Happy Birthday Cody Johnson: Celebrating the Texas Country Star and Former Bull Rider

by Jennifer Shea

Singer-songwriter Cody Johnson turns 34 today, and the country star and former bull rider is at a good place in his career. He’s playing a series of partially sold-out tour dates. He’s headlining a June 19 show at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. And he’s just released a duet with Willie Nelson as the first single off a double album due out this autumn.

The duet, “Sad Songs and Waltzes,” first came out on Nelson’s 1973 album Shotgun Willie. Johnson has updated it for the 21st Century by adding a full band with electric guitars and drums, per Rolling Stone. But Nelson still sings his own verse and contributes a guitar solo.

Johnson seems to admire Nelson and his outlaw country movement. And he said he owes Nelson for blazing a trail that other Nashville misfits could follow.

“The way I am, the music I create, the way that I look, and the cowboy that I am hasn’t been a trend in Nashville for a long time,” Johnson said in a statement.

Cody Johnson Started Out As a Bull Rider

Before he was a country star, Johnson was a professional bull rider. And he talked about leaving bull riding for music in the documentary “Dear Rodeo,” which is also the title of one of his songs.

“When I was a kid, I wanted to be the Lone Ranger,” he said in the documentary’s introduction. “I always had those heroes like Gus McCrae from Lonesome Dove, John Wayne… that’s what I wanted to be when I grow up, because he’s always the good guy. He’s always the larger-than-life guy that walks into a room.”

Johnson reportedly struggled with his decision to leave the rodeo, and that struggle inspired his song. The latter became an ode to a path not taken but never quite gotten over.

“I think the bull was just a representation of something that I was looking for, because I knew that it was gonna be tougher than any mountain I’ve ever climbed,” Johnson said of his transition from bull rider to musician.

Watch the trailer for the documentary here:

Hard Work Pays Off for the Country Star

Since 2006, according to The Boot, Cody Johnson has been working his way into the country music business. The singer-songwriter self-released six albums before he signed with Warner Music Nashville for Ain’t Nothin’ to It in 2019.

While Johnson cites Garth Brooks as an influence on his website, he also draws inspiration from George Strait, Alan Jackson and Tim McGraw, among many others. He even incorporates the sounds of Bruce Springsteen and Lynyrd Skynyrd into his music.

Johnson credits his fans, whom he refers to as the CoJo Nation, as the driving force behind his success. And with that kind of humility, Johnson is sure to go far.