Texas Talent: Cody Johnson

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Submitted Photos (Cameron Powell, Josie Drenner, and Real Life Real Music)

10-octpw-txtalentOne conversation with Cody Johnson and there is no doubt he is the “real deal.” The Groveton-raised singing cowboy has an unmistakable smoky baritone filled with truth, emotion, and conviction. His music portrays his life as a God-fearing family man who, before playing music, was a professional bull rider and TDCJ prison guard. Postcards had the pleasure of visiting with him just before the release of his newest studio album Gotta Be Me. This amazing Texas Talent shares with us his journey in making music, how his faith has gotten him where he is today, and how he spends his “down time” at home with his family in New Waverly.

What was your early introduction to country music? What inspired you?

Any country artist I was allowed to listen to as a child was someone that was a vocalist. Glen Campbell is a vocalist…Elvis Presley, Merle Haggard, even the Statler Brothers. Those kinds of people who sang with that gospel kind of background, that is what I listened to. I used to try to emulate those artists because, as a young kid, that is what you do; you listen to something on the radio, and you try to sound like them.

txtalent-cj-live-josie-drennenWhat made you want to become a performer?

I am not sure what drew me to want to perform, to be honest. I was always curious about what went on in those honky-tonks; I could hear country music coming across Lake Livingston when I was out fishing on a Saturday night with my dad. When I graduated high school, I started a band (after being in a high school FFA band) and started hitting every honky-tonk and bar I could, and Mama was right—nothing good happens after midnight (laughs).

Your career first led you to professional bull riding. After your fair share of injuries, you began working for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in Huntsville as a prison guard. Obviously, rodeo life has influenced your music. Did working in a prison affect your music in any way?

Oh, absolutely. On my album A Different Day, which was two albums ago, there is a song Guilty as Can Be, and it is pretty much a true story, with the name changed to protect the guilty. When you work in a prison, it really puts life in perspective, and it toughens you up some, too—probably more so than bull riding. I don’t think rodeo life or life working in the penitentiary will ever leave me, because it is just a part of who I am and what shaped me through those growing years.

You were working at the prison and playing gigs at night. At what point did you decide you should play music full time?

Whenever I met my wife Brandi, she gave me the confidence I needed to do it. My manager and the warden I worked for encouraged me, too. So, it came down to saying a prayer, pulling my hat down, and going after it.

cody-johnson-liveYour last two albums were huge successes in Texas Country Radio, and Cowboy Like Me debuted in the Top Ten on the Billboard Country Albums Chart. Now you are releasing your third album produced by friend Trent Willmon. What approach did you take in making Gotta Be Me?

I felt in my heart that this album was gonna have more of a spotlight on it than anything I had done so far, so it really needed to represent who I am. There are four outside cuts that I didn’t write, but I put aside my own material, because I couldn’t deny how good these other songs were and how they just fit how I wanted to represent myself on this album.

The album’s title cut, Gotta Be Me, basically says, “You can polish me up, but you can’t change me.” That sums you up, doesn’t it?

It does. David Lee and I wrote that, and David is one of the greatest songwriters that has ever lived, in my opinion. He knows how to get the best out of me. I think it is true with any cowboy—you can polish me up all you want, but the real thing has to remain. If not, there is no integrity in it. At the end of the day, there is a line drawn in the sand that I won’t cross, and I want to make that clear.

txtalent-cj-live-j-trevinoWith You I Am is your first release, and it is a great ballad. I always hear songwriters say it is important to write songs that women like to hear. So I have to ask, what does your wife think about this song?

She loves it. Trent Willmon, David Lee, and I wrote it. You are talking about three guys in different age groups with different backgrounds, but we all have that one common thing, and for us it is our wives, hands down. I love the fact that people have told me, “Man, this song makes me think of this or that,” and sometimes it is not even a person. The believability and raw authenticity is what I love so much about it, and so does my wife.

You included a gospel song on the new album, as you have on previous albums. Why is that important to you?

I have seen me try to do things without praying every day. Anybody who knows me knows I am not scared to fight, I’m not scared to have a beer, and I have been known to have a cuss word come out of my mouth every now and then. I am not going to put those songs on my album to try to be a preacher and claim that I am living some type of perfect lifestyle—I’m not. I think that’s the point of it; none of us is perfect, but I know I can’t do what I am doing without the Good Lord behind me. I try to pray and be humble and keep God in my life, my band’s life, and my family’s life, and give it to him and let him do with me what he wants to do; that’s kind of the point I make.

cody-johnson-photo-credit-real-life-real-musicYou recently performed at Dosey Doe in The Woodlands as part of the Real Life Real Music radio broadcast, and the crowd witnessed two milestones that night. You were the first person to sell out the newly expanded barn, and you told the crowd it was the first time that your little girl got to watch you perform live. Tell us about your experience that night at Dosey Doe.

I love that place. I think it is one of the most beautifully sounding rooms ever. If I had my way, I would go there every day with just my guitar, sit in the empty room, and practice. It just sounds so beautiful. Clara has gotten to come to some sound checks, and she knows Daddy plays the guitar; I love to serenade my little girl at home, but she had never seen me actually sit behind a microphone while I am playing. To watch her reaction was something very special.

cody-and-fan-gracie-barnettIt is hard to classify your music. I don’t call you the new Nashville Country. I don’t call you Texas Country. You think of Texas country artists as people who play Texas honky-tonks and rodeos, but you are playing in Kansas, Colorado, Utah, Oklahoma…it’s like you are Chris LeDoux all over again.

I appreciate that; that is a hell of a compliment! I thank you for that.

How do you want to be defined?

I want to be defined as what I am…just me…my brand of country music. Country music is so versatile, and I am so thankful for that. I am not going to hate on these guys that rap on the radio; that is their version of country music. It is what they want to do. I can’t do that, but I also think those guys can’t put on a cowboy hat and be what I am, either. I just call it playing my brand of country music.

txtalent-cody_johnson_2014_2015_press_photo_01-3What do you do when you get a few days off to go home to New Waverly?

I spend as much time as I possibly can with my family and friends and do normal things. I get on the tractor, go out on the property, get sweaty and work, and do everything that doesn’t have anything to do with who I am on the road. I do love my job, but I also have to make time to be normal Cody, too.

What is the next step in your career?

No matter where this thing goes, no matter what classification people put on it, I am just me. I didn’t start doing this to try to become rich or famous; I am just trying to play what is in my heart—that’s who I am.

The Who I Am singer is now on the road promoting his new album. Don’t miss an opportunity to hear him perform live. You can find his tour dates and purchase the new CD at codyjohnsonmusic.com.

Thank you, Cody, for sharing your story and gift with us. You are a true Texas Talent!

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