Cody Johnson had an entirely new career before he was a successful singer-songwriter. The 34-year-old worked for the Texas State Penitentiary first, following in his father’s footsteps, a job he might still have if not for a gentle nudge from his former boss.
“I was around the prison system my entire life because my dad worked there for 32 years,” Johnson told Cowboys & Indians. “I started there when I was 18, just because that’s what my dad did. I worked in intake first, and it was an eye-opening experience. Then I moved to the Goree unit — a sexual-offender treatment program unit — and then I worked in maximum security. And then I rode horses as a field boss.”
Johnson would likely still be working in the prison system, if not for the warden at the prison, who told him he needed to quit his job and go play music instead.
“‘You’re already playing so many gigs that you’re having trouble showing up for work on time,'” Johnson recalled him saying. “‘You just need to go. Prison will always be here.'”
Married to his wife, Brandi, at the time, she sacrificially laid down her own plans to support Johnson in his.
“When I quit the prison, she quit going to college and took two jobs so that we could go out and play music,” he recalled. “And we didn’t make any money for the first two years. That woman is down. That woman is down for the cause.”
Johnson has yet to write about his time in the prisons, but he says that it likely will come out in his music in the future.
“I think that the prison stuff will probably show up in my writing later on … I’ve never addressed the dark side of what happens in prison, just because I think I would have to address things within myself,” Johnson shares. “But it will happen. Songwriting’s always done that for me.”
Johnson may not have written about working in the prisons yet, but he did write about giving up on his dreams of being a rodeo star, in “Dear Rodeo,” a song that Johnson says provided him the insight he needed to say farewell to one of his favorite pastimes.
“It wasn’t until after Dan Couch and I wrote it that I started to understand what we had done. It gave me closure,” Johnson shared. “That song helped me let go. And then it helped me to play it with the perspective of helping other people. If you fall down on the ground, do you think, “Well, I’m already down here, so I should just stay here?’ Or do you think, ‘I’ve got to get back up and try again?'”
Johnson’s Human The Double Album will be out on October 8. Pre-orders are available here.