From classic country stars to modern hitmakers, some artists found fame despite the odds. It’s a tough road for all the pickers and singers with stars in their eyes, and you’d be hard pressed to find a successful musician who didn’t have second thoughts after their 100th ramen dinner.
But hearing about the hardships some of these household names dealt with will have you counting your blessings, even on the toughest days. Humble beginnings, homelessness and harrowing tales of cheating death are a part of these artists’ incredible country music success stories.
Charley Pride rose to fame despite rampant racism in a historically white genre. One of 11 children born to poor sharecroppers, an arm injury forced Pride away from a baseball career. He picked cotton and worked at a smelting plant until moving to Nashville. The industry was afraid of Pride, releasing his debut single without any pictures so listeners wouldn’t know he’s black. To this day, Pride is only one of three African Americans to be inducted to the Grand Ole Opry.
Miranda Lambert’s parents were both private investigators, careers that left the family couch surfing and homeless. The family eventually found a home in Lindale, Texas after convincing the owners to let them live on the property if they fix it up, room by room. Lambert planted a garden and raised animals while learning guitar. Her upbringing is why Lambert wanted so badly to record Grammy-winning tune “The House That Built Me.”
Independent artist Steve Grand made waves by hitting 4 million views on his self-funded video for “All American Boy,” landing invites to nationally broadcasted morning shows without even having a publicist. The first openly gay country artist at the time of his debut then fan-funded a record, which hit No. 47 on the Billboard by selling 10,000 copies. He raised $327,000 on Kickstarter, the fourth most of any artist.
Waylon Jennings owes his success to Buddy Holly, and his life to the Big Bopper, who took his seat on the ill-fated plane crash dubbed “The Day The Music Died.” Jennings was a radio DJ before Holly hired him to play bass. Before the fateful crash, Holly ribbed Jennings for giving up his spot, causing Jennings to playfully retort, “I hope your ol’ plane crashes.” The incident haunted Jennings the rest of his celebrated career.
Most people know The Dixie Chicks’ unbelievable story of turning a nasty boycott into 4 Grammy’s with 2006’s Taking The Long Way, but few people know they started in 1989 by street busking and underwent multiple lineup changes that almost crippled the band. Despite prolific skills, the Chicks were playing shows in front of the meat section of grocery stores. They are now the top-selling country group of all time.
Before rising Texas star TJ Broscoff found himself topping the Texas Music Chart, he found himself homeless and living in a bush in Arizona. Broscoff was drug-riddled and without friends after burning all his bridges. After a “change or die” turning point, Broscoff found a stage, and his music found the ears of a man who believed in him. He’s since landed 8 singles in the Top 40 of Texas radio.
George Jones got his start singing on the streets of East Texas as a child. Often the victim of his father’s drunken violence, Jones unfortunately adopted the addictive traits of his father. Several of his first singles failed, and his explosive temper almost jeopardized his career until last-ditch effort “Why Baby Why” took off on the charts.
Johnny Cash’s unbelievable success story is so good it was turned into an Oscar-winning biopic, Walk The Line. Spurred by the guilt he felt over his older brother’s death, he joined the Air Force. He formed his first band while intercepting Morse code signals from the Soviets. Bouts with addiction, suicide and countless awards later, Cash remains the personification of country music around the world. Ain’t no grave, indeed.
Darius Rucker grew up in South Carolina and was at one point living with 18 other family members in a 3-bedroom house. But the most unbelievable thing about Rucker’s career is not just his rise from poverty, but his unprecedented transition to country superstar after Hootie & The Blowfish went on hiatus. Few stars get a second shot, even after a failed debut record. Ruckus became only the second black artist to win a CMA after Charley Pride.
Shania Twain grew up hungry with an abusive stepfather. She hunted and chopped wood during the day and sang for $20 at a bar at midnight — when she was only 8 years old. Her parents were killed in a car wreck in 1987, so she put an unsuccessful music career on hold to raise her three siblings. She sang at hotels until they were grown. She returned to music at 28 and became the superstar she is now.