Popular music has often veered into the odd world of alter egos, with mixed results: the good (David Bowie/Ziggy Stardust), the bad (Garth Brooks/Chris Gaines) and the exhausting (Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana).
Singer-songwriter and Texas A&M graduate Granger Smith has aimed for a lighter, humorous appeal for his alter ego. Earl Dibbles Jr. is an overalls-clad, beer-swilling, tobacco-chewing bundle of country stereotypes, who starred in a 2012 video The Country Boy Song (which has 7.8 million hits on YouTube).
Dibbles has gone national, and is now in his second year as a featured character on CBS Sports Network’s Inside College Football. In a segment called “Dip ‘Em and Pick ‘Em,” Dibbles makes predictions on college games, all presented in an exaggerated country drawl and herky-jerky football moves borrowed from Uncle Rico in Napoleon Dynamite.
What comes out as a 2-minute clip actually takes a great deal of preparation and time, Smith says. He and his brother Tyler and tour manager Chris Lee collaborate on the country-fried jokes, many of which include silly variations on player and coach names (Marcus Mariota becomes Marcus Toyota, Zach Mettenberger becomes Matt McCheeseburger).
“We’ll sit down and make some coffee, and we’ll each have a notepad out,” Smith says. “First, we’ll try to decide which matchup we’re going to do. … We’ll go, ‘Hey, this is interesting, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. … Let’s hone in on this one. Mike Gundy is the coach. That’s funny — his name’s gun. The Red Raiders are guns up, that’s funny, that’s Dibbles-ish. … We’ll throw out some facts that we know, where they’re playing, what’s the spread, and we’ll create a Dibbles-esque joke in there somewhere.”
Then there is the location, which requires a country setting. But with Smith’s frequent touring, that means finding that setting wherever the tour bus takes them. For instance, last week’s episode was shot in “middle of nowhere, South Carolina,” he says, because of a gig in the state. They shoot the predictions portion first, then get secondary clips of Dibbles’ physical antics, which have included impressions of a whirling Barry Sanders, a high-stepping Deion Sanders and even a wolverine.
Things aren’t quite as rambunctious on a normal day for Smith, who plays at Hurricane Harry’s tonight, but he has had a busy year. In May, he had his the fourth-annual Boot Walk, in which he walked 100 miles to Austin over five days. It raised about $46,000 for the Boot Campaign, he says, which helps military families.
Smith’s team also created a life-on-the-road documentary that is available on DVD. Smith is active on social media — as is Dibbles, who has almost three times as many Twitter followers as Smith. The film is an extension of those efforts, Smith says.
“It’s just kind of a never-ending attempt to open up our world to our fans and our friends,” he says of the film, which captures a two-week Midwest tour. “We’ve done that through music videos, tour videos, funny videos — any way that we can. So this documentary was just another step on that path of trying to open the window a little more.”
Smith is in the beginning stages of plotting his next release, and says he’ll hit the studio in December, with a record targeted for early summer. Meanwhile, 2013’s Dirt Road Driveway has been a major success for him, bolstered by singles We Do It in a Field, Silverado Bench Seat, Miles and Mud Tires and If Money Didn’t Matter. The album earned the distinction as the top independent country album in digital sales last year.
“I don’t think any of us on the team really knew that it would do that, because we’re completely independent,” Smith says. “So we don’t have a big machine behind us pushing it. … I woke up that Tuesday morning when the album came out, and it was No. 1 on iTunes. I don’t think I ever broke the top 20 with any other record on iTunes. Seeing that was a huge shocker. That momentum kept going. … It blew me away. It was completely unexpected. Of course, we put a lot of work into it, but in the music business, that doesn’t really correlate to success — ever. We were all very, very happy.”