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The "Dear Rodeo" Conversation with Cody Johnson and Reba McEntire

LISTEN: The Two Country Singers and Former Rodeo Stars Collaborate on New Duet

On Thursday (Oct. 1), country legend Reba McEntire had a long conversation with country breakout star Cody Johnson all about why his bittersweet goodbye letter to the rodeo means so much to both of them.

In an Zoom call with country music insiders, the two shared a special duet on the song that originally appeared on Johnson's 2019 album Ain't Nothin' to It. As they sat together on the set of their shoot for the official duet music video, the two artists were singing each other's praises and talking about their shared reluctance to move from their gold-buckle dreams to their neon dreams.

Here are some of the highlights from their talk:

McEntire:

(This song) is so heartfelt. People can think on the very surface that it is about rodeo, but then when a person listens to it, it could be a girlfriend, boyfriend, husband, wife, relationship, or life in general. So it has got legs. It's like throwing a rock in a pond and the ripples are taking effect. I was thrilled to pieces, and I fell in love with it because of my rodeo background. I did have to say goodbye to the rodeo, and so this really settled in my bones.

Johnson:

So what was going through your head when you heard it for the first time? 'Cause I know when I wrote this song with Dan Couch, I was addressing issues that I had never addressed before: jealousy, regret, and a lot of those things that are really hard, especially for a hard-headed man to admit. So there was a little bit of a sadness on the bus when we were writing, and a little bit of "I miss her and she doesn't love me back." But since we've recorded the duet, I've found this happiness. I've found this peace and freedom in it. When you heard it for the first time, where did it take you?

McEntire:

It took me to the 70s, when I realized that my rodeo career was going absolutely nowhere. And that I did have a God-given talent and I needed to be using it. My daddy used to always say, "Reba, why do you always want to do things you're not good at?" I know he was trying to get me back to my music, my God-given gift. And so this was kind of a reminder that it's going to be okay, that if you do leave rodeo for the music, you're going to be okay. I knew I was going to miss it. And I was mad because I love that life of rodeo. I'm a third generation rodeo brat. Were you angry to leave the rodeo for music?

Johnson:

I was angry at myself. Because the difference in our stories is, you had this heavy rodeo family that to me -- on the outside looking in -- for your dad and your family to be going, "Reba, you're bound for this great destiny. You should be leaning towards country music." On my side of it, I was a first generation rodeo cowboy. I felt like I had failed because there would never be another rodeo cowboy in my family. I'd never be able to wear a hat again. That jealousy of other friends who were still riding and that regret really kind of blanketed over the top of what should've been, "Oh I get to go play music." And it almost felt like when I was playing music, I was just doing this because it was a fallback plan. And that's a really bad outlook. That's just a bad perspective on life. It's been a rocky road for me. What were your first memories of the rodeo?

McEntire:

When daddy would rodeo, when mom and us four kids got to go with her, we piled in and took off for Cheyenne. Cheyenne Frontier Days was a big one for us. And all the steer ropings in the west and the northwest. I absolutely loved it. So I cut my teeth on rodeo and have been around cowboys (and cowgirls) all my life.

Johnson:

I was thinking about not rodeoing and the transition to music. It's funny how different but how parallel our stories are. Because for me, I think that the failure and the anger I had is what gave me the drive to play music, and to be like, "I'm not gonna screw this one up." I don't know that I would have had that same "throw it all in together, and bet it all on red." I don't know if I'd have had that outlook on it if I hadn't failed.

McEntire:

I brought from rodeo into this a determination, a work ethic. You had your work ethic, you had your goals, your determination, and you had something to really prove that that didn't work.

Johnson:

I had a chip on my shoulder. I had something to prove, but I never addressed it until we wrote the song. It didn't sink in to me the influence that rodeo really had. I team rope a lot now, and I really love riding cutting horses. That's a lot of horse. And I enjoy those things because I don't have anything to prove anymore. I don't feel intimidated when I get in the pen with you. I'm going to go in there and rope my best. And I don't have anything to prove anymore. For me, it's a sing of maturity finally at 33. That peace is like, now I just get to go have fun. When I was rodeoing, it was all about pressure. Like I've got to be good enough and I've got to keep up with all my buddies, and I just don't feel that way. I don't have anything to prove.

McEntire:

Well, everything happens for a reason and timing is everything. My point is that this song is timeless. Because the way people can relate to it in many, many different ways. And that's when it's a great song. No matter what decade it's recorded or written in, it's timeless.

Johnson:

I was a little jealous of you because I grew up singing harmony. And so I think it's cool how on the last verse, whenever it's just you, you're really singing more of the harmony parts, but you're putting stuff on it to make it feel like a lead part. That's what my parents did with me when I was a kid, was make me sing those parts without the lead to kind of give me some structure. So when I heard you doing that and I was like, "Oh man, we are two peas in a pod." I'm never gonna be the cocky guy at home like, "You know, I bet I'd sing good with Reba." But man, did it turned out good. There's a little bit of a different feel when you know that somebody can walk the walk they're talking. And I think it really translates. I think that authenticity is one of the things that makes this so special: neither one of us has a problem saying, "Hey, this is where I come from. You check the credentials, We've got the scars to prove it."

Johnson started as a bull rider as a teenager, and McEntire was a barrel-racing star.

"This is something that was written from the bottom of my heart. I used to rodeo, and I thought that's what I was gonna do. When you leave something like that behind -- even though this is as good as it is -- you still wonder sometimes," Johnson said in his live performance of the song from the Houston Rodeo.

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