A cleaner, leaner Charles Kelley at home in Nashville in October 2022.
THE PROS and cons of being a sober country star are well-balanced. On one hand: If you slip up, some guy in some bar who is quick with his phone will make sure everyone knows it. On the other hand: The resources available to you are unbounded, and you can call up Tim McGraw for advice.
But the refrains of sobriety often sound the same whether you’re 41-year-old Charles Kelley, colead singer of Lady A, or one of the folks in his audience. “In almost every story, there’s a tinge of similarity,” Kelley says. He’s been attending men’s recovery meetings for several months now, listening to the stories of others. “How you can justify it. How you hide your drinking. How you say, ‘Oh, I just had a couple on the golf course.’ Which really meant . . . six.”
Likewise with “just one glass of wine,” which is what Kelley told his wife, Cassie McConnell Kelley, over dinner in Paris this past spring. He had been trying to quit drinking “on my own,” he says, since January 2022. It was his third attempt at sobriety. The first was six or seven years ago, at the urging of his bandmates, Hillary Scott and Dave Haywood. After that dinner, he slipped back into a cycle of escalating drinking—once he was home, it was two glasses, then three, then he was right back in it—that jammed to a halt this past summer, when he and Cassie were on vacation with friends in Greece. Kelley doesn’t feel that he ever hit the proverbial “crashing a car in a ditch” rock bottom. But this time, his decision to stop drinking felt different. “This is the first time I actually put tools in place,” he told his bandmates, who were supportive but skeptical after witnessing previous attempts. There would be no more “on my own.”
When we speak one morning in October, Kelley has been sober for a little more than three months, a triumph he largely attributes to the support of the people around him. He is sitting in his high–ceilinged home in Nashville, framed by two big, arched, white-grilled windows with white curtains, next to an ornate gold lamp with a black shade. A best dad ever plaque sits on a table behind him—the Kelleys have a six-year-old son. Kelley wears a gray hoodie and looks very awake, partly because he’s been sleeping much better these past few months.
Kelley performs with Lady A in 2020, while struggling with alcohol abuse.
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“It’s amazing what not drinking will do. You save yourself, I’m ashamed to say, anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 calories a day in booze—you’re bound to lose some weight. But I look back at pictures from just three months ago. It’s my face, my midsection. I’ve found that it all …….