When Cody Johnson was working on his new album Ain’t Nothin’ To It, there was a definite set of rules he had in mind. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” he said of the approach in making his debut for CoJo Music/Warner Music Nashville.
Johnson had finished recording the album in Nashville with longtime producer Trent Willmon before Warner Music Nashville came on board and the label picked up the album as is.
Both Johnson’s and the label’s commitment to his artistic vision has paid off in a huge way. The album debuted atop the Country Albums chart and opening single, “On My Way To You,” has soared to No. 16 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart and is still climbing.
For Johnson, Warner Music Nashville has brought him the radio play he never expected. “As an independent artist for 10 years, I had to really come to terms with the fact that radio was not going to play my music,” he said at Warner Music Nashville’s luncheon and showcase at Nashville’s Country Radio Seminar, Feb. 15. “We spent the last 10 years on the road playing music that I believed in. Through the help of [Warner Music Nashville execs] John Esposito, Cris Lacy, and everybody here at Warner Music Nashville, I get to play my brand of country music on a much broader spectrum for all of y’all. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
Though new to Warner Music Nashville and many radio station playlists, the Texas singer/songwriter Johnson has built a vast following in his home state, becoming the first independent artist to sell out Rodeo Houston by moving more than 75,000 tickets.
As he expands to become a nationally known artist, some critics have compared Ain’t Nothin’ To It to such iconic albums as Randy Travis’s Storms of Life (Randy Travis) or Ricky Skaggs’ Highways and Heartaches. Johnson says he’s flattered, but he’s not trying to make a statement with his traditional style. It’s simply who he is.
“I appreciate those compliments from those comparisons. I don’t know that country music needs it. I’ve said this in a few interviews, ‘The reason why I respect Florida Georgia Line is because I can’t do that. There’s no way.’ If I tried to do that, it would look really fake. You know what I mean? Those guys pull it off authentically, the whole rapping kind of hip-hop country thing. I can’t do that. That’s not me. What I am good at doing is being myself, and that leans more towards the traditional side.”
The album is full of songs about life’s lessons, including the title track, written by frequent collaborator David Lee. “The moral compass of this song is something that I don’t feel is being addressed in country music, or in any music, period. The values of a dad telling his son, ‘Listen to your wife and do things for her whenever you don’t want to. And don’t worry about the fights, they’re gonna happen.’ Those life lessons are something that I don’t feel like are being discussed anymore. And as the father of two little girls, I felt the need to put that moral compass out there.”
Johnson also tips his hat to Charlie Daniels with a cover of “Long Haired Country Boy,” which features his longtime band. “Me and my band are brothers. We don’t have a hired gun operation. George Strait has the Ace In The Hole. I’ve got the Rockin’ CJB. These guys, they’ve been with me through thick and thin — and mostly thin. When we are together on stage, it’s a brotherhood. They wrote that entire rendition of ‘Long Haired Country Boy.’ We had been playing it live, and I thought, ‘Man, this is too special not to capture on tape.’”
The singer also shows his spiritual side with “His Name Is Jesus,” a song inspired by an interaction with his minister. “At my shows, I would say, ‘I’d like to thank the Man Upstairs.’ And he caught me, he said, ‘Hey, man, that’s great and all. But would it kill you to say, ‘I’d like to thank my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ?'” It was a challenge for me. And at that point, I remembered that song that I’d written, “His Name is Jesus.” And I thought, “Well, what better way to say it, you know?”
With “On My Way to You” climbing the chart, Johnson is thankful for this shot at reaching a wider audience. “I didn’t really know what to expect,” he says. “I just knew that it was a song that myself and Warner were both passionate about, and it’s been really cool to see a major label get behind a song so traditional country, and pushing it to radio. That was a huge thing. I guess I got so focused on that that I didn’t really even think about, ‘What’s it gonna do on the chart?’ And it’s so crazy, we knew the reaction from the crowd was incredible when we started playing it live, and that was a huge, good sign. It’s been amazing.”