Randy Houser

For some, Randy Houser is the powerhouse, soulful voice on hits like “Anything Goes.” For others, he’s a songwriter who helped put songs like Trace Adkins’ “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” on the radio. And for still others, he’s the affable live performer who put on that marathon show at the local country venue.

But let’s face it: to a lot of people with Internet access, Houser is part of a 2009 meme. A toddler named Drake Dixon (who happens to be the son of songwriter Dillon Dixon), in the back seat of a car in a Costco parking lot, rocked out to Houser’s “Boots On” with a plastic guitar and it was all caught on video. The YouTube version got more than 1 million views.

Universal Records South made Dixon the star of Houser’s official “Boots On” music video. And, by the time the CMA Awards rolled around, Houser was nominated in two categories – new artist of the year and, with Dixon’s help, music video of the year (the cute little fella even showed up on the red carpet).

But one cute kid isn’t the only reason “Boots On” was a Top 5 hit or why Houser is the newest Music Row next-big-thing. The Mississippi transplant was already a successful songwriter, writing or co-writing tunes for Adkins, John Michael Montgomery, Jessie James, Justin Moore and George Canyon. However, unlike some songwriters, Houser has the voice and musical chops to put him in the limelight. And when it comes to performing, it’s in his blood – truly.

Being the son of Papa Houser, a staple performer of Jackson, Miss., Randy has been fronting bands since he was 13. He came to Nashville in 2002 and spent a few years playing songwriter showcases with only an acoustic guitar but, as he told Pollstar, he had the “itch” to get another band together. That band eventually became a standard of the local club scene, with plenty of agents dropping by.

Photo: John Davisson

And that is why, to this day, Houser would rather put “little building blocks on the ground” and develop a core audience at country venues than do what other new artists do: open for the arena acts.

“Twenty-five, 30 minutes in front of a huge act isn’t the kind of band that we are,” Houser said. “I’d rather spend some time playing live and let people get to know me a little bit, where they feel like they have a vested interest, you know?”

There’s been a surge lately of country acts going the honkytonk/rock club route, which puts Houser in line with acts like Jamey Johnson and Eric Church. That’s also why it seems wherever Houser plays, Johnson is there too.

“[WME Entertainment] was really smart about putting me into the right situations and trying to keep me from the places that don’t make much sense,” Houser said. “It would probably make sense on paper but don’t feel right, you know? Especially with this trajectory and knowing where we’re headed.”

On Houser and Johnson’s recent CMT On Tour co-headliner, they played their own sets, then did an anything-goes jam that included both bands. The shows went on for up to five-and-one-half hours. It doesn’t get any more old-school than that.

“I definitely have positive responses from promoters and fans because of those long shows,” said manager Nick Hartley.

Hartley has been working with Houser since the Nashville club days. Hartley was working in the West Coast office of Fitzgerald-Hartley, which manages Brad Paisley among others, when he first listened to a demo of Houser, given to him by a person at Universal Records South.

“His voice immediately stood out as something that was totally different … just a true, huge vocal,” Hartley said. “At the time I didn’t think there were that many standout, young vocalists. He happened to be playing the very next night, so I hopped on a plane, flew to Nashville and went to the show.”

They pretty much made a gentleman’s agreement immediately.

Photo: Paul Breski

“I really wanted somebody young and hungry, who wanted to hit the ground running,” Houser said. “And Nick had that but he also had Fitzgerald-Hartley behind him, which is the powerhouse team I was looking for. It was pretty much as soon as I met him. And he looks out for me, and I felt that immediately.”

Since then, Houser, with the help of agent Greg Oswald and the WME team, has made it a point to play live as much as possible. Like Jamey Johnson, that’s what he knows best and that’s what he lives for. He also made sure Pollstar understood that he works the meet-and-greets as much as possible.

“In country music, it’s really important, and we like to meet our fans,” he said. “In country music, they almost feel like they have a direct connection to the artist, and I want to feel like that with them, too. I want people to know me whenever they leave that night, you know?”

Houser and Johnson just returned from a 10-day USO tour where they, along with Kellie Pickler, visited Kuwait and Iraq. He’s hitting fairs and festivals through September, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be chances to see Houser in a fun-lovin’ bar, honkytonk or theatre.

“It’s kind of important to us, and the whole team, to really develop the hard ticket at a small level,” he said.