Country star Chris Janson mixes music and family with a tremendous passion for the outdoors.
It sure seems like Chris Janson has it made. And he’s the first to agree – and quick to point out how grateful he is.
One of country music’s brightest young stars, Janson’s accomplishments include tremendous, repeated success on radio, sold-out, energizing shows on a headlining tour and the warm acceptance of his musical peers (some of whom are living legends). Enjoying all this success with him is a loving, close-knit family.
Last year was a huge one for Janson, with induction into the hallowed Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, high-profile performances on the Country Music Association and Academy of Country Music awards shows and even a musical appearance on ABC-TV’s “Dancing with the Stars.”
Though humble and gracious, he is also upbeat and positive about his future. This enthusiasm graces his buoyant new single, “Good Vibes” set to be released on his third full-length album due out later this year.
“Now it’s just a matter of how big you want to go with it,” says Janson.
And how big is that?
“As big as the good Lord wants it.”
He considers inclusion as the youngest living member of the Opry to be a crowning achievement. He was already a popular Opry personality with around 100 shows under his belt when friend and fellow performer Keith Urban surprised him on stage last February with an invitation to join. Garth Brooks inducted Janson later that month.
“It’s absolutely an honor,” he says.
Despite all his high-flying success, the platinum-selling artist remains grounded, though, and isn’t ashamed of his modest, rural roots. In fact, he celebrates them over and over in songs that draw from his own experiences.
“Everything I write is something from my life,” Janson says. “I rarely just make up things for the sake of having something to write about.”
Take the up-tempo “Redneck Life,” for instance, which he performed as the finale at the nationally televised ACM Awards:
“… We spent the fall sittin’ high in a tree
Yeah, huntin’ and fishin’ wasn’t just a trend
It was what we did to eat
I didn’t choose the redneck life
The redneck life chose me”
The song reaches back to Janson’s early life in working-class Perryville, Missouri, before he sped east to Nashville in a road-worn green Chevy Impala to chase his dreams. “Redneck Life” is one of a handful of songs the young songwriter and musician says sum up different aspects of his life. Others include “Holdin’ Her,” a love letter to his wife (and co-manager), Kelly, and “Bein’ a Dad,” which talks of the challenges and rewards of fatherhood – not only to the couple’s young son and daughter, but to an older son and daughter that Kelly brought to their relationship. He calls them his “bonus children.”
Another song that offers a private glimpse is “Days in the Field,” a personal account of hunting with his young son Jesse and making memories that will last a lifetime. He performed it in 2017 at a Concert for Conservation event tied in with the opening of Bass Pro Shops’ Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium in Springfield, Missouri.
In a recent interview between legs of his national tour, Janson talked about his career and family and how he balances these different demands. Getting outdoors, as many people know, offers a needed respite from the pressures of business. For Janson, it’s something he’s done since he was a kid.
“It’s just a natural part of who I am,” Janson says. “Besides my wife and kids, it’s the closest thing to heaven.”
Janson serves as a Bass Pro National Ambassador, performing sponsored shows for the company. He and country cohort Luke Bryan serve as co-chairmen of National Hunting and Fishing Day, which is celebrated on the fourth Saturday in September each year.
Janson says he’s more of a hunter than fisherman, but that his son Jesse took to the water at a young age and often wakes up early to go fishing.
“We don’t fish for anything in particular. He’s four, and thinks everything is a 10-pounder.”
“We don’t fish for anything in particular. He’s four, and thinks everything is a 10-pounder,” Janson says with a laugh.
“But really – and any dad reading this will understand – it’s not about catching the fish … it’s about spending time together,” he says.
Speaking generally about hunting and fishing, Janson says, “If I could make a living at it, I would.”
Janson built his career steadily for a decade when a song about a boat blew things wide open for him. He had already enjoyed a series of breaks that included a few high-profile tours and a couple of record deals and had made great traction as a songwriter for others (notably “Truck Yeah,” recorded by Tim McGraw). But “Buy Me a Boat” became a sudden, unexpected success in 2015 when influential syndicated DJ Bobby Bones spun it on the air and urged his listeners to download it on iTunes. It quickly became a smash hit, and though Janson at the time was without a record deal, he was soon signed by Warner Music Nashville. “Buy Me a Boat” went to No. 1 and eventually sold over a million copies. More hits like “Fix a Drink” and “Drunk Girl” followed.
Janson found himself able to buy the boat of his dreams (although cars and motorcycles are really more his thing) as well as fly privately to and from shows with Kelly in order to return home after each performance. This lifestyle wasn’t always so, of course. When Janson arrived in Nashville back in 2004, fresh out of high school, he was living in his car. One of his first stops was the famed Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, literally in the shadows of the Ryman Auditorium, which as the historic home of the Opry is considered by many to be ground zero for country music.
The eager upstart went inside Tootsie’s and asked if he could perform. At first he was turned away, but was later given a chance to take the stage toward closing time. The folks who ran the club liked what they saw and heard, and he soon became a regular performer. It was a place where not only locals and tourists could come hear him play, but also – as word got around – talent seekers from record companies and publishing houses.
John Taylor, entertainment director at Tootsie’s, fondly remembers Janson as a scrappy, skilled go-getter, and is not surprised at his big success. He notes that Janson has truly blossomed as an all-around entertainer.
“He knew what he wanted, and he went after it. And he got it,” Taylor says. “And he’s not through yet.”
Musically, Janson straddles the line between old and new country, to some degree, but he brings plenty of rock and roll swagger to the party, too. In live performances, the lanky, bearded bandleader switches between guitar and piano and even takes a flashy turn behind the drum kit. But he often commandeers the stage with just a microphone, constantly on the move.
Somewhat unusually for country music, he plays harmonica, too. His bluesy bleats and wails are often punctuated with rapid-fire right-hand gestures he says he borrowed from performing idol Jerry Lee Lewis, a half-century older.
Janson’s modern sounds openly embrace country’s roots. Of course, his sense of “old school” only goes back so far – after all, he was born in 1986. When it comes to Hank, he’s more Jr. than Sr. In fact, he points to Hank Williams Jr.’s music from around the time of his birth as among his go-to favorites, and along the way to his own headliner status toured as an opener for Bocephus. Other musical acts who helped to shape his musical vision include rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd, Georgia Satellites and Guns and Roses and well as country’s Randy Travis and Jamey Johnson. He admits to some influence from the Beastie Boys and Run DMC. “And most people don’t know I’m a fan of punk rock and heavy, heavy metal. I’m a Pantera fan,” he says.
Back at Tootsie’s, which was a literal training ground for Janson as he played countless honky tonk classics, he is recalled with pride by those who helped to give him a chance. A collage of photographs from 2005 shows a skinny, clean-shaven young man leading the house band.
Taylor said he and others at Tootsie’s are happy for Janson’s success, and glad to hear that he acknowledges Tootsie’s in interviews. He notes ironically that these days, “Buy Me a Boat” is one of the most requested songs for performers there.
“The only thing he owes me is a gold record for the wall,” says Taylor, who quickly adds, “Nah, I’m just joking.”
Did Janson ever imagine success on this level?
“I did imagine it,” he replies. “I say that humbly. If you really want something and dream big, you have to believe it.”