Numbskull & Good Medicine Present
1025 Monterey Street
San Luis Obispo, CA, 93401
When Cody Johnson’s Cowboy Like Me debuted in the Top 10 on the Billboard Country Albums chart in January 2014, jaws dropped in offices all over Nashville.
“I got a lot of ‘Who is this kid?’” Johnson says with a laugh two years later. “I love that. That was a new horizon. And I’m gonna work to make sure people know exactly who I am.”
Johnson does that from the start in Gotta Be Me, a follow-up project that’s loaded with solid country instrumentation and winsome melodies. In the first minute alone, he paints himself as a cowboy, raised on outlaw country, who drinks too much, fights too much and won’t apologize for having an opinion. By the time the 14-track journey is over, he’s shared his rodeo history in “The Only One I Know (Cowboy Life),” demonstrated his woman’s influence in “With You I Am” and paid homage to his gospel heritage in “I Can’t Even Walk.”
Johnson delivers it all with an uncanny confidence. His smoky baritone and ultra-Southern enunciations give him a voice as uniquely identifiable as country kingpins Jason Aldean or Tim McGraw. And he uses it to convey a Texas-proud swagger, a real-man charm and an unwavering honesty about who he is, where he comes from and where he hopes to go.
“I’m a God-fearin’, hard-workin’, beer-drinkin’, fightin’, lovin’ cowboy from Texas,” he grins. “That’s about it.”
The hard-workin’ part is key. The other parts are easily found in his music. It’s intense, focused, sincere. And when he takes the stage, there’s a Garth-like conviction to his performances. Johnson inhabits the songs, recreates their emotions because they’re so familiar. And he’s willing to lay bare those emotions because he’s always been willing to risk. He lives in the moment behind that microphone, the same way he rode bulls in an earlier day.
“That’s a very, very rough sport to be in,” Johnson notes. “It’s very, very rough on your body. It’s very rough on your mind, and it’s scary. I mean there’s not a professional bull rider that won’t tell you it’s not scary. If it wasn’t scary, we wouldn’t do it.”
Johnson pauses for just a beat.
“I’m kind of an adrenaline junkie.”
Needing a fix is part of the attraction in both the rodeo and music. In the former, there’s always another buckle to chase, another bull to conquer for eight seconds. In the latter, there’s always another fan to win over, another song to write. And in some ways, Johnson has been chasing something illusory, indefinable, since he first arrived on planet Earth in Southeast Texas.
Johnson grew up in tiny Sebastapol, an unincorporated community on the eastern shore of the Trinity River that’s never exceeded 500 residents. Even today, it’s more than 30 miles to the nearest Walmart, in Huntsville, Texas, a town best known as the headquarters for the state’s criminal justice department. It’s a rough and tumble area, and it comes through in the music. Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, George Strait, Billy Joe Shaver – their songs were all essential to the local clubs, and Johnson was exposed to their mysterious allure even before he was old enough to get in.
“You could hear the music from those bars across that lake,” he recalls. “I’d always hear somebody singing ‘Whiskey Bent And Hell Bound’ or something like that, and I always wondered what was going on across that water in those barrooms. It definitely intrigued me. I always wanted to go see what was on the other side of the tracks.”
At a young age, Johnson was given the tools to eventually work in those clubs, though his official education was grounded in the church. His father played drums for their congregation, and that was likewise the first instrument that young Cody picked up.
“Learning drums first taught me about feeling the song – feeling that dynamic of when it’s supposed to be big and when it’s supposed to be soft,” he says. “I think that still sticks with me as a songwriter and as a performer, and in turn it’s helped me shape my band, because I know what I’m looking for on every front.”
Johnson learned guitar next, and when a teacher heard him playing an original song, he convinced Johnson to form a band with a few other students enrolled in the Future Farmers of America. Just a few months later, that first band finished runner-up in a Texas State FFA talent contest, creating an internal buzz that Johnson would continue to chase.
He didn’t necessarily think it would be a career. He briefly went to Angelina College in Lufkin, Texas, but traded that in to become a rodeo pro. Johnson did OK in that sport – the oversized belt buckle he wears today was won fair and square on the back of a bucking bull – but he broke a litany of bones: his right leg, his left arm, two ribs and his right collarbone.
Cody started recording his own music during that phase of his life, beginning with Black And White Label, which featured his dad, Carl, on drums. Johnson sold the CDs, pressed on his own CoJo imprint, from his pickup.
Eventually, Cody took a job at the prison to pay the bills. His band kept hitting the clubs on the weekend, with Johnson kept banging away on the guitar on Fridays and Saturdays while overseeing some very hardened convicts whose crimes had cut them off from humanity.
