A couple of years ago, country singer Granger Smith was thinking of new ways he could get fans to hear his music. After some brainstorming, he created an overall-wearing alter ego and christened him Earl Dibbles Jr. The guy spoke with a Southern accent and talked about the joys of living on a farm. The video he released on YouTube got millions of page views and turned Smith/Dibbles into a star.
“Those overalls came from when I was in high school and played high school football,” says Smith, who considers Browns quarterback and fellow Texas A&M alum Johnny Manziel an acquaintance, via phone. “We had to wear those on game day. Those are the exact overalls I used to wear. They still fit good.”
In “The Country Boy Song,” the song for which the YouTube video with Dibbles Jr. serves as a promo, Smith sings about being sick of “city boys.” The inspiration for the tune came from his relatives.
“Listening to my mom’s brothers and uncles, those are stories we heard over the years about pulling city boys out of the mud,” he says. “Those are funny, tongue-in-cheek stories. That became part of what Earl did. He’s a very simple person and he has no rivals except for the city boys. He accepts North, South, East and West. It doesn’t matter what race someone is. It’s just country versus city and that’s the funny part about Earl.
As much as the song is novelty, it’s also so catchy you’ll have a hard time getting it out of your head.
“The song is a great anthem,” says Smith of the tune that starts with a heavy guitar riff and includes references to swimming in the creek with a bird dog and killing bucks from the top of a windmill. “That was very important for us. We knew none of it would work unless the song was actually good. You can have funny lyrics but the song itself has to be something that you can sing along with and tap your foot to. If you think about Lonely Island and some of the great Saturday Night Live skits, they’re usually really good songs.”
“The Country Boy Song” has been such a hit that Smith has amassed 25 million unique YouTube views, played 200 tour dates nationwide and attained 2.6 million social media followers. Dirt Road Driveway, his ninth studio album, was the best-selling independent country album in digital sales in 2013. It's been called his most ambitious album to date and Smith agrees with that assessment.
“I set out with the intention of taking what was working for us at the time and trying to capitalize on that,” he says. “I wanted a record that song to song felt good rhythmically and you could drive down the road and roll down the windows and listen to. I really wanted that. Even the slow songs have a rhythm and a beat and don’t ever get too draggy. That was something I wanted to try. I enjoyed doing that. I would do the editing on the road. I would download the songs to my phone and the listen to them in my Silverado truck and see how it worked and then make adjustments from there.”
And what made him want to develop a good rhythm in the first place?
“I think a lot of it was that I sat down at one point and said our live show isn’t as upbeat as I wanted it to be,” he says. “I wanted the show to have more energy to it. So I started writing more songs. As I was writing the songs, I would write upbeat and then mid-tempo and it kept going. I realized I had a theme. I wanted to keep that theme and see what happened. Now we’re at the point where the show is so upbeat that I want to have a lower dynamic for the next record.”
Granger Smith… featuring Earl Dibbles Jr., Logan Mize, 8 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 2, House of Blues, 308 Euclid Ave., 216-523-2583. Tickets: $13 ADV, $15 DOS, houseofblues.com.