Cody Johnson Tells Story of How Prison Warden Encouraged Him to Pursue Country Music

by Blake Ells

Cody Johnson’s rise to stardom seems like it was overnight. But he’s been working hard at it in his native Texas for years. The 35-year-old is now sharing the stage at stadiums with the likes of Luke Combs. He joined Combs at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on July 30. Morgan Wade and Zach Bryan were also on the bill.

Johnson stopped by the Bobby Bones Show to discuss his path. Some of his earliest encouragement came from an unlikely source. When he was just 18 years old, he went to work at the same prison that his father worked at. Because that’s what he knew and he says that’s what you do when you grow up in a small town.

“That’s about as far as I looked,” he told Bobby Bones. “It’s a steady paycheck. It’s got insurance. And that was kind of my ceiling. That’s where I kept myself. I just never was happy. And it took certain people in my life saying, ‘You’re going to be old one day and you’re going to regret not having taken this chance to go play music.’ My warden that I was working for at the prison system said, ‘There’s always going to be people in prison, and there’s always going to be a job here. Go try. Because if you don’t go try and you don’t take this chance, then you’re going to regret it.'”

Cody Johnson Takes His Chance

It wasn’t easy for Cody Johnson when he took the leap, but he had a lot of support.

“So we [took the chance],” he continued. “My wife worked two jobs. I went out on the road and we didn’t make money for, like, the first five years. I was paying Jody here – I was giving him the $100 and whoever else the $100 and my $100 went to the van. So I was literally bringing in absolutely no money. We were just riding on our shoulders. [Expletive], I wish we had TikTok back then.”

He credits his wife for his success and for keeping his “head on straight.”

“Any man that would voluntarily work at a prison, ride bulls and go out on the road with absolutely no guarantees of money, I’m a little bit…I mean, I am what I am,” he said.

His debut, Black and White Label was released independently in 2006. He released six records independently until 2016 before catching the eye of Warner Music Nashville. His 2019 release, Ain’t Nothin’ to It, peaked at number one on the country music chart.

Cody Johnson has a couple of sold-out shed dates in his home state of Texas this week. Most any venue he plays for the folks at home is going to sell out, so he keeps giving them what they want. Check out his full schedule and get ticket information at his website.