Though his initial singles were pop, Darrell McCall was a hardcore country vocalist to the core, singing tough honky tonk during the majority of his career without caring for trends and fashions. After coming to prominence as a member of the Little Dippers in 1960, McCall broke away from the group the following year, and by 1963 his sound had evolved into pure country. He sang both traditional country and honky tonk during the '60s, but he eventually became devoted to roadhouse country. As a result, his sales suffered somewhat. McCall had a few hits over the course of his career, sliding into the charts every few years, whenever hardcore country crossed over into the mainstream, but for the bulk of his career, he essentially remained a semi-popular artist with a die-hard cult following.
Born in and raised in New Jasper, OH, McCall began his musical career by landing a slot as a Saturday morning DJ on a local radio station when he was 15 years old. Around the same time, he was playing local dances and events as a musician. Following his high school graduation, he joined the Army, where he was stationed in Kentucky. After his tour of duty was completed, he and his childhood friend Johnny Paycheck moved to Nashville in 1958. McCall and Paycheck attempted to record as a duo, but they were unsuccessful. Eventually, McCall became a studio harmony vocalist, singing on records by Faron Young, George Jones, and Ray Price, among others. In a short time, the studio work metamorphosed into road work, as he played bass and sang harmony for several different touring bands, including those of Young, Price, and Hank Williams Jr.
During a recording session in 1959, McCall met Buddy Killen, a famous Nashville producer and publisher. Impressed with Darrell's abilities, Killen asked him to join a group he was assembling called the Little Dippers, which also featured Hurshel Wigintin, Delores Dinning, and Emily Gilmore. McCall agreed, and the Little Dippers had one major pop hit, the Top Ten single "Forever," in 1960. The following year, he signed a solo contract with Capitol. During 1961, he released two pop singles for the label, "My Kind of Lovin'" and "Call the Zoo," but both failed miserably, and the label dropped him. In light of his unsuccessful forays into the pop marketplace, McCall returned to country in 1962 and signed a contract with Phillips. In January of 1963, "A Stranger Was Here," his first -- and, as it would turn out, his biggest -- country hit, appeared. Peaking at number 17 on the charts, the single spent eight weeks on the charts and seemed to be a positive beginning to his country career, but he wasn't able to deliver a hit follow-up, even though he sang the theme to the Paul Newman film Hud that same year.
McCall decided to abandoned music for a short while in the mid-'60s, launching an acting career in 1965. That year, he appeared in the film Nashville Rebel, and the following year, he was in Road to Nashville and What Am I Bid. During that time, McCall also worked as a cowboy in the Southwest and appeared in several minor rodeos. He didn't return to recording until 1968, when he joined the roster of the independent label Wayside Records. Over the next two years, he had four minor hits for the label -- "I'd Love to Live With You Again," "Wall of Pictures," "Hurry Up," "The Arms of My Weakness" -- and released one album, 1970's Meet Darrell McCall, which was distributed by Mercury. The contract with Wayside expired in 1971, and McCall didn't immediately sign another recording contract. However, Hank Williams, Jr. took McCall's "Eleven Roses" (which he co-wrote with Lamar Morris) to number one, which led to Tree International signing him as a professional songwriter.
McCall didn't reactivate his recording career until 1974, when he signed with Atlantic. His debut single for the label, "There's Still a Lot of Love in San Antone," nearly reached the country Top 50 that year. In 1975, he left Atlantic for Columbia, where he had his greatest period of chart success since the early '60s. Although his first single for the label, "Pins and Needles (In My Heart)," didn't do much better than "There's Still a Lot of Love in San Antone," his second single, "Lily Dale," was a duet with Willie Nelson that cracked the country Top 40. McCall's new success was partially due to the popularity of outlaw country, and how he neatly fit into its rough and ready musical style. "Lily Dale" was named Best Duet of 1977 by Cash Box magazine, and it was followed by "Dreams of a Dreamer," McCall's first solo Top 40 hit since 1963. Of course, the brief McCall renaissance began to lose its luster in 1978, as outlaw country began to lose its stronghold on the country charts. His singles "Down the Roads of Daddy's Dreams" and "The Weeds Outlived the Roses" failed to make the Top 40, and he was soon dropped by Columbia.
In 1980, he signed with Hillside Records, where he had only one hit single -- a duet on "San Antonio Medley" with Curtis Potter. After that reached the lower levels of the country charts in the spring, he switched labels to RCA, where he nearly reached the Top 40 in the fall with "Long Line of Empties." At that time, the tastes of country radio and the genre's audience had shifted completely away from outlaw country and settled on the smooth, rock-influenced textures of urban cowboy. Consequently, McCall's recording career suffered. Over the next four years, he recorded only sporadically, most notably as the uncredited "friend" on Connie Hanson and Friend's minor 1982 hit, "There's Still a Lot of Love in San Antone." Two years later, he had his final charting hit with "Memphis in May," which was released on Indigo Records. In 1986, McCall cut two albums: a record with his old backing group the Tennessee Volunteers called Reunion (released on BGM) and Hot Texas Country, a duet record with Johnny Bush.
Following 1986, McCall essentially retired from recording, though he continued to play the occasional concert and worked constantly for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. McCall spent the remainder of the '80s and most of the '90s at his Texas home with his wife Mona Vary, who used to play in Audrey Williams' band. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine