Nashville is filled with country singers, but their definitions of “country” can vary, with many of them never having really lived any kind of actual rural or country lifestyle. But Dustin Herring is more than just a fan of the music, more than someone who simply grew up listening to it or watching it on TV. Country is what he’s about, 24/7/365.
Herring, a country boy from an Alabama farm who has made a living using his degree in – what else? – agriculture business, has been writing and recording in Music City for the better part of a decade now, while spending his free time fishing, hunting, and just enjoying an outdoors lifestyle. But in the middle of it all he’s played dozens of shows each year around the country, opening for artists like Jamey Johnson, Ashley McBryde and Mark Chestnut, while keeping a busy co-writing schedule. He just dropped his version of the Garth Brooks song “Alabama Clay,” from Brooks’ 1989 debut album. Written by Larry Cordle (Ricky Skaggs, Alison Krauss) and the late Ronny Scaife (Conway Twitty, the Osborne Brothers), the song has been a part of Herring’s life since he can remember, and he finally decided to make a proper recording of it.
“‘Alabama Clay’ was my favorite song growing up,” he said, “and one of my best friends, we lost him in a car accident, this is the song we played at his funeral. And this is the song that, every time I go home, people want to hear it to remember him by. Four years ago I recorded this song just as a demo, for his parents and for different friends to have it. So I tracked down the song’s publishers to get their permission to release a produced version. This is the first time that I’ve reached out to record a song I didn’t write myself, a song that meant so much to me that I wanted to release it.” He plans to include the single on a new full-length album in a couple months.
“It’s kind of a similar story to my own background,” he said, “about a farming kid who left home to chase his dreams but realized the big city sort of sucked and missed home, and ends up coming back. And I did sort of the same thing, I went off to school at Auburn, then I worked in the Mississippi Delta. But I had to take the step and move to Nashville and write songs.” He made that move to Music City on the advice of judges who encouraged him when he won the songwriting competition portion of the 2012 Colgate Country Showdown.
Now that the pandemic is easing, Herring’s hitting the road in earnest again, with dates already booked in Texas and Montana. But he’s also not forgetting his songwriting circle in Nashville, people he writes with in search of that hit for himself or someone else.
“I still do the songwriting grind,” he said. “I’ve kind of narrowed it down to a few people, but I still write four days a week at least. It only takes one friend to believe in and to believe in you. You never know who’s gonna blow up, like my friend [Mercury Nashville recording artist] Priscilla Block.”
Meanwhile, Herring doesn’t plan to change anything about himself. “My degree’s in agriculture, and that’s my outlet,” he said. “I’m sure there are more unhealthy habits I could have. It’s good to sit in the woods and write, or when you’re on a fishing trip, where you get all these funny ideas from your buddies. In Nashville everybody wants to be country, and they want to write about it and they have to guess about what it really is. I say, Guys, it’s a lot easier to write about it if you actually know something about it.”
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