Last summer, the crowds at the Old Orchard Beach Pier may not have been aware, but one of the singer–songwriters on the stage had performed with Faith Hill, Bon Jovi, Kid Rock, John Legend, and Hank Williams, Jr.
His name is Damien Horne, a quiet and unassuming artist who grew up playing basketball at a Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club. He later spent several years homeless on the streets of Hollywood before landing a record deal in Nashville.
Today, Horne does a lot of solo work and is a member of The Farm and Nashville’s MuzikMafia.
Horne took a few minutes between shows at the Old Orchard Beach Camp Meetings to chat with SAconnects magazine about his journey.
Tell me about your early life. I grew up in Hickory, N.C. I’m from a blended family of 12 children and raised by a single mom. At an early age I lost two of my older brothers to the streets and two of my younger brothers ended up in prison. That was kind of the environment I was growing up in.
I understand you found The Salvation Army fairly early in life. When I was a pre–teen, I ran across the Boys & Girls Club and it was a big part of helping me get off of the streets. Our club was connected to a Salvation Army church. I would go to the club and play basketball and pool and all those kinds of things. The corps officer would come over and shoot ball with us. He invited me to church and that’s how I got connected to The Salvation Army. From about age 14, I grew up going to the Army. I went to youth councils and the summer camps. I had only known them before because the Army aided our family at Christmas with food and clothes and toys. I came to find out the Army was a whole church organization.
How did you end up homeless? When I graduated from high school, I packed up everything I had and moved to Hollywood because I thought that was where I needed to go to get discovered. I got a one–way Greyhound bus ticket out there and it was a two–and–a–half–day bus ride. I had $400 in my pocket. I didn’t know it at the time, but $400 was not enough to even get started there. Within a week, that money was gone and I didn’t know anyone. I was clear across the country. I was shocked to find out really quickly that Hollywood was a whole different culture from Hickory, N.C. I ended up living on the streets for the next couple of years there—missions, squats, shelters, things like that.
What did you do during the day? When I was in that situation, I was trying to find a place to sleep. All the dreams I was thinking about kind of went to the side and I started thinking about the necessities like, where am I going to sleep? Where can I get food? How am I going to get a job? That became my mission.
How did your faith sustain you during that time? That’s kind of where my faith grew. It actually got stronger. It was in me when I was younger, but it grew more during that time because I had to rely on God so much. It just became more and more real to me. I was faced with moments like, Am I going to eat today? Because faith was introduced to me when I was younger, I knew I needed to ask God. His Word says, “Trust in the Lord and lean not on your own understanding.”
How did you get out of that situation? I was able to get a job and save enough money to go back to North Carolina, but kind of defeated. I said, “There’s no way I can make it here [in Hollywood]. It’s too expensive.” I had no help or anything like that. I went back to North Carolina and I ended up making my way to Nashville to play music. It all kind of took off from there.
Tell us about your big break in Nashville. I fell into that whole world of music. I originally moved there to be a writer. I used to play on the side of the street. If you go down there, you see people busking. I used to do that for hours. One night, this guy walked by with a big black cowboy hat and a handlebar mustache and he threw $100 into my guitar case. We started talking and playing back and forth. I later found out he was John Rich from a country duo called Big & Rich and he introduced me to some friends of his who were part of this collection called MuzikMafia and we started touring. I got my first publishing deal in 2004 and was later signed to Warner Brothers with a country trio called The Farm. We toured for five or six years.
Who are some of your musical influences? I grew up on old country and old soul music, everything from Don Williams to Sam Cooke and everything in between, including Charley Pride, DeFord Bailey, and Ray Charles. Those worlds between country and soul was the music I was creating and that got me a deal with Warner Brothers and I toured with a lot of huge country acts. I’ve done that for the longest time. Some of my friends in country music now, Jimmie Allen and Mickey Guyton, are black country artists.
What is your spiritual life like today? I’m still a Salvationist. I attend the Nashville Citadel Corps whenever I’m in town. I’m usually on the road on weekends, but I attend there when I’m home. My spiritual life is just one of progress. It’s always a relationship in progress. Like any relationship, I’m trying each and every day to stay connected to God and His Word and learn more about Him, which ultimately helps me learn more about myself and what I’m here to do and stay tapped into that purpose.
Do you have a message you share on stage? My message and my mantra is to always shine. I always talk about purpose, discovering purpose, and living it out. I think whether you’re a believer or not, everyone has a sense of “Why am I here and what am I here for?” I think when you tap into that it always leads back to God because He’s the deliverer of life and the deliverer of purpose. I create music that reflects the way I’ve felt and the things I’ve been through.
What do you think of the Pier Ministry? I love it because I feel like it’s getting back to the basis on what the Army was founded on. This is how the Army did it back in the 1860s and ‘70s in London. From what I know of the history, William and Catherine Booth were like, “We’re going to meet them where they are. If they’re hungry, we’re going to feed them. If they need clothes, we’re going to give them that and we’re going to give them music that connects and then we’ll be able to reach their hearts.” I love being a part of it because I think it’s right on line with how the Army started, but I haven’t seen it in this magnitude, probably ever.
Do you consider performing here your way of giving back? Absolutely. The Salvation Army has been instrumental in each part of my life. Before I knew what the Army was about, it was instrumental in getting food to my home. Now, The Salvation Army is a part of my ministry—the giving back aspect. It’s actually been weaving cohesively throughout my whole life.
interview by Robert Mitchell