Brett Eldredge grew up admiring smooth and soulful singing greats like Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra and Bobby Darin.
He was a teenager when he first heard former Tulsan Ronnie Dunn's soaring tenor coming through the radio and decided right then he wanted to be a country singer-songwriter.
“The first time I heard Brooks & Dunn was when I really knew I wanted to do country music because I was just such a fan of soulful singers. And I lived in Paris, Ill., a little country town, and all the lyrics that they were singing and the songs that he (Dunn) and Kix (Brooks) were writing felt like where I was from,” Eldredge said in a recent phone interview from Nashville, Tenn.
Dunn's voice, he added, “just grabbed a hold of me and just how big his voice was, I was like ‘That's something that I want to do. That right there is something that's my home.' And that's when I knew and I never really looked back.”
The country up-and-comer has opened for superstars like Tishomingo residents Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert, as well as Brad Paisley. On Friday, he will warm the crowd for the Eli Young Band at Shawnee's Grand Casino.
“You can learn a lot from somebody's live show,” he said. “When Paisley was playing, I would go in the very top of these amphitheaters ... where Brad Paisley looks like an ant up on stage he's so far away. I love looking at what other fans are doing around me just watching the show because I remember being that kid.”
With his big, soulful voice, Eldredge, 26, was a popular performer at various functions in and around his hometown. He began attending Elmhurst College in Chicago but got back on course for a country music career when he visited Nashville, Tenn. He saw his cousin Terry Eldredge, a veteran of Dolly Parton's band and a member of the Grascals, play at the Station Inn, “which is one of the coolest places in the world, I think,” and decided to swap the Windy City for Music City.
He eventually met producer and publisher Byron Gallimore, who signed Eldredge to his publishing company and encouraged him to continue writing songs. The Illinois native later inked a deal with Atlantic Records, which is set to release his debut album sometime this year.
“If you're working on your first album, I guess I've been working on it since the day I was born. Whenever I decided to start making music, I was always playing for my first album. But I've been writing for this for, gosh, I mean, six years now,” said Eldredge, who was just coming out of the studio after recording some vocals.
“I'm ready to get it out there for people to hear. I can't wait.”