“There’s a lonely style of music that a lot of those guys listen to,” Johnson says. “I worked in the field for a while, and they sang old prison work songs. Some had kind of lost hope, and I can see now that you have to sing about people that don’t have hope the same way you want to sing to give them hope.”
Meanwhile, his weekend crowds began to grow, and Johnson started landing hits on the Texas music charts. After the release of his third album, he won New Male Vocalist of the Year in the Texas Regional Radio Music Awards.
The music thing started to look like maybe it could be a business, not just a sideline pursuit. He was stunned when his wife, Brandi, agreed.
“It was a moment when I felt like I wasn’t on my own anymore,” Johnson says. “To have my fiancée at the time say ‘I’m behind you, no matter what we have to do,’ it gave me a whole new level of confidence that some people might have thought I already had. But I didn’t.”
Even with her belief, the road wasn’t easy.
“I sacrificed, and I worked my tail,” he says. “I barely slept for years trying to make this thing happen, and me and my wife didn’t have a lot of groceries. We didn’t have a lot of things for a long time.”
Johnson reached a new creative plateau when he enlisted singer/songwriter Trent Willmon, who wrote Montgomery Gentry’s “Lucky Man,” to produce an album in Nashville. That project, A Different Day, raised the bar on Johnson’s barroom ambitions. The studio musicians he worked with challenged his own band. Johnson grew – and his bandmates grew – because they had to stretch themselves to live up to the album on the road. That pattern has continued through three projects as he continues to chase something illusory.
“It’s that always-never-good-enough kind of attitude that gives us that drive,” Johnson says.
When Cowboy Like Me broke onto the Billboard chart, it demonstrated that they had built an audience, but also gave them a little cache to push it even further. The band has broken beyond the red-dirt confines, drawing sizeable audiences in such far-flung destinations as California, Montana, Wisconsin and the Southeast, as Johnson wins over fans with his honest songs and on-stage ferocity.
And Johnson’s built up a Twitter following of 73,000 fans – impressive numbers for a guy who’s marketed and developed his career without the aid of a major label.
He approached Gotta Be Me with two major objectives: to make yet another advance musically, and to provide an authentic self-portrait to that growing fan base still trying to figure out who this Cody Johnson guy really is. He worked with some of Nashville’s best songwriters – including David Lee (“Hello World,” “19 Somethin'”), Terry McBride (“Play Something Country,” “I Keep On Loving You”) and Dan Couch (“Somethin' ‘Bout A Truck,” “Hey Pretty Girl”) – while drawing on his own history, rich with its own compelling subject matter.
“Every Scar” draws a life lesson from all those rodeo bruises and broken bones. “Half A Song” blends his barroom experiences with the melodic and rhythmic sensibilities he picked up at his daddy’s feet. The fiddle-rich “Wild As You” embraces a freedom-loving woman whose sense of adventure is as deep as Johnson’s own. And that spacious gospel closer, featuring his parents on harmony, surrenders some of the rabble-rousing, adrenaline-raising pieces of his past into bigger spiritual hands.
In essence, Gotta Be Me documents the life of a guy who’s lived in the fast lane as a beer-drinkin’, rodeo-ridin’ cowboy, but who’s also seen just enough darkness to temper that wild streak.
“You’re only a couple bad decisions every day from screwing your whole life up,” he reasons.
With a good woman behind him and a whole lot of promise in front of him, that’s enough to keep Cody Johnson in check. The energy he put into his rebel years now goes into his work. He’s not sure what he’s chasing, but he knows it’s paying off The “me” that Cody Johnson is becoming will continue to evolve, and it’s his intent to share that journey in an honest, meaningful way. The same way that Haggard, Strait and Nelson did when they made their marks. When it’s all said and done, the plan is mostly to reach the point where people are no longer asking “Who is this kid?”
“I don’t want to be a blemish on country music,” Cody Johnson says. “I don’t want to be a dot. I’d like to be a mark.”
