- Associated Press - Saturday, July 29, 2017

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (AP) - Every Christmas, Dylan Raymond’s grandmother gives him a sentimental gift. The items belonged to Richard Bryan, Dylan’s late grandfather and “best friend.”

Those gifts included a key. It started a 1989 Chevrolet pickup with patches of rust on its brown exterior. Dylan rode in the front seat, and even got a driving lesson on a remote gravel road on the outskirts of Terre Haute while sitting on his grandfather’s lap. The little boy saw dust flying in the rear-view mirror and thought the sight “was the coolest thing ever.”

Dylan, who turned 24 years old this July, wears that Chevy truck key on a chain around his neck, every day, 11 years after his grandfather’s passing.

“I always feel protected, because I always have my grandpa with me,” he said.

Dylan captured the story in a song. It’s one of five tracks on his new EP, “I Can Be That,” a compilation Dylan hopes will spark a singing and songwriting career in Nashville. Born and raised in Terre Haute, he’s put aside his teaching career to make a living in Tennessee’s country music mecca. His journeys to Nashville involve collaboration sessions with fellow songwriters based there, and a “showcase” audition watched by agents and booking company reps.

He first visited Music City in June during the Country Music Association Festival, guided by his Nashville manager Matt Cohen. (Tyler Waters serves as his Indiana manager.) Dylan and Cohen had just arrived at Rippy’s Bar and Grill on the iconic Lower Broadway strip, an entertainment industry haven, when a young woman recognized Dylan from his performances posted on social media sites.

“I went, ‘What?’ Somebody knows me already?’” Dylan recalled, with a grin.

In the evolving 21st-century music industry landscape, social media give new, unsigned artists unprecedented access to mass audiences. In the past, newcomers could reach only thousands of potential fans through live performances at clubs and festivals. Still, social media audiences have to like what they’re seeing and hearing, and Dylan’s crowd clearly does. His followers number more than 85,000 on Instagram, 30,000 on Twitter and 3,300 on Facebook, along with 80,000 plus streams of his songs - filmed in his room at home - on the online music service, Spotify.

He started building that legion by posting cover versions of other artists’ songs once a week. Now, Dylan posts daily, and often the songs are original or collaborations with other writers. Those originals include the new EP’s five songs (“No Place I’d Rather Be,” ”I Can Be That,” ”Drinking Without You,” ”Take It Slow” and “Truck Key”), all recorded with the multi-talented Rogers family in their Last Day Productions studio in Terre Haute.

“So it’s keeping people connected with me,” he said, holding his Fender acoustic and sitting on a black leather couch in his family’s house in southern Vigo County. “Basically, you have to market yourself to get where you want to be.”

He aspires to get a publishing contract as a songwriter, or a recording contract as a singer in Nashville, or both, playing an increasing number of shows along the way. Dylan realizes that city and its entertainment industry teems with artists seeking the same goal. “Everybody else is down there to hit that big-time mark,” he said.

Passion for teaching

To pursue that dream, Dylan had to make a choice. He graduated from Terre Haute South Vigo High School in 2012 and then earned a degree in elementary education at Indiana State University in 2016. Inspired by one of his own teachers, his longtime ambition was to become a fifth-grade teacher. Describing himself as “a big kid at heart,” Dylan wanted to teach that age level because little kids “look at life so much different than adults do. They’re so carefree.”

During his senior year at ISU, Dylan served as a student teacher at Fuqua Elementary School in Vigo County, and followed that up with a role as an intervention teacher at Terre Town Elementary. Meanwhile, his music opportunities began to multiply through that same time period.

“I remember thinking, ‘Is this what I want to do? Or is music what I want to do?’” he recalled. A colleague and close friend told him, “I think you need to pursue this music thing.” And he did.

The origins of his path started years ago. Born Dylan Raymond Fagg, he’s the son of Randy and Brenda Fagg. (Dylan uses just his first and middle names as a performer.) His folks aren’t musicians, but his paternal grandfather, the late Jerry Fagg, played guitar, mandolin and occasionally banjo. Jerry was a Wabash Valley Musicians Hall of Fame Band of Angels inductee.

Dylan started playing guitar at age 8, partly because his older brother was already learning the drums, and two sets of thumping drums in one house might have been a bit much. His parents’ varied musical tastes, from Alan Jackson and Kenny Chesney to Metallica, filled the household. Dylan learned the finger-picking guitar style from bluegrass teacher Judy Green, near Clinton. Stints in pop rock and metal bands followed.

Then, his parents’ 25th anniversary arrived, and his dad asked Dylan to sing Tim McGraw’s “It’s Your Love” for the festivities. When his father heard Dylan’s baritone rendition, he advised his son, “Do country music.”

Songwriting is a niche

Marcus Rogers Jr., co-producer of Dylan’s EP, believes the young singer made the right choice. Though baritones are gaining popularity in the country ranks, their numbers are few. “It’s really a good thing for Dylan that he can sing in the Johnny Cash register,” Marcus said.

Rogers shared production duties, as well as additional guitar, bass and drum work with his brother, John, and their father, Marc Sr. The elder Rogers spent years as a touring musician in Nashville and elsewhere. The younger Rogers brothers have performed in various bands with their dad and other artists locally and regionally. The Rogers trio backed Dylan at an EP release party at Rick’s Smokehouse BBQ & Grill in Terre Haute last month.

Dylan’s onstage energy impressed Marc Sr. that night, as the singer waded into the crowd and posed for cellphone photos with the fans. “Senior said, ‘We can’t find a stage big enough for you,’” Dylan recalled.

That personality helps, but the songs themselves drive interest, said John Rogers. Dylan is capable of writing “summer anthem songs,” as John described it.

“They’re fun, and they’re very easy to remember the words and to sing along,” John said.

Getting those songs recorded in a professional studio “was kind of a crucial thing for him to take the next step,” Marcus Jr. said. Interest in artists performing their own material has grown, he added. Dylan wrote three of the EP’s five songs himself, and collaborated with Barbie Rogers - the brothers’ mom - on “Truck Key” and with Marcus Jr. and Casey, Illinois, singer-songwriter Garrett Biggs on “Drinking Without You.”

“I think people want to see people writing their own music,” Marcus Jr. said. “It’s a creative side that he’s expressing, and that helps him with trying to connect with his audience. And, it’s cool to see an artist, especially from this area, writing his own stuff and writing with others.”

Those recorded originals will put Dylan “one step ahead of the game” when he goes to Nashville, Marcus Jr. said. And they’re already a hit with listeners. Dylan’s “I Can Be That” EP reached No. 35 on the iTunes Country chart in June.

He’s also taking some advice from a long-time touring musician to Nashville. “He told me you have to have patience. It could take six months. It could take a lot longer,” Dylan said. “It’s all about meeting the right person at the right time.”

Either way, he’ll still be wearing that truck key.

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Source: (Terre Haute) Tribune-Star, https://bit.ly/2utS28Q

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Information from: Tribune-Star, https://www.tribstar.com

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