How many newcomers can lay claim to having Country Music Hall of Famers like Dolly Parton and George Jones on their first two albums? Well, Georgia native Eric Lee Beddingfield is one, and he's very mindful of the honor.
615 SPOTLIGHT is Billboard.com's weekly look at an emerging country artist who deserves a hard look. Return each Wednesday for a new installment.
"To have that kind of endorsement from him or a lady like Dolly… My grandkids will know their music, and to have their support is incredible," Beddingfield tells Billboard.com. "Obviously, I can't do anything for their careers, so for them to reach out to me that way was cool. When I moved to town, I wanted to have respect for my peers that I idolized. Regardless of whether those are commercial successes, no one can take that away."
Parton appeared on his 2007 debut disc, and Jones on his most recent album, "This Life Ain't For Everybody," on the single "The Gospel According to Jones," all of which were produced by the respected Grammy-nominated producer Kent Wells. Beddingfield says that a chance meeting at Logan's Roadhouse in Nashville led to Jones appearing on the track which, in turn, led to "The Possum" appearing in the promotional video to the single, and quite a friendship between the two.
"Just last night, my wife and I were at George and Nancy's for supper," he says. "It's one of those things where you feel a unicorn is going to come out and tap you on the shoulder. It doesn't seem real. But, at the same time, I think it's a testament of how great he is to let that guard down. He's obviously such an absolute legend and icon. Hanging out with him, he's just George."
The single has made quite the impact at secondary stations, as has the follow-up "The Great Depression," a potent song about today's difficult economic times. "Country music has always been the voice of the common and the working man," he notes. "I think that just as you need songs to take you out of reality, you need somebody there telling them what they are going through on a daily basis and being their voice."
Since releasing his first single, Beddingfield has made quite the name for himself at radio and in the industry.
"It is a contact sport," said the former Georgia Southern football player. "I think that in anything you do, you've got to be willing to get down and dirty. Anything worth having is worth fighting for. The way I'm going about it is a little bit unorthodox, but it was the hand I was dealt. To go out there, and to get the attention we've been able to drum up without the support of a major label or major money to this point. That's what we had to do. I didn't have a choice."
He says he's not going to "twiddle my thumbs" and wait for someone to get his music heard.
"For me, it's always been about making the music first and making good music," he tells us. "There's no point in making it if you're not working to get it out there. I just tried to find any avenue I could."
It's been a fun trek for the singer thus far, and he understands that the star-making process takes a little time. "When I first moved to town, I would hear the term 'Ten year overnight success.' You hear that so much that it just sounds like a cliché. That's an easy thing to say to someone who has been struggling for three or four years. But, it's true. It's all about timing. I think it takes that to attract the people around you to make it go that quick. I think we're getting some of the people involved that can take this to the next level. That can't happen overnight."
Next year looks to be even brighter for Beddingfield, who just signed a new management deal with a Michael Friedman and his company, The Firm. "We've got a lot of big plans for next year. One of the biggest things we're planning is to take it from small market to major market. That's on our front burner."
And, with his stage show and his following at radio, he's got a lot of people talking about him, "I think that word of mouth and making those personal relationships is what's going to take you and sustain it."