First he tried to be like Josh Turner. Then he tried to be like Keith Urban. But when his career went nowhere, Russell Dickerson finally decided to throw caution to the wind and try something novel: just being himself.
“That’s when it started happening,” says the 30-year-old Tennessee native. “Once I stopped caring what people thought, it was like people were attracted to that. It took me a while to learn that.”
Dickerson has been learning a lot since he broke through with 2015’s rain-soaked video for “Yours.” Since then “Yours” has gone gold, he’s opened for Florida Georgia Line and Thomas Rhett, and on Friday, he celebrated the release of his debut album, also titled Yours.
Here are five more things to know about Dickerson:
His roots are equal parts small town and Nashville.
Dickerson spent his first 10 years in tiny Union City, located in the northwest corner of Tennessee, before his family moved to Nashville. His mom, a piano teacher, put him in front of a keyboard by the time he turned 8, and he played snare drum in his high school marching band. But he fell hardest for singing and playing the guitar, which he taught himself as a teenager.
Dickerson says he still loves the pace of a small town. “Not too busy, go, go, go. But at the same time,” he adds, “I love to go, go, go.”
He especially loves to go, go, go on the road.
After high school, Dickerson worked for a couple of years as a guitar tech for a Christian artist, and he discovered he was made for the touring life.
“I love the tour buses, the bunks, the stage, the arenas, the setup, the teardown,” he says. “I just got hooked. I love the touring – just the different cities. It’s even better now because I have time to look around and go hang.”
It’s also better now because Kailey, his wife of four years, tours with him, though that can present bunk-bed problems for the 6’4″ Dickerson. “Sometimes my wife and I fall asleep in the same bunk,” he explains, “so that’s when it’s a little harder to sleep.” His career has yet to allow the couple to graduate to a bus with a double bed. “Not yet,” he says. “We’re working on that, for sure.”
He and his wife are what he calls a “tag team.”
They met in Nashville when both were enrolled in Belmont University’s prestigious vocal performance program. At first they were simply in the same friendship circle; then one day, in 2010, they found themselves locking lips. “And we’re like, we can’t do this – we’re friends,” Dickerson recalls, “and so we stopped.” Not for long. “Then it was like, all in.”
Kailey Dickerson decided performance wasn’t for her, and she has since become accomplished at freelance photography (including Thomas Rhett’s recent baby pics) and as a do-whatever-it-takes supporter of her husband’s career. That’s meant, among other things, driving the band, setting up the merch table, posting on social networks, building an artist website, and shooting publicity photos.
“She believes in me,” Dickerson says, “and that’s the most important thing.”
The couple created the “Yours” video on a shoestring.
Dickerson says he knew he had a hit song (inspired by Kailey, of course) – but how could he get it noticed? He and “Kails” – as he calls her – grabbed a video camera, a tripod, and friend to drive an SUV, and they set off with no greater plan than for Dickerson to walk and sing on a deserted road while his wife filmed from the hatchback. The road ended up to be not all that deserted; Dickerson says traffic constantly interrupted the shoot. Another wrinkle: No one had checked the forecast. The oversight turned into a giant thundercloud with a silver lining.
“It just happened to be in the perfect direction,” Dickerson recalls. “The lightning’s right behind me. And then we were like, ‘All right, God, it would be great if maybe there was a little rain.’ And then after we’d gotten enough passes with that rain, I swear, it just poured. I was soaked, head to toe, but we just had to keep going. I just knew … there’s something divine happening right now.”
Now with over 6.5 million YouTube views, the video catapulted Dickerson’s career, leading to a record deal with a Sony imprint.
He is always on the upbeat, and his new album reflects that.
Dickerson says he rejected the Josh Turner style as “too chill,” and he also decided he wasn’t cut out of the Keith Urban guitar-slinger mold. Instead, he’s taken his musical cue from a personality test that revealed his everyday moods range “from ecstatic all the way down to happy.”
“I mean, ask anybody … I’m not a depressed person,” he says.
His new album is jam-packed with feel-good songs, but don’t call them “puff,” Dickerson cautions: The love and happiness are all real.
“It’s this uplifting positive,” he says of the album. “That’s my personality.”