Cody Johnson Recalls Warden at Prison Job Encouraging Him To Pursue Music
A lot of who Johnson is as an artist comes from his roots. When Johnson was growing up, his parents were in a gospel band. His dad played the drums and piano, and knew a few chords on guitar. Johnson was invited to play drums in the church choir, but he didn't fit that assignment too well because he just wanted to play Led Zeppelin songs. That's when his dad taught him the few chords he knew on guitar. Then Johnson taught himself the rest. He would record songs from radio stations through a cassette tape and then play them back on repeat to teach himself the song. He recalled playing guitar until his fingers bled. His parents wouldn't let him sing lead in their band until he learned harmonies. Eventually he sang lead on a few songs which is when he started to connect his guitar skills with his vocal skills. He realized the girls liked a guitar, singing cowboy and then he took his skills to play in a bar where he got paid for his talent. All of these moments in his upbringing led him to want to pursue music in some way. However, being from a small town, most people do what their parents do for jobs. Johnson's dad worked in the prison system for over 30 years. So when Johnson turned 18, he got a job in the prison system. The warden he was working for was the one who encouraged him to chase his music dream. He told him there would always be people in prison and there will always be a job for him there, so he needed to go take some time to try music. That's when Johnson hit the road and didn't make any money for the first 5 years. His wife supported them by working 2 jobs. He thanks her for his career because of that, and promised her that one day he would take care of her and she wouldn't have to work or want for anything. That's been the drive behind him ever since he started pursuing music full time.
When Johnson first tried to do the artist thing in Nashville, the record label he met with was very interested in his talent, but didn't want him to wear a cowboy hat. Johnson was not about that and didn't want to change who he was for the industry. He also realized the songs in the country music at the time were too much of the "truck and short jean shorts" style for him and he didn't want to write those kind of songs. So he went back to Texas and was able to create a fan base on his own locally. That fan base didn't care that his songs weren't on country radio and they grew wildly for him. Now Johnson has a mix of fans from those that don't care about his radio songs, and those that do. That's why his live show is so important to him.
Once upon a time, Johnson wanted to be a bull rider. And for a long time he was really angry that he didn't make it as a bull rider professionally. His documentary on Amazon Dear Rodeo: The Cody Johnson Story takes a look at that time in his life. Now, Johnson can enjoy watching bull riding without being angry and loving the life he's made for himself. Especially seeing how intense the rodeo life can be in PBR. Johnson loved bull riding because he's an adrenaline junky and is always getting himself hurt. Turns out he had to have an emergency neck surgery in December. He's been in pain since 2017, experiencing numbness and burning in his right arm. When the doctor did an MRI, they told him he needed to have the surgery done immediately or he could lose the functionality in his arm. They put him into the 5.5 hour surgery right away. Apparently at some point in his life, he fractured his neck, but he doesn't recall when that could have happened.
Johnson's latest song is "Human," which is the follow up to his first number 1 "'Til You Can't." When he decided to cut this song, Johnson liked how real it was. He believes that we all have more in common than we think, we are just trying to figure life out. He wants to continue spreading that message through his songs, and "Human" was one that he could get behind and felt authentic and true to himself. Currently Johnson is working on three new projects, however he's only talking about two of them. They just got done recording a live album, which they wanted to be sure and do before graduating to the next level of arenas. The band wanted to capture the energy of their current shows before taking the next leap. They were able to record 5 shows and felt like they got the best representation of what they do live. And another project he's working on is a studio album that he plans to put out next year.
Watch Cody Johnson perform his songs "Dear Rodeo" and "'Til You Can't" on the Bobby Bones Show.