Originally from the Mississippi Gulf Coast town of Escatawpa, Derek Norsworthy is a second-generation musician who has fond memories of riding with his father in an old pickup and listening to rock and country music stalwarts like Lynyrd Skynyrd, Charlie Daniels, Hank Williams, Jr., and Van Halen.
“Dad had this old blue cassette box that had an assortment of rock and country tapes in there, and I remember knowing at that point I wanted to be like the guys on the tapes,”
Norsworthy said. “When I was seven, he took me to a kid-friendly music festival and let me watch from next to his drum kit. But what really woke up something inside me was a Marty Stuart and Travis Tritt concert that year at the Mississippi Gulf Coast Coliseum.”
Another turning point came at age fifteen when Norsworthy was in a band that suddenly found themselves without a designated lead vocalist. He didn’t hesitate to grab the microphone.
“I had been writing songs for a couple years at that point, so it kind of felt right to learn to sing them in the band,” he said. “The band stayed together through high school, recording two albums, playing shows, and building a local following. After graduation we split up—by that point I was completely ate up with playing music and knew it was what I was meant to do.”
Norsworthy put a band back together and played regional college towns, fraternity parties, and managed to open for a number of national acts. He did so while going to college and earning a nursing degree—he’s a certified RN. In 2014 he released his first EP, Derek Norsworthy. He also created The Roots Foundation, an organization which has partnered with the Mississippi Songwriters Alliance to promote music education programs in schools and works closely with special needs children.
“Where I’m from you either go to work at the plant or shipyard. Music or art isn’t really thought of as a career—that never set well with me,” Norsworthy said. “I believe people should be empowered and given the opportunity to be whatever their heart desires. It’s amazing the impact that music has on people despite any condition, and I absolutely love the philanthropy as much as being on stage.”
These days Norsworthy fronts a 12-piece concert band and plays all over the southeast, and he just released a new EP with Grammy Award-winning producer Skidd Mills.
“Every day is a blessing,” Norsworthy said. “Getting to wake up and have a chance to inspire others amazes me more than anything. I like to tell young people that it’s not always the most talented musicians that rise to the top—it’s the hardest worker. I’m tenacious, and I don’t give up. I think that comes from music burning down in my soul.”
For lead guitarist Adam Carlisle, the moment he knew what he wanted to do with his life came while watching an old episode of Austin City Limits at his grandparents’ house and seeing the late, legendary Stevie Ray Vaughan do his thing.
“He could speak without talking,” Carlisle said of Vaughan, who died in a helicopter crash in 1990. “I watched him rip it up and said, ‘I’m going to do that.’”
On his twelfth birthday, Carlisle was presented with a $40 copy of a Gibson Les Paul guitar purchased at a pawn shop. To this day, Carlisle makes regular trips to the pawn shop and says that if he finds a cheap guitar, he’ll buy it, take it home, fix it up—and give it away.
“I’ve known Derek about five years,” Carlisle said. “We’ve been on the road together, in the studio together, been in hotel rooms together. A common mistake a lot of musicians make is only living within their space. In our band, everyone plays a part, and we create a product. If we do the right things for the right reasons, something magical usually happens.”
Not only was rhythm guitarist Mason Holland exposed to a lot of different music growing up—his dad loved the Beatles; his mother always listened to country—he grew up about a mile and a half from Derek Norsworthy.
“We played ball together, rode four-wheelers together,” Holland said. “We started playing together at about age fifteen. Derek wrote good music, and we were good friends. I always knew he had something in him to do something big. The crowd reactions validate what I knew he had in his heart. He’s very much the same person he was (long ago), a team player. He wants everyone to succeed in everything they’re doing in life.
“One of my favorite bands is (the rock band) Amberland. Their rhythm player knows how to keep his position in the band without overdoing it. A lot of people want to be seen in the spotlight, but everyone needs to buy in to the overall sound. We’re all together in Derek’s band, all trying to come together as a whole.”
“The first thing I really heard that made me want to pick up the bass was the Red Hot Chili Peppers,” said bass player Daniel McBride. The Mobile, Alabama, native said he has been serious about playing since age 12 or 13. “My mother only let me listen to Christian radio. So I went to a friend’s house. His mother was kind of a rocker, had a huge Jim Morrison mural on the wall. I got all my influences from there.
“One day we went to Guitar Center, and there were about 30 people playing guitar and one really old person playing bass. It made the wall shake, and I guess I figured out supply and demand at a young age. I wanted to be different, and it has paid off ever since.
“I like to listen to very vocal bass players—Sting, and Tully Kennedy from Jason Aldean’s band. I don’t want to step on a song, but do it justice the best I can. The best friends I’ve ever had are in Derek’s band. I’m the youngest member, and I’ve evolved every single day I’ve been with them.”
Lucedale, Mississippi, native Brandon Green admires country music superstar Keith Urban, so it was a huge thrill for him to go into the studio with the legend.
“I won a songwriting contest through Guitar’s Center’s ‘Your Next Record with Keith Urban’ and recorded some songs with Keith and his producer, Dana Huff,” Green said. “He’s a big influence. So are Brooks and Dunn, the Temptations, Michael Jackson—and my mama!”
Primarily a guitarist—who plays acoustic with the Derek Norsworthy Band—Green also sings and plays drums, bass, and trumpet. He’s featured when the band plays Papa Was A Rolling Stone.
