Randy Houser earned his nickname, Cadillac, in the middle of the night. Several years before making a name for himself in Nashville with "Anything Goes" and "Boots On," Houser was heading north with his friends, including one of his "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk" co-writers, Dallas Davidson, and an aspiring country artist named Luke Bryan.
"We were all buddies that'd just come to town, and Nashville was the biggest city any of us had ever seen. We left at probably three in the morning one morning to drive to New York City, but none of us had any money," Houser recalls. "Dallas wakes up, and I'm pretty much damn near asleep in my driving. I'm just laying back, you know ... pimpin'. Dallas looks over and says, 'Look at you over there, Cadillac-in'.' And so it stuck."
His new album, They Call Me Cadillac, debuted last week at No. 8 on Billboard's country chart. Along with the singles "Whistlin' Dixie" and "A Man Like Me," the project features a distinctive groove, courtesy of his touring band. After a visit to CMT Top 20 Countdown, the Mississippi native stuck around to talk about the new songs, his favorite country singers and his decision to move to Nashville.
CMT: For the new album, I understand that you went into the studio with a certain direction in mind. What was that direction?
Houser: The direction of this album was just simply to make a record that I think that my buddies would want to hear and something that they wouldn't skip around on so much. To have a congruent sound on the album. I didn't want to jump from this thing that was country, over to something that was pop-sounding in order to please radio. I think it was more important to have something that sounded like a project, an album.
You mention Folsom and "Whiskey River" in the album's first track, "Lowdown and Lonesome." Why is that era of country music such a touchstone for you?
I guess you could call that the foundation of what music is to me. It's the foundation of where I learned music and the reason that I make music. I'd say that era of music is the golden era of country music. I think that sometimes we tend to forget about it. I know we have to be concerned with the latest trends and what's selling today and all that, but I think it's important. There's a certain demographic of people out there that really would love to have something fresh that reminds them of that.
What did Lee Ann Womack's harmony part bring to the song, "Addicted"?
I think Lee Ann Womack completed the picture. I mean, Lee Ann's one of the best singers in the last 20 years and probably one of my top 10 country singers of all-time. I could have gotten some other girl to sing that background part on it, but I never would have felt like it was complete because, in my head, as a songwriter, all I could hear was her voice -- specifically her voice -- singing that part. And the song's one of my favorite songs on the album. So, it just put the icing on the cake for me.
There's a prominent steel guitar in "Will I Always Be This Way," which I think completes that song. What were the emotions you were hoping to capture when you recorded it?
There's a certain loneliness to the steel guitar, and there's a certain loneliness to that song. That song is basically about not knowing if you'll ever be happy being happy. That's just who I am. I don't know if I'll ever truly be happy unless I'm goin'. That's kind of a sad fact but it's the only life I know. ... I'm totally gonna go write "I Don't Know If I'll Ever Be Happy Bein' Happy"! I can't wait to write that now! (laughs)
At the end, there's a gospel song, "Lead Me Home." Do you consider yourself a spiritual person?
Yeah, definitely spiritual. Maybe not religious. I do believe in God. I'm not ashamed of that at all. And I do believe in the afterlife, obviously, or I wouldn't write about it. ... Especially with an upbringing in Mississippi and the Bible Belt, you're gonna get a lot of that. I think a big part of what shaped me as an artist is gospel music. And it wasn't just Southern gospel. I also grew up listening to a lot of black gospel.
For somebody who's never been to that part of Mississippi where you grew up, how would you describe it?
It is Mayberry. Where I grew up, we never had a stoplight. We had one little flashing light. ... Everybody knew your business, and you really learned to respect people and respect your elders because everybody there will whip your ass. Likewise, if somebody didn't respect you, you had the right to tear their ass up. ... I'm not saying "an eye for an eye" is right, but you learn to do unto others. And that means if they do unto you, you get to do unto others! (laughs) Just real world. Real country life and hard work. Real country people. Really good people.
I understand your father was a musician, too. What did he play?
He played guitar and sang, and he played organ. He mostly played organ on recordings, but he was really good. Probably one of the best singers I've ever heard. But he never did leave his home enough to go try [for a bigger career]. I saw that it was one of his biggest regrets, so one of the biggest things I learned from him was to go for it. That's one of the things he instilled into me -- the fact that he didn't do it. And one of the biggest gifts he gave me was not only the gene pool to play music, but he instilled in me the belief that I could be anything I wanted to be.
What prompted you to take that lesson to heart and move to Nashville?
You know, I almost got married. That was just before getting married, and I was realizing that I was just about to settle down and give up my dreams. I heard that Tammy Cochran song, "Life Happened," and I saw the video. If anybody hasn't seen it, if they could watch it or listen to the song, they would know absolutely what happened. I've known since I was 4 or 5 years old what I wanted to do. I wanted to play music and be on the Grand Ole Opry. I realized that I was getting very complacent about just playing clubs around there and fixing to get married. I saw that video and I went, "Holy crap, that's totally what's happening to me." Three weeks later, I was here.
How old were you when you got to Nashville?
About 26. You come from my hometown or 412 people and you look around. ... Where I come from, there were only a few people like me that were musicians and artists. People tend to go in life where there are people that understand what they do. Whether you are a painter or an artist of any kind, I think that you need people around that encourage your art and that you get to see what they're doing. That's how you're fed. That's how your soul and spirit are fed. That was the biggest thing for me -- to find people like me. And I think that happened. I've got some of the best friends in this business. We'll be friends and brothers forever.