After striving for stardom in Nashville, it's no surprise that country singer Deryl Dodd now feels more comfortable on stage in Texas honky-tonks.
"I grew up playing honky-tonks and going to honky-tonks, dancing on the big dance floors and hearing the bands," he says. "In Texas, if the dance floor is full, that's as good of a response as you can get. There are several songs I'll do and they pack the floor, like 'That's How I Got to Memphis' and 'A Bitter End' and now I've got 'Pearl Snaps.' It's really fun to see that they know the songs, and they love to dance to them."
Does Dodd know all the moves, too?
"I do," he says. "I'm not the best, but I can hold my own. I can hold a woman close and twirl her around a little bit, and they'll be like, 'Ooh, you know what you're doing.' But that's just the dancing department," he quickly adds. "Everything else ..."
An affable guy who now lives in Dallas, Dodd recorded his just-released album, Stronger Proof, in March with his touring band during Country Radio Seminar in Nashville. By the end of April, it was mixed and mastered. Having parted ways with his previous label, Sony Music, he struck a deal with independent label Dualtone to release the heavily honky-tonk project.
It's the latest accomplishment in a career sidelined by illness and close calls. Dodd moved to Nashville in 1991 and soon toured with Martina McBride as her guitar player. In 1994, he joined Tracy Lawrence's band and remained there until landing a record deal with Sony. In 1996, he landed his first hit, a cover of Tom T. Hall's "That's How I Got to Memphis." Two years later, he rose even higher with the Strait-like "A Bitter End."
However, he was forced to turn down tours with Tim McGraw and Brooks & Dunn after being diagnosed with viral encephalitis, which attacks the central nervous system. He could hardly move, let alone embark on an arena tour. The dream seemed to be over.
Incredibly frustrated, Dodd ultimately found inspiration in bicyclist Lance Armstrong's astounding evolution from cancer survivor to Tour de France winner.
"It really went right into my soul and gave me that boost to hang in there," Dodd says. "It was one of those things like, 'If he can do that, I can do this.' At that time, that's what I needed. ... You're not supposed to come back from there, and this guy did. And I tell you, your mental state has a whole lot to do with your physical state, and if you believe that you can do something ... well, I mean, now I sound like a preacher or something."
He laughs a little bit at his own testimony, then continues, "Well, it's true, though. You can transcend and rise above your circumstances. With my faith and my family and prayer and friends and some grabbing-my-bootstraps attitude, I came back and thank God for it. I'm here for a reason."
Still, he wasn't able to jump right back into the fray. He tried some writers' nights, but says, "I know it sounded awful." His friends encouraged him, though, and when he returned to form, McGraw invited Dodd to join him and wife Faith Hill as the opening act for part of their Soul 2 Soul tour.
"That was a big 'am I ready for this kind of thing' moment, because we're out in arenas," he says. "I'm going to step out there by myself, with my guitar, without the band. It was one of those sink-or-swim things, and I swam hard. ... Thank God for Tim and being the friend he was to me. He could have called anyone, and here I was just kind of barely getting back. And that's exactly why he did that, because he's that kind of person, and it did a lot for me."
McGraw has also cut two of Dodd's songs, "That's Just Me" and "She'll Have You Back." McGraw still seeks him out for new material. Meanwhile, Dodd left Sony Music after the 2002 album, Pearl Snaps, but he has evolved into a star on the Texas music scene. He even rose to No. 1 on the independent Texas Music Chart and released Live at Billy Bob's Texas in 2003.
"Leaving Nashville and moving to Texas and being accepted was probably the most important thing to me," Dodd says, "because there was sort of an anti-Nashville thing that was going on down there. 'We're Texas, and this is what we do, and we don't need anything else tampering with what we do, and this is real.' I'm an outsider coming from Nashville back to my home state, and then I was accepted. Being on the charts and having No. 1's is proof that there was no 'he's a sell-out' idea. It was acceptance."
Dodd returns the favor on the closing track to Stronger Proof with a song called "The Crowd."
Asked to describe his own crowd, Dodd says, "I've been doing this for a long time and they're very loyal. I haven't gotten to a place where thousands and thousands of people come to see me. So, I get to know them as people and as friends and can holler out their name, 'Hey, what's up Jenny? What's going on?' or whatever. It's a very back-and-forth mutual thing, so I wrote the song to sort of pay homage to them. I'm there because they are there, and that's exactly what that's about."