There are two dudes living inside of country singer Granger Smith and both get their time in the spotlight on Smith's seventh studio album, 2013's Dirt Road Driveway. Tracks like "Miles and Mud Tires" and "Bury Me in Blue Jeans" represent the native Texan's good, clean, down-home way of life. But on Driveway's last two songs — "Country Boy Love" and "The Country Boy Song" — things get supersized: the Texas accent is dialed up to 11 and Smith's alter ego Earl Dibbles Jr. emerges.
Dibbles is a tobacco-chewing, overall-wearing, mud-stomping good ol' boy character that Smith and his two brothers cooked up while goofing off with a video camera. After a YouTube clip featuring Dibbles going through his daily routine — putting in a "dip," shouting his "Yee yee!" catchphrase, fishing — went viral, Smith decided to follow it up by actually writing some songs as Earl. Several million views later, Dibbles is a hit. (Watch Dibbles' breakout video below.)
Smith always intended the Earl Dibbles Jr. character as a means for reaching potential fans of his own music, and now the singer's two projects are growing together. The singer says he has plans to release a six-song EP in the spring, which will feature five Granger Smith songs and one Earl Dibbles Jr. cut. There will also be a video for the Earl song, titled "City Boy Stuck," and a full Smith LP in the fall.
As the hillbilly Jekyll and Hyde gears up for another leg of his Yee Yee Nation Tour, he spoke with Rolling Stone Country for our 5 Minutes in Texas series about his Texan influences, the camaraderie of the Lone Star State and, of course, the birth of Earl.
"I grew up listening to George Strait. I did, I did. He got me into it, and traveling around, following him. When I turned 16 and got a driver's license I was going and camping out, spending the night, getting tickets. I was a part of his fan club. So yeah, that was a big one for me."
"Texas is home to me. 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."
Earl Had to Live
"I believe the first [YouTube video my brothers and I] ever came out with was a video called 'Freddy's Enchiladas.' 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."
What a Wonderful Earl
"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."
"We started out [as an independent artist] because that was our only choice. We were on a tight budget, we didn't have a record deal and couldn't get a record deal, and we needed to play and put out music. So it was, 'Hey, I'll learn how to use recording software. And I'll bring my band in, we'll put some foam on the walls and see what we can do.' That's really how it started 10 years ago. And it worked. We were able to sustain that and go out on the road a little bit, play some local places and sell an album. And then the next album was another step up. Now I'm collaborating with a producer in Nashville named Frank Rogers (Josh Turner, Darius Rucker), who I've known for a long time, on this new project. And we're doing a hybrid of half at my house and half with him. So that's been the next step in this process."