Master musician Graham Whorley is originally from Lynchburg, Virginia, but after nearly 30 years of living in Charleston and playing his way through the ever-changing club circuit here, the man is now something of a Lowcountry legend. In fact, Whorley told the City Paper that prior to the pandemic, he averaged more than 300 area shows a year.
Not surprisingly, his relentless reimagining of music has been a way of life and a source of livelihood for Whorley for as long as he can remember. “I’ve never been one to pigeonhole my music,” he said. “If I had to answer for my genre, I would say the music is eclectic. It’s all over the place.”
Expanding upon early influences such as Muddy Waters, Public Enemy and Frank Zappa, Whorley assembled his own distinctive amalgamation of sound and a can-do attitude, which was hard to overlook, even when he was still quite young.
“When I was around 12 years old,” Whorley recalled, “I was busking in front of a grocery store. An old man, who must have been in his 80s, walked up to me after listening for a bit and said, ‘For the rest of your life, you can go anywhere in this world with that guitar and make a living.’ I believed him.”
As he got older Whorley gained a strong fan base because of his intimate and engaging concerts. These plaintive stripped-down performances have typically complemented Whorley’s use of innovative looping technologies that somehow manage to feel organic.
There’s no doubt that Whorley had a good thing going, professionally speaking, until everything came to a screeching halt in the spring of 2020. However, he said the extra time in his schedule, the shock of the shutdown and all the concurrent social unrest challenged Whorley to create what just might be his best work yet, a new concept album entitled World Wrapped in Chain.
“We found ourselves, in this country, facing another pandemic,” Whorley said, referring to systematic racism and other sorts of social disparities. “The Black Lives Matter movement and all the protests and riots that resulted following the death of George Floyd really put me in a different head space. I found myself consumed with what was going on around me, what was being reported in the news daily and what was occurring on social media.”
Unlike most folks who were living in forced isolation at the time, as an artist with an audience, Whorley was in a unique position to speak out, and so he began to do so in a big way.
“There was so much hate and division that I began using my platform to be a voice for what is right: equality and justice for all humans. And when I realized I could make a bigger impact through my music, I went into the studio, and began writing and recording.”
Whorley credits his creative and romantic partner, Angela Anderson, with sensing that a theme to build an album around was emerging from those sessions. In the end, the World Wrapped in Chain LP, was a two-and-a-half year labor of love, in every possible way, he said. And, according to Whorley, the takeaway from his 15 anthems of conscious-minded lyrics is as simple as it is profound: “We must release the chains that bind our thoughts and be the change.”
Now that the LP is finished, Whorley’s timely song cycle is widely available on all of the major streaming platforms and can also be purchased in CD form at selected outlets. Although he’s certainly hopeful that his provocative message will catch fire, whether or not it does is not his main concern.
“Whenever I put an album out, I gain fans, and I’m almost certain I lose some fans too. Some people can’t watch an artist grow. Some can. I create. That’s what I have to do to keep up with myself. If I never put another piece of work out, I would still be creating. I do it for myself almost to a selfish degree. I can’t determine success by someone else’s opinion. I care about others’ opinions, but I don’t make executive decisions based on others’ opinions.”
Graham Whorley will be presenting his “Live Loop Show” at the Charleston Pour House Dec. 2. For more details, visit grahamwhorley.com.
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