Debuting at the Grand Old Opry is an emotional career highpoint for any artist. But Dillon Carmichael’s entry into the legendary center-stage circle — chronicled in the “My Opry Debut” video premiering exclusively below — had plenty of additional meaning.
For starters, Carmichael, who played the Opry on Aug. 21, is the nephew of two Opry members — John Michael Montgomery and Eddie Montgomery. Moreover, the singer and songwriter — whose debut album Hell on an Angel came out last week — spent a year and a half working at the Opry as a security guard starting in 2015. “My boss said to me, ‘One of the good things about doing security at the Opry is you can stand in the circle and no one will say anything about it ’cause you’re security,'” the singer and songwriter from Burgin, Ky., tells Billboard. “I told him, ‘You know, man, there’s something in me that just won’t let me do that right now.’ I wanted to be introduced and be playing music in that circle. So I avoided it for a year and a half, and finally, that night (he was inducted), I stepped into it for the first time, and there was a certain energy I never felt before. It’s just overwhelming. I’ll think about that when I take my last breath.”
Another highlight of the Opry debut was being joined by his mother, Becky, a singer in her own right who was part of the Montgomery Family Band with Carmichael’s uncles. “She went to Nashville and recorded and album and was gone for three months and then came back home to raise us kids and said, ‘I’m never gonna spend that much time away from you all.’ And she never did,” says Carmichael, who returns to the Opry on Oct. 30. “But she always loved music as much as me, as much as Eddie and as much as John Michael — if not more. So the most emotional thing was to see my mother get to play the Opry with me.”
Carmichael — who co-wrote eight of the 10 songs on the Dave Cobb-produced Hell on an Angel — started with an artist publishing deal and co-wrote Travis Marin’s single “Simple.” But his intent was always to be a recording artist in his own right. “I haven’t had anything major with (my songs) mainly because I save ’em for myself,” explains Carmichael, who blends outlaw country and Southern rock throughout the album. With an estimated 450 songs stockpiled before he began recording Hell on an Angel, Carmichael says that, “I wrote, but just for me. I’ve wanted to do since I started singing, as far back as I can remember. I got into songwriting when I was about 18, but I knew I wanted to have my songs and my album, whether somebody else wrote ’em or not.”
Carmichael is touring to support Hell on an Angel and hopes to land a major support slot next year — his wish list includes Eric Church, Chris Stapleton, Dierks Bentley and Randy Houser, “just to name a few.” The writing continues as well, with hopes to get back in the studio before too long.
“I just want to keep doing it,” Carmichael says. “I want to have endless options. I want to cut records my whole life. That’s the big long-term goal — I want to cut records and make music every day, my whole life. That’s what I dreamed about when I was a kid.”