The two sides of country’s Granger Smith

By John Benson

Just ask Garth Brooks — country music fans don’t care much for alter egos. That’s what the ’90s hit-maker found out more than 15 years ago with his failed attempt to reinvent his career as rocker Chris Gaines.

However, rising independent country musician Granger Smith is finding unprecedented success with his alter ego, Earl Dibbles Jr. Whereas the former fits into a quintessential Music City mold of singer-guitarist, the latter is a wild card.

“It’s double shotguns, beer and dip,” said Smith, calling from Odessa, Texas. “That’s all Earl. He allows me to have no rules, to have just complete chaos and there’s not any kind of this artist stigmatism that you have to kind of stay in these boundaries, stay in a box.

“And no matter how big the box is, every artist at some point finds these boundaries. Earl doesn’t have them and the band buys into it. We can have this crazy metal portion of the show and just have a blast. He could get political or do anything on stage.”

Appearing like a tea party card-carrying member, Dibbles Jr. is invariably unfettered. While Smith acknowledges there’s a leash that could end up strangling him at some point, the character’s shock value is actually part of a keen marketing plan.

“So far it’s been an absolute tool for us to be able to acquire new listeners and people who ultimately go back and say, ‘This Earl Dibbles Jr. guy is a real singer named Granger Smith,’” he said. “That’s success for us. That was the whole original idea behind it.”

A veteran of the country music scene for a while, Smith began to turn heads with his 2013 album “Dirt Road Driveway,” which reached No. 15 on the charts. Over the past year, the Texas native has been on a national tour that has included many sold out dates. Smith returns to Northeast Ohio for a Saturday show at the Dusty Armadillo in Rootstown.

This time he’s bringing new music from his upcoming EP effort “4X4,” which includes lead single “Backroad Song.”

“This first single is kind of our bridge song, to make it where it’s a little bit of an extension of ‘Dirt Road Driveway,’” Smith said. “We’ve kind of had a little bit of a mindset of how can we capture some of this energy we have on stage and put that on tape, so that’s a little bit of focus for this EP.”

Finally, considering Smith has ties to his alma mater Texas A&M, we’d be remiss not to bring up former Aggies Heisman Trophy winner and current Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel, who actually appeared in the country singer’s “Silverado Bench Seat” music video.

“He’s a good friend of mine, a great dude and incredible competitor,” Smith said. “I tell people if you met him and hung out he’d be a great friend. I’m confident that whatever he’s got going on, a lot of it, I think, is just something he has to do and go through.

“I’m confident knowing the level of competitor he is and what kind of guy he is, that’s going to come together.”

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