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Up-and-coming Texas musician Cody Johnson talks to Red Dirt Report

Joey Pruski / TheCodyJohnsonBand.com
Singer-songwriter Cody Johnson stands on stage while the audience cheers.
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OKLAHOMA CITY – Will 2012 be the year that Texas country singer-songwriter Cody Johnson truly breaks out, finding an even wider audience that will appreciate his earthy, honest Lone Star State-style musical approach?

If there’s any justice in the music world, it should be.

Recently reviewing Johnson’s latest album A Different Day and discovering he will be in town at the Wormy Dog Saloon this Saturday night with fellow Texan Kyle Park on the “Drinkin’ and Dancin’ Johnson Park Tour,” we thought it would be a good time to talk to Cody Johnson – Texas’ Regional Music Awards’ New Male Vocalist of 2011 - and find out who he is.

And we are glad we did. Cody Johnson is a friendly, easy-going and eager to share his life story, over the phone and through his music.

Johnson, a native of tiny Sebastopol, Texas, and former prison system employee in Huntsville, Texas, where his band is based, has done in lot in his young life. He’s done a lot of rodeo work, he has played in front of a lot of people and gotten a lot of life experience. It gives him a lot to work off of when it comes down to writing songs.

“It was in 2006 when we got the whole band together,” Johnson explains. It was my drummer, Nathan Reedy and my dad, Carl. We were a three piece and we went to a local radio station to do an in-studio … and they asked us our name, which we hadn’t settled on, and said ‘the Cody Johnson Band.’”

As Johnson notes, "everyone in the young Texas music scene is 'something-something Band." While his website and his merchandise says "Cody Johnson Band," that is shifting, from what we understand, to the Rockin' CJB's. Johnson seems to prefer that name now.

They recorded an album, Black & White Label, and started attracting attention. When Johnson got the go-ahead from his wife Brandi to take his music seriously – leaving a secure state job behind – he took that to heart and put his heart into music and touring, recording a second album, the terrific Six Strings, One Dream, an album we really liked here at Red Dirt Report. We recognized that immense talent.

And ever since, Johnson and the Cody Johnson Band – now known as the “Rockin’ CJB’s” (his logo is a a rockin’ “CJB” brand … very cowboy-ish and a very appropriate) – have been earning their dues on the Texas/Oklahoma tour circuit, playing where they can, meeting people and writing and recording songs.

In the six years that Johnson has been building his brand and sound, he has eschewed the popular “Texas country” label, opting to be a Texan who simply playing his own style of country music.

With A Different Day, released last October, Johnson said that if it hadn’t been for fellow Texan, now living in Nashville, Trent Willmon, who produced the album, he “wouldn’t have been able to do it.”

But Willmon’s talent, friendship and guiding hand helped make A Different Day a solid album. The flow of the songs, the energy – lots of energy – come through loud and clear.

For instance, on one of my favorite tracks, “Guilty As Can Be,” Johnson incorporates that instantly appealing Waylon Jennings/Hank Williams Jr. sound while telling the story of a man in prison who admits to killing a man who was in his bed with his woman.

“I worked at the prison for six years,” Johnson said. “I grew up around the Texas prison system. I knew the wardens … and all of them, I knew who to deal with a  convict, an incarcerated individual. I knew what was BS and what was not. It was an easy job for me and it makes you grow up.”

That said, Johnson said someone suggested he do a “prison song” and before long he had written “Guilty As Can Be.”

Referencing the new songs “What’s Left of Texas?” and “I Don’t Care About You,” Johnson said they were written is his late teens and, with “What’s Left of Texas?” it’s a song about development and seeing the old ways disappearing.

“I should have been born 150 years ago,” he said. “A simpler time.”

And what of the line: “They’re taking John Wayne out of Hollywood, replaced him with some ‘Brokeback’ picture show”?

Johnson chuckles and said he threw that in there to get a sense of who is in the audience and how they react.

“It’s a feel good, fun song for me,” Johnson says, adding, “It touches people in different ways.”

And "18 Wheels (Craig's Song)" is about his uncle Craig Freeman, a trucker who died of a heart attack while driving his big rig.

"I was on the way to Waco to play a show when I got a call telling me that my Uncle Craig had passed away," Johnson said.

Johnson, who sang at the funeral, said he wanted the song to be a celebration of his uncle's life and not a morose song. He dedicates A Different Day to Uncle Craig.

And regarding the track "Diamond In My Pocket," Johnson said he has been pleased that it "jumped up the Texas charts."

He added that going into recording A Different Day in Nashville, he had about 45 songs he worked with and decided to record an album where every song was a potential single.

And that comes through, listening to the songs, even the stripped-down track, "The Grandpa Song."

All the while, Johnson, who is a keen observer of the human condition – he worked with prison inmates and heard it all – knows that any level of popularity goes to the head of some artists. He says it’s a sad thing to see.

 “Drugs aren’t the biggest killers in the music industry, it’s egos,” Johnson said. “I hate to see people who show up on stage and don’t give a damn and don’t want to talk to their fans.”

Johnson also speaks highly of his band, which includes guitarist Jeff Smith, bassist Joey Pruski, fiddle player Jody Bartula and original drummer Nathan Reedy.

“I have to give support to my band. They’re my road dogs. Without them my career wouldn’t be anything,” explains Johnson, who calls New Waverly, Texas home. Sure, he’s had some personnel changes in the band – his dad no longer plays in the band – and he’s used studio musicians to record the songs. He’s also befriended a lot of influential folks in the Texas music scene, like Kyle Park, the established singer-songwriter who befriended Johnson at a Tejas Vaqueros retreat for cowboy businessmen not too long ago.

Explaining that he and Park sat in a truck to keep cool, they talked and got to know one another. Park suggested they do some collaborating out on the road. The seeds of what would become the “Dancin’ and Drinkin’ Johnson Park” tour that takes the two Texas country artists to the Tumbleweed in Stillwater tonight and to Oklahoma City’s Wormy Dog Saloon on Saturday night.

“This was his way of extending a hand to me,” Johnson said of working alongside Park. “He believed in my music, my live show and we’ve become very good friends over the last four or five months.”

On stage, Johnson and Park and their bands take about an hour each. And then they will play some together. They mix up George Strait and Garth Brooks covers and sing one another’s songs.

“It’s been such a cool thing,” Johnson says of touring with Kyle Park. “What a wonderful experience. Packed crowds every night.”

Johnson said he has an eye on the future, and a project that would combine his love of rodeo with his love of music.

“In the next year-and-a-half we’re going to do a rodeo CD,” Johnson said. “Along the lines of what Chris LeDoux did.” And Johnson cannot say enough good things about the late singer and rodeo star Chris LeDoux, the same guy who inspired a young Garth Brooks when he was starting out in the bars in Stillwater.

With that sort of LeDoux-type approach and a sheer love of performing in a high-energy show, a Cody Johnson and the Rockin’ CJB’s show is one you don’t want to miss.

 “If they’re not tapping their feet and their hearts aren’t beating, then I’m not doing my job,” he said.

For more information, go to www.thecodyjohnsonband.com.

Copyright 2012 West Marie Media

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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