Lone Star roots for old-school country star
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Granger Smith’s rise up the country music charts led to an unsurprising crossover success given the overall popularity of country music.
Smith’s good looks no doubt helped the situation. He personifies what contemporary country stars often exemplify. Handsome and wholesome, patriotic and true blue Texan, Smith is everything we’ve come to expect from his generation of country stars.
Creating a Comedic Character
But there’s also something decidedly old school about him. For older country fans who got their music fix on the 1970’s staple Hee Haw, there’s something very familiar and comfortable about Smith, or rather, Smith’s alter ego, Earl Dibbles Jr. Creating a character that strikes a much different pose than the talented singer was born of something fairly common – sibling tomfoolery.
“I believe the first [YouTube video my brothers and I] ever came out with was a video called ‘Freddy’s Enchiladas,’” Smith told Rolling Stone in 2014. “It was a character named Freddy. And Earl was another one down this pipeline of, ‘Let’s make a funny video that has nothing to do with music.’ Earl did exactly what we always wanted — it went viral. It started getting millions of views, which was great for me, because it was so easy to become Earl — I’ve got family members that are exactly like him. So it was easy to slip into that character.”
With a catchphrase that also harkens back to Hee Haw, Smith enjoyed the popularity and success of his character on YouTube, but oddly he didn’t seem to understand how important it might be to incorporate that into his concerts, as he told Rolling Stone.
“We had people coming to our shows holding up signs saying, ‘Yee Yee,’ ‘Crack a cold one,’ ‘Put a good dip in.’ And people were walking away from our shows with no satisfaction towards that video at all. It was a completely different entity. We realized we’re crazy unless we come up with an Earl song. So I wrote ‘The Country Boy Song,’ which was easy to write. It was just going down the monologue of Earl’s day. We put out ‘The Country Boy Song’ simultaneously with a music video, because we always wanted to make Earl visual. That song went even more viral than the first video, and that’s when we knew, ‘This has to be part of our show.’ It has been one of the greatest blessings and the most fun I’ve ever had in music since then.”
Keeping things more Serious
Although Smith parlayed the “Yee Yee” phenomenon into merchandise, Dibbles is not a constant presence in his live show anymore. In both his headline shows, like his upcoming appearance at The Clyde, and as an opening act for some of country’s biggest names, Smith takes his music seriously and his fans as well. Hosting a podcast which allows him greater communication with his fans outside of the usual social media platforms, Smith is a musician first, and it has been that focus that has helped lead him to success since he was first drawn to music as a kid.
“It all started, for me, when I started playing guitar,” he told All Access in 2017. “I think the Eagles were the first band that I really started becoming obsessed with music about, and that got me into learning to play guitar. I played ‘Tequila Sunrise’ as the first song I learned on guitar, and I would try to sing along and emulate that sound. But, what really created the passion for the lifestyle as a musician was George Strait. I first heard George Strait and saw him when I was 15, and that whole atmosphere had such a huge impact on me that I really never will forget it. It set me on the path that I’m still on today, chasing the energy that I felt that day.”
Although the Eagles are generally considered a California band, the individual members were not California natives. Don Henley is, in fact, a Texan as is George Strait, which underscores how closely Smith identifies with his Lone Star roots. Although at one point he did move to Nashville, typical of many country performers, he is now back in Texas where he not only grew up but earned a degree at Texas A&M. He discussed that connection with Rolling Stone.
“Texas is home to me,” he said. “It’s a big part of what I do and where I come from. It’s been a big platform for me, especially the Texas Music platform, to have the charting system, and to have the touring system to get us out to where we are now, outside of Texas on the Yee Yee Nation Tour. In doing that I was playing in front of guys like Kevin Fowler and Roger Creager and Aaron Watson, and those guys really took me in. Especially Kevin Fowler, who really taught me how to sell merch and how to make T-shirts, and T-shirts that would sell better than others, and how to engage, and how to really embrace being an independent artist. When you’re independent, it’s not just the song, it’s not just the show, but it’s the complete package.”
To further establish his multi-dimensional approach to his career, Smith has not only further expanded upon the fun of Earl Dibbles Jr. but has also furthered his involvement with veterans, many of whom he performed for early in his career.
With last year’s documentary and soundtrack, They Were There: A Hero’s Documentary, Smith profiled five soldiers who lost their lives, one of whom to suicide upon his return home. The documentary allowed Smith to show a deeper side, one that has long been evident in his music outside of his comedic efforts. Smith will likely share some of these stories through his music in his Clyde performance.
“I learn on this film as the viewer learns. It was really mind-blowing,” Smith told Taste of Country. “I think that the misconception a lot of times is these people were mentally unstable before they went into the war. The story of this particular guy was he was just a normal guy — a very likable, pillar of the community kind of guy — and he saw some things that injured him mentally. All injuries, I’ve learned, are not physical. He saw some things that he was not able to recover from. The people around him…didn’t know the warning signs before it was too late.”