Cody Johnson isn't afraid to admit that 10 years ago, he was a hell-raiser. The "On My Way to You" singer and 2019 Taste of Country RISERS star would "fight you in an instant and cuss you out" without pause. But something happened — or maybe someone happened.

The 31-year-old Texas traditionalist now wears long sleeves, jeans and even a warm cardigan to cover his scars and tattoos (most of them), but he doesn't try to hide who he was. Meeting wife, Brandi, helped his personal transformation, but the former bull rider and maximum security prison guard credits his faith for keeping him on the right path.

"The reward for not being bitter and not getting a bad attitude is that God got to let his plan happen and I didn't get in the way of it — Cody's plan didn't take effect," the mainstream newcomer admits during his RISERS video shoot. "Because if Cody's plan would have happened, it would have happened 10 years ago, like that."

Flash back 10 years and find Johnson still working at the prison, but picking up music gigs when and where he could. Soon, his hobby started to get in the way of his real job and with the encouragement of his manager, Brandi and the warden, he quit to chase music. It wasn't easy, especially for a man so competitive the respectfully quiet room erupts when he's asked about it. He's competitive with blinders on, but he uses moments like that time he was sitting outside of a McDonald's short on change to buy a meal as his fuel and his perspective.

"I feel like a lot of people I encounter are so fixated on 'making it,'" he says. "I've been making it for 10 years. I provide for my family and the families of the people that I love and surround myself with the talent that God gave me."

"If you're competitive in this business, you can wind up being focused on where other people's goals and other people's journeys are taking them," he adds. "That's where the roots of jealous and the roots of bitterness can come in."

Watch Cody Johnson's' Live Version of "On My Way to You":

Johnson got good help and advice along the way. People like his producer, Trent Willmon, and Texas country singer Cory Morrow shared what they has learned so he didn't have to repeat their mistakes. Still, despite repeated trips to Music City, Johnson was content to remain an independent Texas artist — one capable of selling out RodeoHouston, but still playing clubs elsewhere. After recording his new album, Ain't Nothing to It, he figured he had something that could give him leverage if labels kept calling. They did, and he met with Warner Music Nashville CEO John Esposito over margaritas in Woodland, Texas. Per Johnson, Esposito said:

“I don't want to change you. I don't want to change anything about you. I think we could learn from you on the touring side. I think you could learn from us on what you've grown through Texas radio, to a mass radio format."

Ain't Nothin' to It marks the first time Johnson didn't write every song on an album. He wrote just two, but requested all of the songs deemed too country to be coming out of Nashville, then chose those that reflected his many influences. Bluegrass, Southern rock, gospel, Motown and more are represented through personal originals and covers of songs like Charlie Daniels' "Long Haired Country Boy" and Brooks & Dunn's "Husbands and Wives."

"We wanted you to feel all those different things, because that's what it was like growing up for me," he says, referring to his raising in Sebastopol, Texas. "My mom is listening to Elvis Presley while my dad is listening to Rodney Crowell and Billy Joe Shaver ... who the heck didn't listen to Ray Charles? And that influenced me."

Johnson's fighting side hangs in the shadows, surfacing on a song called "Doubt Me Now" that's a letter of sorts to a friend who did him wrong, and "Dear Rodeo," his breakup song with a bull rider's life. He simply wasn't good enough to make a career of it, he'll admit without hesitation. It's his most personal and difficult song to date. That life just wasn't God's plan.

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