|Albany's Davidson Nashville's Go-To Hitmaker|
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- On Music Row, there's an ominous warning that halts many budding careers before they even get started: If you want to make it here, it takes about 10 years. Albany-born songwriter Dallas Davidson has a different take.
"I tell people it takes six months," Davidson says with a chuckle. And while his comment is made pretty much tongue-in-cheek, in Davidson's case it's actually true. Taking advantage of a door partially opened for him by fellow Southwest Georgian Luke Bryan, who was making his own significant impact in Nashville at the time, Davidson teamed with Jamey Johnson and Randy Hauser to write the Top 5 Trace Adkins novelty hit "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk" shortly after arriving in Music City.
And he's never looked back. Now, a recently announced Academy of Country Music Songwriter of the Year award tucked safely away, Davidson is the go-to guy in Nashville if you want an all but guaranteed hit. He's penned 13 No. 1 songs, five more that have made their way into country radio's Top 20 and another five that have landed in the top 40.
Five of Davidson's songs -- "Where I Come From" by Montgomery Gentry, "This Ole Boy" by Craig Morgan, "Let the Cowboy Rock" by Ronnie Dunn, "Hot Mess" by Tyler Farr and "Hot in Here" by Rascal Flatts -- are currently on the country charts, and superstar artists as varied as Hank Williams Jr., Johnson, Tim McGraw, Jewel, Blake Shelton, Brooks & Dunn, Lady Antebellum, Brad Paisley, Keith Urban, and, of course, Bryan have recorded his songs.
Not a bad resume for a guy whose career started with a DUI. "Yeah, it's crazy, but I was leaving one of my friends' wedding, and I got stopped," Davidson says sheepishly. "I ended up before a tough judge, and not only did I lose my license, I was put on house arrest for 30 days. I was staying in the basement at my dad's house in Atlanta, and everytime I'd go upstairs my ankle alarm would go off. "So I was quarantined to the basement." To help him pass the time, Davidson's stepmom bought him a guitar. He taught himself to play, and while he was messing around with the instrument, "a lot of interesting melodies started coming out."
"I called Luke to bounce some stuff off him, and he said he was having a tough time trying to write songs with guys who didn't know what he was talking about when he talked about dirt roads," Davidson said. "I said 'what the heck' and decided I was going to go up to Nashville. I'd saved a little money working in real estate, so I figured I'd give it a shot."
Fate had one more gut-punch for him, though. As he was getting ready to leave, Davidson ran into another vehicle and ended up spending all but $600 of the money he'd saved paying to repair the other guy's truck. Through a series of fortunate twists, however, he ended up writing "Badonkadonk," and his foot was firmly entrenched in the Music City door. "(Johnson and Houser) were established here, but everyone listened to 'Honky Tonk Badonkadonk' and said, 'Who is this Dallas Davidson kid'?" Davidson said. "I didn't have any credibility yet. But people wanted to hear more from me, and that propelled them to give me a shot. "Then 'Put a Girl in It' went to No. 1 for Brooks & Dunn (in 2008), and things haven't slowed down since."
Davidson graduated from Albany's Westover High School in 1996 and went to the University of Georgia for a couple of semesters before transferring to Georgia Southern in Statesboro. There he struck up a friendship with Leesburg's Bryan that would become crucial to his songwriting career. He returned home in 2000 and sold real estate for three years or so before his brush with the law changed his life in a dramatic way.
In Nashville, Davidson met and befriended Brian Kolb and they shared an apartment before renting a house from Bryan. It was there his budding superstar friend laid down some frank ground rules. "Luke told me, 'I'll watch out for you, but you've got to do things for yourself'," Davidson said. "I was like 'What?' at first, but I pretty soon got it. The way you make it in Nashville is to work harder, not to try and ride someone else's coattails."
On the heels of his No. 1 with Brooks & Dunn, Davidson became a sought-after commodity. And he didn't disappoint. In addition to writing three No. 1s for Bryan ("I Don't Want This Night to End," "Country Girl (Shake It for Me)," "Rain Is a Good Thing"), he's written chart-topping hits for Paisley and Urban ("Start a Band"), Billy Currington ("That's How Country Boys Roll"), Lady A ("We Owned the Night," "Just a Kiss"), Shelton ("All About Tonight"), Joe Nichols ("Gimmie That Girl"), Josh Turner ("All Over Me") and Justin Moore ("If Heaven Wasn't So Far Away"). #"Honky Tonk Badonkadonk" climbed into the Top 5 for Adkins, and Montgomery Gentry and Jack Ingram had top 10 songs with, respectively, "Where I Come From" and "Barefoot and Crazy."
Davidson, meanwhile, continues to write his "two-cord Georgia music" (which is the name of his publishing company) with a select group of songwriters at his 2,000-square-foot office complex he's dubbed the "Dawg House" in honor of UGA. Needless to say, he doesn't have to call in favors to get his tunes before Nashville artists. "I think the icing on the cake for me was when the guys in Lady Antebellum called and asked me if I'd get with them on their tour bus and write with them," Davidson said. "I'd kinda been branded as a guy who writes songs about dirt roads, and writing 'Just a Kiss' with them was a breakthrough. "The next week after we wrote that song together, they called me back and we ended up writing 'We Owned the Night.' That was huge for me."
Those Lady A hits helped earn Davidson the recent Songwriter of the Year ACM, and while the nominated "Just a Kiss" did not win Song of the Year, it did help him earn his second Billboard magazine Songwriter of the Year award and a similar honor handed out by BMI.
"There's a lot being made about Georgia artists making it big in Nashville now," Davidson said. "It is pretty impressive: You have Sugarland, Billy Currington, Luke, Alan Jackson, Travis Tritt, Zac Brown, Colt Ford, Brantley Gilbert, Whispering Bill Anderson and others. "But there are some pretty big things going on with Georgia songwriters, too. Billboard recognizes writers for the total number of (radio) spins their songs receive during the year, and last year I was No. 1, Zac was No. 2, Ben Hayslip was No. 3 and Rhett Akins was No. 5. That's four Georgia boys in the Top 5. I tell people it's something in that good old Flint River water, which runs from Atlanta down to Florida."
When Davidson needs a little time off to "recharge my batteries," he usually takes Aprils off and goes turkey hunting. He owns land in Calhoun County with Albany musician/businessman Bo Henry and several other of his friends, and he often goes there. "My wife (Sarah Davidson, who is also a singer) learned pretty quick that when I said 'I'll be home at noon' that doesn't mean anything when I'm hunting," Davidson laughs. "She has an answer, though. She just says, 'I'm going shopping.' In fact, that's where she is today; she went shopping in Los Angeles with Charles Kelley of Lady Antebellum."
The names that Davidson drops casually are names that drop the jaws of country music fans. But that's his life now, a life far removed from Southwest Georgia. But his roots remain embedded deep in the region's red clay.
"My family is there, my friends are there, and I talk with them every day," he says. "All those guys back home are so witty, and it does me good to stay connected with them.
"I do my work in Nashville now, but I can tell you when I write a song, in my mind I'm down there somewhere."
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