“Derek and I are from around the same area in Mississippi, but we first officially met at a gig we were both playing at in Lucedale,” Green said. “It was on the sidewalk in front of a flower shop—a big time gig! We’ve been friends ever since. He’s a great leader and always puts everyone else first.”
Drummer Byron Cox, who counts the late Led Zeppelin drummer John “Bonzo” Bonham as one of his biggest influences, originally wanted to be a lead guitarist. And he met Derek Norsworthy through one of the earliest social networking pages.
“I started with a cheap, $25 guitar, but I realized that because of a skin condition I have that affects my hands that I couldn’t hold the strings down. The church I attended at the time had a drum set. The pastor’s son was away at college, and I picked the sticks up one time and realized it came natural to me.
“I met Derek ten years ago through My Space. I can’t say enough about his work ethic and integrity. This band is very much a brotherhood. As far as getting bigger, I think we’re all super-excited to continue doing what we love, and use it as a platform to reach a lot of people and positively impact them. We’re not looking to live the rock and roll lifestyle.”
SAXAPHONE, SECTION LEAD
While a middle school student in Jackson, Mississippi, Dorran Thigpen was shown three brass instruments by a teacher: a trumpet, a trombone, and a baritone horn. He chose the trumpet, fell in love with playing, and began chasing his dreams.
“My favorite trumpet player in my youth was Arturo Sandoval—ridiculously talented, wacky demeanor, crazy antics on stage,” Thigpen said. “Miles Davis, too. I wanted to sky really high, do great solos like they did. But when you’re playing in a section of three horns, you have to zone in. It isn’t solo playing. You have to be locked in and play as one unit.”
Dorran met Derek Norsworthy the first time he rehearsed with the band. “Derek’s a very cool guy, down to earth. I’m very used to being in a twelve-piece band. It’s a really good atmosphere, getting to entertain people and talk to them after our shows, hear how much they enjoy it.”
Originally from Detroit and a resident of Nashville, trumpeter Adam Smith brings a wealth of experience to the Derek Norsworthy Band as well as an impressive family musical heritage.
“I picked up the trumpet the summer before the sixth grade, and I’ve sung and played music since the day I was born,” Smith said. “My parents sang, and my grandmother was an opera singer and sang for CBS Radio in Chicago in the 1940s and 50s. I took voice lessons from her at a very young age.
“Sting is a huge influence on me. So is Paul Rodgers (of Free and Bad Company). I have a lot of rock and roll in my soul, but I also grew up listening to Earth, Wind and Fire and the beautiful high voice of Philip Bailey that lends itself to trumpeting. Everyone who plays wants to be like Maynard Ferguson, playing the high notes. He was also a big influence on me.
“In Derek’s band I’m focusing on one thing, and that’s the trumpet. This band has a lot going on. It’s intense to find yourself in it, but it’s a lot of fun having this much energy onstage.”
FEATURED VOCALIST & COREOGRAPHER
A native Australian, Courtney Elliott brings an international flair to the Derek Norsworthy Band. The choreographer for the group as well as one of three featured vocalists, the Nashville resident took professional singing lessons in junior high school. She met fellow Norsworthy band members Adam Smith and Tiger Rogers when the three of them were part of the B.B. King All Star Band on a Mediterranean cruise.
“Derek’s core band has a good symmetry with the featured vocalists and horn section,” Elliott said. “Daniel (McBride), the bass player, is so great to work with—he turns around onstage and looks at you and dances with you, and it’s so much fun. It can be so uncomfortable if a band is not talking to each other onstage—you can talk with your movements and instruments.
“Derek, as bandleader, is an angel. His energy speaks louder than words. And any suggestion anyone has, he tries to make it happen. He wants everyone to be happy. He’s the most delightful person to work for.”
Chelsea Rush, one of three featured vocalists in the Derek Norsworthy Band, includes her high school choir director as one of her heroes.
“James Hawkins showed me the beauty of music and always pushed me to be the best I could be,” said Rush, who grew up in Vicksburg, Mississippi. “He truly believed in me and even gave me a solo as a freshman. Needless to say, the seniors were furious.”
Rush grew up in a Christian household and heard plenty of gospel music. But when her mother wasn’t around, the young singer listened to pop legends like Whitney Houston, India Arie, and Beyonce.
“Beyonce doesn’t just sing, she performs,” Rush said. “I also loved to hear Kim Burrell come up with the craziest runs and would always try to mimic them. In Derek’s band, I’m here to vocally complement him and support him throughout each song we sing. There are songs for every emotion, situation, and stage of life. The audience will have the experience of not just hearing the music, but seeing it come alive through us.”
“I grew up listening to my father sing a beautiful tenor and playing percussion, and my mother singing a perfect soprano,” said Monica Shepherd, a native of Jackson, Mississippi, and one of three featured vocalists in the Derek Norsworthy Band. “Hearing them encouraged my siblings and I to find our parts and harmonize, thus starting my love for making melodic blends, with the highest note being my favorite. I have always been drawn to the late Natalie Cole—her style, tone, class, placement, everything!
“I appreciate the role of a background vocalist because it offers support when wanted, a break when needed, and vocal color just because. Derek is an amazing writer and I’m honored to be part of this vision. I see music and dance as universal languages. I have a strong background in dance as well and I love bringing lyrics to life with movement. I believe I bring to the overall band the addition of some ‘softness’ in a testosterone-strong unit, and that the audience will find some appreciation in it.”