Interviews

Dillon Carmichael Furthers a Family Tradition With Famous Friends on 'Son of A' [Interview]

John Shearer

Roots-bound artist Dillon Carmichael's famous friends helped further his family's multi-generational mark on country music on his sophomore album, Son of A (out Oct. 22 via Riser House).

The most famous of these friends, Jon Pardi, co-produced seven of 14 album tracks with Ryan Gore. Pardi also co-wrote could-be Midland cut "Man Made a Bar" with songwriter heavyweights Shane McAnally and Luke Laird.

"We have our differences in our personalities, but we definitely work well together," Carmichael told Wide Open Country about his friendship with Pardi. "It's a good combo. Actually, Jon Pardi is one of the first people I ever met when I moved to Nashville. We had the same publisher in the songwriting world, so we kind of crossed paths a lot. We really became buddies when I released my first record. I actually recorded a song that he wrote on there (Hell on an Angel selection 'Country Women'). You know, it's just one of those things. I can't really put my finger on it... It wasn't like that moment where it's like, 'Are we just best friends now?' We just slowly became buddies over time.

"When everything slowed down in 2020... Huh, slowed down is an understatement. But you know, we had a bunch of time on our hands. [Pardi] was like, 'Hey man, let's go make some music,' and we did," Carmichael continued. "It actually being an album wasn't necessarily the intention, but it was so good it was undeniable that we had to put out an album."

Pardi made his creative (and comedic) presence known earlier this year with a cameo at the end of Carmichael's "Hot Beer" music video.

"That was all impromptu," Carmichael added. "The funny thing is, you ought to see what they cut out. They didn't find it appropriate (laughs). He's a funny dude."

While promoting his latest album The Way I Wanna Go, Trace Adkins told Wide Open Country and other outlets that he incorporates Blake Shelton, Luke Bryan and other buddies into his recording projects as much to have fun in the studio as to utilize the star power in his inner circle.

Pardi served a similar dual role in the creation of Son of A.

"When you've got somebody that's cracking you up and putting you in a good mood, it just kind of sets the tone for a great record," Carmichael said.

The Cadillac Three runs in the same circle as Carmichael and Pardi, making the trio ideal collaborators for the Waylon Jennings and Southern rock-inspired "Pickin' Up Girls."

"I'm a huge fan of The Cadillac Three," Carmichael said. "I did some shows with them back in 2019, and we kind of became buddies. [The Cadillac Three's Jaren Johnston] and I do a lot of writing together. We wrote that song that they played on, and we couldn't have had this album complete without The Cadillac Three coming in and doing their thing on that song."

Veteran songwriters and traditional country mavens Jessi Alexander and David Lee Murphy helped Carmichael finish the album's best moment of levity, "Big Truck."

"I brought a variant of that idea in," Carmichael recalled. "I don't remember what the original was. It was like, she loves me for my big heart and all these things. I don't remember if it was Jessi or David Lee that was like, 'Oh, it's big truck!' It was my first time writing with Jessi. It was my first time writing with David Lee. Big fan of both of them. I think we wrote that thing in like an hour and a half. I knew it was a hit as soon as we finished it."

Including such poignant material as "Hose Water" and "Somewhere She Ain't" on the same album as knee-slapper "Big Truck" finds Carmichael following a trend that should be at the center of most praise for '90s country stars: thematic variety.

"The inspiration behind that and why I do so much tongue-in-cheek... I grew up in the '90s, so I love '90s country," Carmichael explained. "Some of my favorites are like 'Pickup Man' and 'John Deere Green.' Both of those are [Joe Diffie]. I have a dog named Diffie. I'm a huge fan of Joe Diffie. He had a lot of tongue-in-cheek songs. And then he would turn around and do 'Ships That Don't Come In,' a very heartfelt song. I love that you can do that because you can make people smile, you can make people get in their emotions. That roller coaster ride is what I'm all about when it comes to songwriting."

Read More: Randy Travis Thanks God for Garth Brooks in Eloquent Social Media Post

Additional collaborators of note range from producers Dann Huff and Phil O'Donnell to Ashley Gorley, Hardy and other songwriters more associated with country radio-friendly unit shifters than Carmichael's amalgam of throwback country and modern elements.

"I think most of the writers in Nashville enjoy writing stuff like we're talking about here," Carmichael said. "I think that in the last few years, it really hasn't put food on the table for them. But I think they really love some of that rootsy type stuff. Ever so often, you'll get a song by someone who's had a lot of success in pop-country, but they still write traditional, roots country music on occasion.

"Those songs end up in the hands of people like myself or a Luke Combs or a Midland and Jon Pardi," Carmichael continued. "Some of the songs we cut were songs that were pitched to Jon Pardi that for whatever reason he wasn't cutting anymore. He's like, 'Hey man, maybe this is for you.' But those writers, they write a lot of stuff. Their job is to be versatile and put themselves in the shoes of other people. They know there's a big audience out there of people that love that throwback type stuff."

As alluded to before, Carmichael comes from a long lineage of country artists. Maternal grandparents Harold and Snookie Montgomery juggled playing honky-tonks in Kentucky with raising famous sons John Michael and Eddie Montgomery (of Montgomery Gentry) and Carmichael's mother, top-notch country vocalist Becky Montgomery.

Carmichael joins his cousin, rising artist Walker Montgomery (John Michael's son), in keeping this circle unbroken.

"It all started with my grandparents, so I think we're generation three that's doing this," Carmichael said. "I really want to see our kids, my cousin's kids continue to do the music thing. We're real proud of it. We're super proud. We have friends back in Kentucky that's been in the bourbon world. They have a family tradition in the bourbon world, and we're buddies with them. We were just talking about how important the tradition is of keeping country music alive in the family."

Becky joined the Son of A fray and created a special mother-son memory by singing harmony vocals on the title track.

"It's a song about a mom and a dad and it shows appreciation to parents, so it's appropriate to have her on it," Carmichael said.

Son of A Tracklist

1. "Hot Beer" (Michael Hardy, Ashley Gorley, Hunter Phelps, Ben Johnson)
2. "Big Truck" (Dillon Carmichael, Jessi Alexander, David Lee Murphy)
3. "Paychecks and Longnecks" (Brice Long, Greylan James)
4. "Family Tree" (Dillon Carmichael, Casey Beathard, Phil O'Donnell)
5. "Hose Water" (Rhett Akins, Travis Hill, Paul DiGiovanni)
6. "Son of A" (Dillon Carmichael, Casey Beathard, Phil O'Donnell)
7. "Man Made a Bar" (Jon Pardi, Shane McAnally, Luke Laird)
8. "Red, White, Camo and Blue" (Dillon Carmichael, Bobby Pinson, Phil O'Donnell)
9. "Leave the Lovin'" (Jaren Johnston, Luke Laird)
10. "Since You've Been in It" (Dillon Carmichael, Ray Fulcher, Michael Whitworth, Daniel Ross)
11. "Pickin' Up Girls" (feat. The Cadillac Three) (Dillon Carmichael, Jaren Johnston, James McNair)
12. "Gonna Wish You Did" (Michael Hardy, Brad Warren, Brett Warren, Brad Clawson)
13. "Somewhere She Ain't" (Dillon Carmichael, Jessi Alexander, Ben Hayslip)
14. "Baby I Would" (Jaren Johnston, Tony Lane)

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Dillon Carmichael Furthers a Family Tradition With Famous Friends on 'Son of A' [Interview]