Cruising the back roads with Granger Smith and Earl Dibbles Jr.
As a performer, one of Granger Smith’s favorite parts of his own show happens right at the beginning, when he first walks out on stage. The welcoming cheer from the audience sends a sudden blast of adrenalin that sometimes takes him back mentally to his high school football days in Dallas. In his mind’s eye, he and the other Lake Highland Wildcats are suited up in their red, black, and white and stampeding onto the field for the opening kickoff.
Later, as the concert builds steadily toward its crescendo, he slips into the shadows for a quick wardrobe change. When he emerges in denim overalls and a white sleeveless undershirt, the crowd roars even louder. It’s show time for Earl Dibbles Jr., Smith’s redneck alter ego who brings the house down with his comic country anthem appropriately named “The Country Boy Song.”
“When Earl comes out on stage, that is absolutely my favorite part of the show,” says Smith. “There have been many, many shows over the years where I and the band collectively say, ‘I can’t wait ‘til Earl comes out.’”
It says a lot about Smith that he doesn’t mind being upstaged by a novelty act, but the thoughtful and articulate Texan says he’s thankful for the dumbed-down Dibbles. He credits his country bumpkin counterpart for helping him break out from the regional music circuit to find a mainstream audience for his modern country music. “I wasn’t popular at all when Earl came out, so I owe a lot to him,” says Smith. “It’s a special thing. We got real lucky with that.”
He’s being a bit modest, of course. Smith’s talents and charisma have played a big part, too, along with marketing savvy and a strong work ethic. At the age of 40, the seasoned singer, songwriter, and guitarist enjoys widespread radio airplay and has a hefty online presence that snared more than 8,000,000 followers on various social media outlets. After years of being on smaller, independent labels, he signed with the Nashville-based Wheelhouse Records in 2015. His first release, “Backroad Song,” drove all the way up to the top of the country charts, and he has followed in its path with hits like “If the Boot Fits,” “Happens Like That,” and “That’s Why I Love Dirt Roads.”
While music is his main passion, he’s branched out into other enterprises, including a line of clothing that, like Earl Dibbles Jr., has taken on a larger life of its own. His two younger brothers play important roles in what has become a thriving family business. Tyler, who is 3 1/2 years younger, is in charge of music business affairs and the all-important video operations, while their kid brother, Parker, is manager of Yee Yee Apparel.
YEE YEE NATION
The Yee Yee line is more than just caps and shirts—it’s what those in the merchandising industry call a “lifestyle brand.” Smith says the “yee yee!” phrase is kind of an abbreviated version of a classic cattle call. It came about, he remembers, on a blaze-hot summer day nine years ago when they were shooting one of the early videos that featured Earl Dibbles Jr. As the video’s director, Tyler, told Smith to hold the prop shotgun over his head and give a high-pitched yell. As that video and others went viral, a catch-phrase was born. Smith says they realized they’d hit on something big when they heard people hollering the phrase at shows and saw it spelled out on homemade signs. “I remember us scrounging money to have it trademarked,” says Smith. “It took every penny we had—I think it was $5,000.”
Over time, “yee” has become a good-natured battle cry, if you will, for like-minded folks who, generally speaking, love country music and having fun in the outdoors. “It’s for people that live life to the fullest, as we like to say,” he says. “It’s a lifestyle that we can all be proud of.”
Video has played a vital role in Smith’s success, and not just for the viral clips that helped to draw new fans from outside traditional country music circles. Viewers can keep up with Earl’s latest country boy exploits, but they can also tune in to a YouTube channel called The Smiths and get personal glimpses into the everyday, family centered lives of Smith, his wife, Amber, and their children, on their farm in Central Texas. After his concert tour was canceled this spring and summer because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Smith and his creative team spent much more time producing video content than they normally would. To make use of the unexpected down time, his guitarist pitched in with graphics skills, and his two bus drivers harnessed their restlessness into restoring Smith’s late father’s 1974 GMC pickup truck—there are professionally edited videos that chronicle the project literally from bumper to bumper.
When he’s not filming videos or fishing with his kids in the stocked ponds on their property, Smith works on new music. His favorite way to listen to something he’s just recorded is by sliding behind the wheel and taking off down one of those rural roads he likes to sing about. “There’s something very peaceful about it,” he explains. “It’s hard to have a care in the world when you’re driving with the windows down, fields on either side of you and listening to music. It’s hard to have a stressful day when that happens.”
Smith is a classic multi-tasker who likes staying busy with multiple projects. He’s positive and insightful, with a philosophical bent. When asked about his future goals, he doesn’t mention anything along the lines of improving ticket sales or boosting his number of streams, digital downloads, or online views. “It’s not what I’m doing, it’s what I’m trying to do,” he says. “I’ve done this long enough to know that the best thing I can do is try to be the best version of myself every day. If I can lay my head on my pillow at night and feel like I succeeded in that, then that’s a good day.”