Outside of his identity as a former wrestler and star of the summer’s biggest blockbuster flop, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson doesn’t exactly look like the kind of guy who would have a serious interest in country music. But after a serendipitous Twitter exchange with the Baywatch star, I’m now convinced that he’s a true believer in the classic Nashville sound.
Perhaps you’ll recall an article published here last month, rounding up Texas Country’s best live acts. Some fans were miffed that Cody Jinks, whose I’m Not the Devil was arguably one of the best country albums of 2016, wasn’t included on that list. A few of those disgruntled Jinks enthusiasts took to Twitter and Facebook to express their displeasure with my oversight, despite the fact that Cody Jinks isn’t really a Texas Country artist. Yup, even though he’s from Texas.
Like a hero from above, The Rock intervened to set them all straight — never mind the fact that I mentioned him first. “Yeah, if they know their roots, Texas Country is distinct,” he tweeted. “C[ody] J[inks] reminds me of a few acts I used to follow on Lower Broad in Nashville. Rare form.” Now, I don’t necessarily need validation from The People’s Champ, but it sure didn’t hurt. When a man whose arms are as big around as your head says you’re right, you go with it.
Yeah if they know their roots, Texas country is distinct. CJ reminds of a few acts I used to follow on lower Broad in Nashville. Rare form— Dwayne Johnson (@TheRock) May 12, 2017
Somehow, the conversation progressed, and Mr. Rock mentioned a few of his non-mainstream country favorites — Sturgill Simpson and Jamey Johnson. In a previous video, he sang a few lines from up-and-comer Drake White’s “Making Me Look Good Again.” Outside of the fact that he could use a reminder that some of the best neo-traditionalists are actually women, like Kacey Musgraves and Margo Price and Angaleena Presley, these artists round out a pretty solid understanding of the scrappy band of outlaws that is, ever so slowly and piece by piece, changing Nashville for the better.
It also doesn’t seem like Dwayne Johnson is a country poser, either. He hasn’t talked at length about his musical preferences, but has copped to liking outlaw country legends like Willie Nelson and Johnny Paycheck, alongside newer acts like Chris Stapleton. He lived in Nashville for a time in high school, spending his time “hangin’ out in honky-tonk dive bars on Music Row and hustlin’ cars from crackheads,” he once told The Tennessean. Which is as good a time and place as any to get a country-music education.
And really, there couldn’t be a better ambassador to the broader public for lesser-known acts like Jamey Johnson and Drake White than a guy like Dwayne Johnson. Universally loved by moms and bros and hardasses alike, the man is endlessly likable. If the blockbuster films and commercials aren’t enough to convince you, perhaps the more than 88 million people across the globe who follow the Baywatch star on Instagram will be.
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There’s not a radio station in the world who can build an audience like that for Cody Jinks, even though they clearly wouldn’t even try to bother. When Dwayne Johnson endorses a song or an artist, he’s essentially doing the same thing that he does when he films those commercials for Ford Motor Company — advertising their product. The key difference, though, is that upstart, unsigned acts don’t have to shell out millions of bucks in exchange for the mentions.
And sure, Dwayne Johnson’s fandom isn’t enough to incite broad change in country music. The more than 2.8 million streams that Jinks’ “I’m Not the Devil” has racked up on Spotify cannot be directly attributed to those mentions on Instagram and Twitter. Thanks to the bro-country backlash, the environment was ripe for Sturgill Simpson to succeed. But endorsements from a man with such a massive fanbase sure don’t hurt, and in some cases, these brief mentions may be the only attention those artists get in the mainstream.
So, Mr. Rock, consider this a petition. It’s time you start singing more Drake White and Sturgill Simpson songs on Instagram. In between making all those movies and TV shows and inventing alarm clocks, find some time to create solid Spotify playlists featuring Caleb Caudle, Jaime Wyatt, and Aaron Lee Tasjan. Tell people to listen to Whitey Morgan on your Rock Clock app — whatever it takes to bring traditional country to an audience that’s big enough to make Nashville actually give a damn.