Massey and his piano playing buddy Joe Hill still get together to play the country and gospel tunes they have polished to a mirror shine over five decades; Merle, Buck, and a bunch by Mr. Massey himself. On an autumn evening in 2020 they invited me to Mr. Hill’s home in Easley, SC to listen to them play and chuckle over tour stories, old songs and anything else that came up. I left the tape running and let the two old pickers go. Here’s what I picked up.
Massey first started playing around Greenville when he was just out of school. He played in some little pickup bands. His smooth, unmistakably southern voice stood out from the start and won the attention of music promoters who trickled in to claim local talent for record labels.
These promoters plugged Massey at radio stations all over the Upstate. He played fifteen minute spots or sent in what he calls “canned tapes” to stations in Greer, Fountain Inn, Travelers Rest, Easley, all over. He fondly remembers good times in the broadcast headquarters of Greer station WCKI, laughing it up with gospel bluegrass legend Carl Story who wrote Mickey Gilley’s hit “I Overlooked An Orchid While Looking For a Rose.”
Massey first hit the local charts with his tune Hello 9th Street. He followed that with Memories Keep Walking which had a tune by his piano player and bosom buddy Joe Hill on the a-side called Another Sleepless Night. The record eventually got picked up and re-released on the Stop label, owned by pedal steel virtuoso Pete Drake. Massey and Hill would work with Drake and his Stop and Starday labels many times through the years.
Here is Massey and Joe Hill giving me a taste of Hello 9th Street that night in Easley. After a little boast about how “they wore that’n out on the jukeboxes for probably three years or more,” Massey explains how he came on the lyric. “I got the idea because there was a guy; I’d see him all the time on the west side of Greenville. He’d always be going, I guess he was going to the bars and everything, and then when I’d go home he’d be coming back the other way. He’d be all out there on the sidewalk, you know. So I got the idea because it was 9th and 10th street.”
Next, Massey went into the studio to cut a pair of new songs he had written, She’s Got Me Crying Again and Walk With Me. The plan was for Crying to be the pick of the session, and it did make the a-side. But that night in the studio, there was something about Walk With Me.
The song reached 26 on the national country music charts. Massey toured all over to catch the momentum. He played on TV in Atlanta, Knoxville and on the long-running program of Greenville’s Peggy Denny.
Their drummer was enticed, however, and tagged along to Nashville. Listen to Massey tell of how the drummer experienced some digestive disfunction resulting from the lean conditions on the road with Johnny Paycheck.
The boys crossed paths with other big names out on the road. Massey remembers Roger Miller visiting the table while he had a drink with Pete Drake at the Nashville songwriters haunt Tootsie’s, across the back alley from the Grand Ole Opry. Miller had what he thought was a hot new tune cooking up that he was calling Sock It To Me Jesus. Massey and Drake thought Miller might be going a bit too far with his irreverent lyrics. “Pete told Roger to go out in the street somewhere and sing that song. We didn’t want to get struck by lightning,” Massey chuckles.
Between road trips Massey could be found turning wrenches at Greenville’s local Volkswagen dealership. He held the job down all through his music years.He earned his bona fides early, playing in joints around the Southeast and working a job like any country kid would. At the dealership he met folks and picked up on their stories. It was the experience such a young songwriter needed. Tunes like Hello 9th Street and Massey’s last single, Chain Gang Man, play on country themes that guys talk about in garages; drinking and doing time.
Sadly, it was the garage that cut Massey’s music career short. While under a vehicle one day, a support failed and Massey was badly injured. He spent two years barely able to raise himself from bed. What professional reputation he had made for himself in music was gone. He remains grateful, though, that his job at the dealership was held for him. He came to terms with the loss long, long ago. Darryl Massey is the kind of likable man that would be successful in what ever he did, and he will be the first to say he has enjoyed a wonderful life. He made enough money, raised a family, kept playing music with Joe Hill and even had a stint as a semi-pro golfer. He can still sing and he has not lost his talent or the subtle charisma that brought him stage success in his youth. His life story makes a pretty good country song.