"Every No.1 is sweet, but this is one of the most gratifying moments that I've ever been a part of," adds BBR executive vp Jon Loba. "Within 10 minutes of Granger sitting in my office, I was rooting for him, knowing we had to sign him. Whenever a door closed early in his career, he never gave up or became negative. His resolve to make it just became stronger and stronger."
The last inaugural single for a label to land at No. 1 on Country Airplay was Maddie & Tae's "Girl in a Country Song," the first offering from Big Machine Label Group's Dot Records (Dec. 20, 2014). As for No. 1s by artists in their first visits to Country Airplay, "Backroad" is the first since Michael Ray's "Kiss You in the Morning" (Aug. 22, 2015).
Notably, Smith's ascent has included the profile of his comedic alter ego, Earl Dibbles Jr., who receives his own spotlight during concerts (complete with wardrobe changes). The character has a life of his own, especially on social media, and no doubt has helped Smith gain traction. "Granger had a following before he hit radio," says programming consultant Joel Raab. "This song is mainstream, yet fresh, at the same time. His vocal stands out."
Smith's first full album for Wheelhouse, Remington, arrives March 4.
RHETT NOT DONE YET: Thomas Rhett's "Die a Happy Man," which led Country Airplay for six weeks (beginning Jan. 2), earns a 14th frame atop Hot Country Songs (the last 13 in succession) and its 15th week at the summit of Country Digital Songs (the past eight consecutively).
"Man" is now tied for the fourth-most weeks logged at No. 1 on Hot Country Songs, dating to the chart's 1958 beginning as an all-encompassing genre ranking. It equals Jason Aldean's "Burnin' It Down" (2014), Hank Locklin's "Please Help Me, I'm Falling" and Jim Reeves' "He'll Have to Go" (the latter two both in 1960). Florida Georgia Line's "Cruise" leads with 24 weeks on top, beginning Dec. 22, 2012. Leroy Van Dyke's "Walk on By" (19 weeks, 1961) and Buck Owens' "Love's Gonna Live Here" (16, 1963) rank second and third, respectively.
Hear Nelly Cover Thomas Rhett's 'Die A Happy Man': Exclusive
With Rhett having appeared on NBC's The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon (Feb. 9) and Today (Feb. 10), "Man" moved 43,000 downloads (up 10 percent) in the week ending Feb. 11. Its 15-week reign on Country Digital Songs trails only the 25-week command of "Cruise" and Lady Antebellum's 21-week domination of "Need You Now" (2010).
"We are extremely proud of Thomas' continued success, of this song and of his career," says Kelly Rich, Big Machine Label Group senior vp/sales and interactive. "'Die a Happy Man' has not only resonated with his core fans, but it's connecting with a new audience that will help take him to the next level."
MOTORING IN: The Driver, the debut solo set from Lady Antebellum's Charles Kelley, debuts at No. 2 on Top Country Albums (14,000). Lady A has notched eight top 10s, including four No. 1s, on the tally, and has sold 10.2 million albums.
This article first appeared in Billboard's Country Update -- sign up here.