For most people, “No” means “No.” But not Cale Dodds. When someone tells Dodds “No,” he hears “Not yet.”
It’s easy to see why nothing is off limits or impossible for the Georgia-born singer/songwriter. His tenacity is fueled by conviction and a deeply held belief that all his goals are always within reach. He approaches everything he does with a fierce discipline, an engaging personality, and the patience you acquire when you know what you are waiting for is worth waiting for.
“Someone told me the other day, ‘Man, it’s up to you to fail at this point,’” Dodds said. “I’m like a freshman starting on varsity and I have to earn my spot.”
His own upbringing in the military town of Columbus, Ga, two hours south of Atlanta, was far removed from the music industry. His father was a banker and his mom a nurse who worked weekends.
“Every memory I have of growing up is getting a bucket of Hart’s chicken, and we’d get bait, and get in the boat, and we would stay out there and listen to country music all day,” recalled Dodds. “That’s how I remember falling in love with country music: fishing with my dad and my brother.”
His parents didn’t have any musical ability, but they loved music and it was constantly available for Dodds and his older brother, Chase. His parents took them to every concert they could, but Dodds’ only access to an instrument was a guitar someone had given to his grandfather, a former Army Ranger.
“When we would go to his house my dad would sit and talk and I would run back to his office and beat the hell out of his guitar and imitate whatever sound I could,” said Dodds.
The promise of good grades was enough one Christmas to convince his parents to purchase a guitar and drum set for Dodds and his brother, who were 12 and 13 at the time. “The back bedroom became the band room that day,” said Dodds, who recalled playing Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” “because that’s how you impress the girls in seventh grade.”
What developed was an exuberant singing style and a burning skill with the guitar that eventually landed them in several bands and playing numerous local and regional shows. The first was a middle school dance.
“We played three songs and I remember jumping off stage and thinking ‘We have to do this for the rest of our lives!’” Dodds said. “We were awful, but it was something I just remember as a seminal moment. A door opened that was not going to close.”
Dodd emerged with a commanding stage presence and the confidence that comes with doing what comes naturally. In demand and willing to work, the brothers played a variety of clubs and venues. And even now, his brother plays drums in his band.
When he was 17, Dodds had another one of those “aha” moments. He and his brother played cover gigs and mowed lawns to put enough cash together to record with a friend of a friend of a friend at Belmont University in Nashville.
“What I discovered was it wasn’t about coming here to record, it was about coming here because this is where I needed to be,” said Dodds, who studied general business at Columbus State University while he continued to pursue his dream.
“I would write lyrics in class and doing homework on the road was a nightmare,” he said. “But what I did learn was how to study; not the classes I was in but, I learned how to study the things I was passionate about.”
The laser focus paid off and Dodds captivates on stage. A gifted solo artist with a band-brain, he plays masterfully off the musicians who surround him and he creates a salon-style performance space where the audience is a welcome extension of the band.
“The greats I grew up with -- Springsteen and the E Street Band, Petty and the Heartbreakers, and even Garth who had the same band for years -- each of them treat their band like he treats his audience – they are part of the show,” Dodds said. “Anybody who has had an impact on me were bands who had chemistry with the center guy. I need that.”
That collaborative style carries over to his songwriting. And he approaches that differently, too. He has a tremendous ability for turning a phrase and exploring nuances that are easily overlooked. He searches out the unexpected and can spend months on a single line.
“The songwriter process to me is my favorite part,” he said. “I wake up with a song in my head. I have to write. I spend a lot of time working on ideas for songs and I’ve come to realize that I want to say things a little different and I want to say them from an honest place.”
But getting the deal of his dreams didn’t come as easily as his knack for songwriting. Warner Music Nashville Chairman and CEO John Esposito originally passed on Dodds. Months after, Esposito remained impressed with Dodds when he would run into him at industry events.
“He had such an engaging personality and so much charisma,” said Esposito recounting his eventual change of heart. “I began to think that passing may have been a mistake and I asked the A&R team to listen to his new music and look at him again. I’m lucky he didn’t hate me and agreed to come here.”
Dodds doesn’t think of himself as overly optimistic, but he never looked at being passed over as a rejection. “When he said, ‘No’ the first time it didn’t feel like a definite no, it just wasn’t my time,” he said. “He wasn’t ready to say, ‘Yes.’ Thankfully, it worked out.”
In addition to Esposito, Dodds has assembled an impressive team of industry professionals to shepherd his career including Narvel Blackstock and Jeremy Gold at Starstruck Entertainment for management, Marc Dennis at CAA for booking, and Ben Vaughn and Travis Carter at Warner/ Chappell for publishing.
When it comes to the songs featured on his upcoming debut, Dodds mines his own experiences from the lament of “Lying” about a couple lying on the hood of a car, but also avoiding the truth of where the relationship is headed. Or “All Over” where a fresh-ex is clearly over him, and has now turned her attention to someone else. Or the swagger of “People Watching,” which is not about watching other people, but being the center of attention.
The production is a clear reflection of his early musical influences from his dad’s love of Tom Petty and country music to his mom’s attachment to Top 40. The result is a connection to a different time with fresh guitar work and an undeniable hook.
2018 has brought Dodds’ music to a new space and even greater heights with his debut single “Take You Back” arriving at country radio in March. Before hitting the airwaves, the charismatic new artist had already been named a CMT #18for2018 Artist and a Rolling Stone “Country Artist You Need To Know.”
He takes music seriously, but not himself. He has recorded hilarious man-on-the-street style interviews on Broadway in Nashville and has posted makeshift band meetings that highlight his quick wit and self-deprecating humor.
For Dodds, humor is a way to connect: “I feel inspired and energized by people. I love the connection. I get a lot out of their stories in regards to what a song has done for them and to me, that is the whole point. I love the dialogue with people.”
Especially if they say, “No.”