Country music is full of songs about the wild west and the lives of cowboys and cowgirls out on the range, but did you know that there are multiple country singers who have actually walked the walk? These seven artists all had early roots in the rodeo before they embarked on their music careers.
1. Cody Johnson
Cody Johnson started bull riding when he was 15 years old with aspirations to make it big in the arena and to bring home a coveted buckle. The Texas native started selling CDs of his music out of his truck to support his dreams of being a rodeo star but it became clear that it wasn't going to happen for him. Johnson shifted his focus to music, met his manager, and spent two years working incredibly hard to create a following.
He ended up making history as the first unsigned artist to sell out NRG Stadium during the Houston Rodeo. Now "CoJo" is making music with Warner Nashville and collaborating with the likes of Reba McEntire on "Dear Rodeo," his tribute to the rodeo life he had to say goodbye to.
2. Chris LeDoux
When you think of major rodeo stars that moved over to country music its impossible not to think of Chris LeDoux immediately. LeDoux grew up learning to ride horses on his grandparents Wyoming farm and before long he was competing in the local rodeo at the young age of 13. He won the Wyoming State Rodeo Championship bareback riding title twice as a high school student and was soon a professional rodeo star. Similar to Cody Johnson, he started composing songs and selling his work to help make ends meet on the road.
He actually got offers from major labels but initially decided against it. When superstar Garth Brooks mentioned him in his song "Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)," LeDoux really hit it big and finally decided to sign with a big label. His song "Whatcha Gonna Do with a Cowboy" was nominated for a Grammy Award and his greatest hits album was certified platinum by the RIAA. LeDoux sadly passed away from cancer in early 2005. Later that year, Brooks came out of his retirement to record "Good Ride Cowboy" in his honor.
3. Reba McEntire
Before Reba McEntire was a country star, she had an entire rodeo life. While she herself was a barrel racer, she comes from a family of rodeo stars. She and her siblings formed a singing group that would perform at various events, but she was actually discovered singing the National Anthem at a rodeo event. She went on to become one of the most legendary female voices in country music with numerous awards and a successful acting career to boot. She's collaborated with countless other country artists from Brooks & Dunn to Vince Gill, affectionately known as a "Queen of Country."
Read More: The 11 Best Country Rodeo Songs
4. Chancey Williams
Similar to LeDoux, Chancey Williams grew up on a ranch in Wyoming and followed his father's example as a saddle bronc rider. He even won two rounds at Cheyenne Frontier Days. The singer-songwriter formed a band with his childhood friend Travis DeWitt, and they formed the Younger Brothers Band as high school students. Chancey Williams and the Younger Brothers Band have now released five studio albums and are performing country songs for fans all over the country on tour.
5. George Strait
That's right...even King George has a past in the rodeo. He and his brother Buddy started the George Strait Team Roping Classic competition and he's even a member of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA). Strait got into team roping in his 20s and as a Texas native who grew up on a ranch, he couldn't get enough of it. Outside of living the cowboy life, Strait has gone on to become the King of Country. Not only is he one of the most influential country stars of recent times, but is beloved for being a pioneer of the traditional country music that fans loved before pop country was on the rise throughout the '80s.
Fun fact, Strait's son Bubba is also skilled in rodeo skills and has even competed at the prestigious Houston Rodeo.
6. Justin McBride
Justin McBride was quite a big deal when he was still working as a rodeo professional. Not only does the former bull rider have 32 professional wins, but he was the first bull rider to earn $5 million professionally. In 2020, the two-time PBR World Champion was even inducted into the Bull Riding Hall of Fame. In 2007, he decided to pursue a music career. He released his debut album, Don't Let Go, and two years later performed at the historic Grand Ole Opry.
7. Ryan Bingham
Before Ryan Bingham was a country star or acting on the hit TV series Yellowstone, he grew up riding bulls and roping in his hometown of Hobbs, New Mexico, located along the Texas border. He and his rodeo buddies would travel around together in their teen years and, while on the road, he would bring his guitar along to write songs. He eventually saved up enough money to move out to Los Angeles where he started passing out demo tapes to anyone who would take them. It was there where he met Scott Cooper, the director of the Jeff Bridges Oscar winner Crazy Heart. Cooper hired Bingham to write music for the film and his career was officially on the rise.
Bingham has released seven studio albums so far, toured around the country, and even dabbled in a separate acting career. He's come a long way from a teenager traveling the rodeo circuit.
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