“All grit and no quit.” These are the deeply rooted words that Josh Ward lives by to an absolute fault. An anchored mindset that has led this Texas country music rising star from a drifter’s adolescence to the jeopardousgame of the rodeo circuitto the punishing toilof the Texas oil fields, and on into the fickle arms of the music business.Some might argue whether it is having nine consecutive #1 hit singles in Texas under his belt that has garnered him staying power,orthat he is killing it in the social media world withover 2million views on YouTube and over 3 million streams globally on Spotify. Maybe it’s his3veneratedalbum releases,or maybe because he can not only bat a full house on a 200 plus dates a year touring average, but alsorope in crowds on a first time performance in an unfamiliar town. While impressive, all those distinctions can come and go in the world of music. The reason for his staying power turns out to be quite a simple one.And that is because Josh Ward is country music blood to bone, and both Josh Ward and country music are simply notgoing to go away.Josh spent 2017 heavily touring off the strengthof his previous album “Holding Me Together.” All six radio singles hit the #1 spot on the Texas Regional Radio Chart andWard quickly found himself going from opening act to the headliningspot in a matter of months. But in the midst of his growingpopularity, hegladly bent the knee to fellow country music artistand comradeCody Johnson who introduced Ward to his West Coast audiences. Getting the chance to be endorsed by Cody Johnson and performat sold out shows in brand new markets is the kind of opportunity music artists chomp at the bit to have. When Wardand his band returned to those areas a few months later all by their lonesome, he simply could not have guessed at the reception he would encounter. “When we went back to the West Coastby ourselves, it was sold out shows. I was literally blown away.” It was at that very point while far away from his familiar stomping grounds in Texas with new fans slapping him on the back that Ward knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that his music was catching on in a big way. The culmination of his radio success and his victories out on the road can easily be attributed to the actual man behind the music. In life, sometimes a person gets dealt a lean hand and has to choose his family from strangers along the way, people who make a conscious choice to take you under their wing and help guide you through life. Ward considers himself a very lucky man despite some rough teenage years. The love and support of his extended family and hischosen family was the concrete foundation he built
his life on, and his fans are a big part of that. It’s why they are drawn to him through the speakers,because he is what he sings. It’s why they are drawn to him from the stage,becausehe’s an old friendwho’s come back to visit. He’s the animated truth of all he stands for, a self-made family man who always has a welcome smileand anopen spot in the family. To his loyal fans he feels he owes everything. “Words can’t describe the emotion that gets put into these runsand the work that we do. And these people pay their hard earned money to see it every night. Thank you. Every time I step on stage, you guys remind me that I have more than I deserve.” And so his brand new album, so aptly named, is Ward’s dedication to his growing family.“More Than I Deserve” marks Ward’s fourth full length album release and it will greet the fans on May 4, 2018. With the philosophy of “don’t fix what isn’t broken,” Ward went right back into the Rosewood studios where he recorded all his previous releases and joined producer Greg Hunt once again behind the board to create the next dimension of Josh Ward country music. The new album is 11 tracks strong featuring the signature instrumentation from guys like John Carroll (Cory Morrow) onguitar,Nate Coon (Aaron Watson) on drums, Milo Deering(The Eagles)on acoustic guitar, steel, dobro, fiddle, viola and mandolin,and Terry McBride (McBride and The Ride)on backing vocals and also writer of threeof the tracks. The album is classic JoshWard style on every front with just a little more gusto and a little more miles on it. Full bodied and emotionally fragrant, every song jumps out kicking up the kind of country music nostalgia Ward is revered for. The first single “All About Lovin’” (written by Brice Long, Terry McBride and Chris Stapleton)tells youeverything you need to know about this album, a sexy tonkafied driver of a song that guarantees you’ll be lacing up your dancing shoes by the time you hit the chorus. “Home Away From Home” is country piled on top of more country, and is, as the songsays, “a two steppin’ juke box heaven.” While Ward has never been afraid to sing other people’s songs due to his belief that a good song simply needs to be heard, his own savvy for the art just so happens to be represented onthree of the most powerful tracks. “A Cowboy Can” is the true grit of this album and is what Ward says best describes himself. “One More Shot Of Whiskey” is a sobering tale told with 90 proof conviction, and then there is“More Than I Deserved” ringing out with its vulnerable steel and head hanging resolve. “More Than I Deserve” is country music addiction in its purest form. Josh Ward did not reinvent the wheelhere, but damn, it’s polished surfacesure rides smooth. Josh and his band will be seeing a lot more of the country this year hitting a lot of new places on his never ending tour. It’s still hard for him to believe he has come this far andhe doesn’t take one mile of it for granted. “I never thought I would be rolling down the road with one of the hottest bands in Texasplaying shows across the United States. I’m happy to be here.” The Josh Ward band isJosh Ward (lead vocals, rhythmguitar), Steve Cargill (bass), Travis Bishop (keys, organ, harmony vocals),Justin Cognito (drums), Rob Smith (lead guitar) and Cody Angel (steel guitar)
$22.00 - $25.00
Fremont Theater - SLO
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