5 Questions With Cody Johnson About His New Christmas Album, Cowboying, ‘Yellowstone’ & More

by Jim Casey
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Cody Johnson’s musical output has been nothing short of prolific over the last six weeks. After releasing his 18-song Human The Double Album in October, the Texas native dropped his first holiday album, A Cody Johnson Christmas, on November 19.

The 10-song offering features holiday classics like Willie Nelson’s “Pretty Paper” and Merle Haggard’s “If We Make It Through December,” as well as original tunes “Hat Made of Mistletoe” and “Christmas All Year Long.” Cody also enlisted the vocal talents of his wife and two daughters for a rendition of “Silent Night,” while covering “Feliz Navidad” with Texas country contemporaries Kevin Fowler and Roger Creager.

In addition, the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame recently announced Cody will receive the Spirit of Texas Award during its 2022 induction ceremony on March 3. Of course, it’s no secret Cody has some serious rodeo skills that he still puts to use.

Outsider caught up to Cody on his tour bus to ask him 5 Questions about his new holiday album, cowboying, Yellowstone, and more.

1. What was the genesis for the new Christmas album?

Cody Johnson: Well, I’ve always wanted to do a Christmas album. I’ve always wanted to do a bluegrass album. And I’ve always wanted to do a gospel album and a live album.

After recording Human the Double Album, I was in such a good place vocally that I was like, “Man, you got to make hay while the sun shines.” I suffer from really bad allergy problems, and traveling across the United States, different regions, different seasonal changes.

And so, when I was singing so well and everything felt so great in the studio, I thought, “Man, let’s just knock out a Christmas album.” I went in and sang 10 tracks in one day, and it was probably the most fun I’ve ever had behind a microphone in the studio. Just singing Christmas songs, there was nothing to think about. There was no radio, no media, no label agenda to think about. It was just, “I’m going to go sing these Christmas songs, however I want to sing them.” That was probably the most free I’ve ever felt in the studio.

2. What was your thought process behind the song selections, because you’ve got a couple of Willie and Merle classics on there, among others?

Cody Johnson: Well, we started with [producer] Trent Willmon saying, “Do you mind if I try to take a stab at writing a couple originals and getting them on this record?” And he calls me up one evening, and he’s like, “I think I got them.” And the first one was “Hat Made Out of Mistletoe.” I was like, “That’s just a good, clean, fun song.” And he says, “Well, next I’ve got ‘Christmas All Year Long.’ And I’m like, “Well, that’s the way I am with my wife.”

And then you got songs, like you mentioned, “Pretty Paper,” and “If We Make It Through December.” Pretty Paper is my wife’s and my favorite record for Christmas. It’s in our vinyl rotation. It probably goes on the needle every three records because I just feel it’s one of the best Christmas records ever created. So I wanted to really tip my hat to Willie and do it as close to him as I could, with my touch on it and be respectful.

“If We Make It Through December” was a special song because in 2010, when we got married, Brandi and I . . . I didn’t realize that I’d done this, but I’d given our last $20 in a Christmas card to a relative.

On the way home, I asked her what was wrong. And she said, “That was our last $20.” And I was like, “Well, we can go by the bank.” And she said, “No, I wasn’t going to say anything, but we’re overdrawn and we’ve got bills that are due.” We were very young and didn’t really have a pot to pee in. And, “If We Make It Through December” came on the radio and we both cried and didn’t say a word.

We got home, and I checked the mailbox for some reason. My first two checks from ASCAP had come in, and they were about $2,500 a piece. And it was just a “Thank God” Christmas moment. So I had to record that, it was just such a wonderful story behind it.

3. What was your reaction when you found out you’d be joining the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame?

Cody Johnson: To be associated with the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame is a great honor, because people like George Strait have received that, Lyle Lovett has received that award. And Red Steagall, who everybody knows I look up to a lot. Man, it’s just a really cool thing. And I think it’s another notch in the belt for the cowboy side of me, too. That is a level of authenticity that I’m always very proud of. Very proud to live the Western cowboy lifestyle that I live and so it’s a great honor.

4. You’ve mentioned knowing ‘Yellowstone’ creator Taylor Sheridan in the past. When are we going to see you on the screen?

Cody Johnson: Taylor and I have talked for years about me getting a part on there. And we discussed this last year, me being in a season of 1883. The timelines didn’t work out, but we’re talking about in 2022 getting me onboard with either Yellowstone or 1883.

I think it’s great to have Western lifestyle in the forefront. You can’t make cowboy cool if cowboy ain’t cool. That’s kind of the way I’ve always been with my music. Taylor’s always had that gritty, Western edge, because he lives that every day. He owns part of the 6666 Ranch in Texas, for crying out loud.

And we have that in common. I have a working ranch, and that’s what I do is rope and rodeo and ride. You feel that in my music. And I think that that level of authenticity, if you don’t stand your ground for it and say, “Look, we’re going to put this in the forefront.” It just kind of gets forgotten about, so I commend Taylor for what he’s doing.

5. What’s on tap the rest of this year and into 2022 for you?

Cody Johnson: Well, we’re going to finish out the year. We’ve only got five shows left on the year.

The last two shows are in Las Vegas. I play two shows during the Wrangler NFR there. And the next two days after that, I rope at the World Series at the South Point Casino. So I’m getting to go compete for some buckles and saddles and money out there.

After I’m through with my shows, I’m going to shift into my cowboy gear and put my focus solely on that. Because it’s big roping, very prestigious, lots of money up for grabs.

I sure would like to end the year out with a victory. And then I’m going to switch gears, and I’m going to go home until about January 21. I’m not coming out of my shell. I’m just going to stay on the ranch. Hide for a little bit, decompress, and get ready for a big year in 2022.

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