In a CMA red carpet interview, Johnson told he immediately thought of Brandi, his wife of 14 years, when he listened to the lyrics, particularly identifying with the line, “For every wall I built, she saw a canvas.”
“I have tried unintentionally – and intentionally – to build walls around myself a lot in my life because I'm a stubborn cowboy sometimes,” he confessed. “And she saw potential. She saw growth. She saw opportunity. She saw me before I saw me. And without her I wouldn't be here.”
The song, he said, “was a great way for me to pay tribute to the real unsung hero.”
That tribute received a national audience at the CMA Awards show on Wednesday night when two-time male vocalist of the year nominee performed the song with Brandi in the front row and an artistic image of her on a colossal screen behind him.
Johnson said the response to the song has never failed to amaze him. On the day it was released, he recounted, he was shocked when his audience at a show in Australia was singing it back to him.
“I’ll be honest,” he said. “Afterward, I kind of teared up and started crying.”
Johnson has since experienced similar audience reactions in ways he can’t even compare to “Til You Can’t,” his 2021 blockbuster hit.
“‘Til You Can’t’ was a life-changing song for me,” he said, “but ‘The Painter’ has changed a lot of things career-wise already, and it hasn’t even gone number one — yet.”
“The Painter” is the leadoff single to Johnson’s just-released album, Leather, and the artist was clearly excited about bringing new music to fans even as his current tour is winding down for a holiday break.
“We've only got a handful of shows throughout the rest of the year,” he said. “Next year we're playing fewer shows than we did this year.” It’s a fact that reflects Johnson’s growing popularity, and he’s clearly happy about the benefits: “Bigger venues, more people, more time off — and that’s imperative.”
No doubt Johnson places a high priority on his life on his family’s ranch, located near the southeast Texas town of Huntsville. He proudly noted that his album cover features a photo of his hand after he’d spent the day tending to his cattle herd.
“We'd doctored about 40 head of cattle and branded and castrated calves and ear-tagged,” he said, “and my hands were full of blood and spit and things that rhyme with spit, and that's what a day's work at home looks like.”
He also reported that his daughters, Clara Mae, 8, and Cori, 6, are now deer hunting with their dad.
“Clara got her first buck, and Cori got her first doe,” Johnson proudly shared. “And it's really fun. It's a great concept to teach them about how hard it is to go hunt, how to clean the deer, get the meat. Now we’re gonna take that meat to your Aunt Mary’s house and we’re gonna fill her freezer. We’re gonna take it to your grandparents’ house and fill their freezer. You’re providing food for our family. And it's so fun.”
Both girls are also involved in sports, including softball, volleyball, and gymnastics. Johnson confessed it’s sometimes hard to enjoy watching their activities without being recognized: “I try to get in right as the game starts and get out, so I don’t have to do autographs while my kid’s playing.”
Has he ever coached?
“Yeah, I did coach softball a little bit,” he said. “Softball’s easier out on the field,” adding with a laugh, “Nobody can get to you.”