In the music industry, when a record keeps producing hit after hit, they say it has "legs." In which case, Josh Ward's 2015 album Holding Me Together is Tyra Banks.
Ward just released his fifth single from the album, "Change My Mind," to Texas radio. If it's anything like the previous four, it's destined for No. 1 status. In fact, dating back to his 2012 album, Ward has an incredible seven straight No. 1 singles at Texas radio.
And make no mistake -- though the Texas radio waves may be smaller and (much) less expensive to promote to, it's just as cutthroat as the mainstream market. Every artist wants to reach the top.
"The fans made this record successful," Ward tells Wide Open Country. "I knew we had a great record, but we didn't really get the push we wanted when we released it. It was more grassroots. But we worked our butts off playing live shows, and the fans went out there and bought it. This record has been great to me."
And it's not just because the record's success at country radio helped spread Ward's name far and wide. "I really found myself on this record," Ward says. His net-traditional sound captures a lot of what people love about the 80s and 90s country.
A humble start in the rodeo
The Houston native has been at it for about 15 years now, slowly honing in on his own sound. He actually got his start on the rodeo circuit. But when strumming and singing in rodeo parking lots started earning more praise than his actual riding, well, Ward sought a career shift. He officially hit the local circuit in 2003, with his EP Hard Whiskey coming four years later.
But Ward didn't really start making a strong buzz on the Texas scene until 2012's Promises. That's when producer Greg Hunt took Ward in his Tyler, Texas studio and helped discover what he could really do. "That's where I really found my country sound," Ward says. "It came out of that studio."
Though Ward says he still sometimes gets "red light fever" when the recording light comes on, Hunt really helped put him at east. "Greg told me, 'All you got to do is sing boy, and I'll figure out the rest,'" Ward laughs.
It certainly worked. Promises sent five songs to Texas radio top 20, including three No. 1 singles. And then in 2013, Ward wrapped it all up by winning Texas Regional Radio Awards' New Male Vocalist of the Year.
"I'm pretty sure that award opened up a lot of peoples' eyes," Ward says, including his own. "All I ever wanted to do was play my music in front of people. I never thought about getting awards and number ones and all that."
But he could probably get used to it. Because the song "Whiskey & Whitley" off his next recording Holding Me Together won Song of the Year not long after. Ward says he keeps both awards on the shelf. "It's cool to look over there and say, 'We earned that,'" he says. "That's a lot of miles down the road. That's where we came from."
Now Ward is really seeing all that hard work paying off. He's traveling further than he's ever gone to play in front of people. "We've been doing a lot of Midwest runs, and boy them come out," Ward says. "I don't know where they come from," he jokes. "There's a lot of corn fields and farm land, but dang they come out."
So now, for a guy who started by playing in rodeo parking lots, the sky is the limit. "I get messages on social media from fans saying, 'When are you coming to Chicago?'" he says. "I never dreamed my music could make it out there."
And he's grateful for the scene latching on to his music. In a lot of ways, before other parts of the country. "Texas has some of the best fans in the world," Ward says. "Without them we wouldn't be doing this for a living. But what a handful of us have been doing the last 15 years is just now catching on elsewhere."
He mentions acts like Aaron Watson and Cody Johnson, whom he's playing a string of West Coast tour dates with. (That's a trip Ward is particularly excited about, since he has a soft spot for 80s hair bands and they get to play some of the venues famous in that world).
He also mentions Midland. "People are really digging on this music," Ward says. And you know what they say: a rising tide floats all boats. "That's how you gotta look at it," he adds. "If they're doing good, that's a win for the good guys."
Ward says a new record is absolutely in the works. He's hoping to have something to show for it early next year, but he's been writing and reaching out to other writers to find those perfect songs. "I don't want to let the cat out of the bag, but there's gonna be some great writers on this record," Ward says.
For him, it's all about finding the perfect song, whether or not he's the one who wrote it. "If I can connect with a song, if it drives me hard, that's the right song for the record," he says. Judging by his incredible string of success at Texas radio and growing profile, he's doing a great job connecting those songs to his audience, too.