In 1993, an overweight, non-singing, bleached blonde young man moved to Nashville in search of a record deal. here is his story.
Leave it to Cledus T. Judd to take an embarrassing national situation, set it to the music of the artist who perpetrated the incident, and come up with the first charted single of his career. And make everybody laugh, of course. We're talking about his Monument records debut, "My Cellmate Thinks I'm Sexy," a parody of Kenny Chesney's "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy," a rib-tickling take on the "Kenny rides off on a police horse" episode in upstate New York that got both Chesney and tour mate Tim McGraw thrown in the clink. It's just this sort of thumbing his nose at protocol and making people laugh - at him and themselves - that has informed the life and career of country music's most creative funny man.
Cledus T. Judd says he was "born to entertain." And yes, he's been funny his whole life. As an only child he learned to entertain himself. But it wasn't until his late twenties that he had any idea what form fulfilling his destiny would take. It was late 1992 and Judd, or Barry Poole, as he was known then, was sitting on the couch with his mother watching the CMA's. It was pivotal time for him, though when he sat down and turned on the tube, pooped the top of a Dr. Pepper and opened a bag of Cheetos, he didn't know it.
"I had just gone through my first divorce and I was bankrupt living with my mom and step dad. I was broke driving a '76 Cutlass Supreme with maybe $40 to my name. So, we're sitting there watching Vince Gill when he won for "When I Call Your Name" and I looked at mom who was just squalling! She loved Vince Gill so much. I just looked at her and said, "You know what, I'm fixin' to be on television and you'll meet him one day." She said "What?"
Call it divine guidance or just outrageous dream-speak from a young man who wanted to make his mom ma happy, this hairdresser from Cartersville, Georgia had at that moment decided , divined, and named his future. He got up on Monday morning, put in his time at the hair salon, then went to an amateur night night at Atlanta's famed Buckboard nightclub. Judd won first place and $50 for singing two funny songs and moved to Nashville six months later.
Judd spent the next couple of years developing his style, writing, performing and pitching his peculiar brand of funny to anyone who would listen. New York-based Razor and Tie records got hold of his demo in 1995 and signed him. Cledus parodied Tim McGraw's breakthrough hit "Indian Outlaw" ("Indian In-Laws"), perked the ears of country radio and he was off and running. His first video, "If Shania Was Mine", a parody of Shania Twain's "Any Man of Mine" debuted on CMT and made him a video star. It also won CMT's Independent Video Of the Year honors in 1996, as did "Every Light In The House Is Blown" in 1998. He has since sold over a million records primarily on the strength of his ingenious videos.
You don't go from zero to a million in 4.9 years on dumb luck and silly songs alone. Cledus attributes much of his success to "not knowing any better. Most of the situations I've been in have been from not being afraid to try something," he says. "To ask somebody to write with me, ask somebody to let me open up for them. You don't go up to the best songwriters in the world and say 'I got this idea for a song, would you write with me?' You just don't do that. You wait your turn." But, waiting is exactly what Cledus didn't do. "Probably because I didn't know any better, or know enough to be afraid."
Still, everybody likes to laugh and people like to help a man who helps himself. Add to that a strong work ethic, good sense and inherent kindness, and you understand why some of country's biggest stars lend their time and talents to Cledus' videos and records. The list includes Vince Gill (Judd kept that promise to his momma), Joe Diffie, Alan Jackson, Shania Twain, Buck Owens, Deana Carter, Trace Adkins, Charlie Daniels and Brad Paisley. The industry's continued support awes and humbles Judd, and gives him an overwhelming sense of gratitude.
"I don't know why I'm able to call Vince Gill or Kix Brooks or Ronnie Dunn my friends. I remember meeting Buck Owens, remember working with George Jones 30 or 40 dates, sitting at the Casino table with him, laughing with the greatest country singer of all time. To be able to call these people my friends, be a part of it, it's just fascinating. And why, out of all the people in the USA who are funny, did Allen Butler, Sony Nashville President, sign me?
Butler is quick to clear up the mystery, "He makes me laugh." And ever the pragmatic label head adds, "What he does is timeless. He'll never be dated."
But just because the country hit du jour becomes and obvious target for Judd, don't think he's a one trick pony. Just Another Day In Parodies showcases not only his lyrical wit and skill, but also his deft ability to zero in on current social trends. And he doesn't limit himself to country either. Case in point is his take-off of Kid Rock's "Cowboy", brilliantly re-tooled here as "Plowboy." A self-proclaimed rap fanatic ("I love it," he sasy. "Not the hard core killing stuff, but the fun stuff"), hi familiarity with the genre shows in both the writing and production of his dead-on kicker that will sonically take the top of your head off. His metering and rhyme schemes are shockingly ingenious and fiercely funny.
For as much fun as listening to his records is, seeing Cledus T. live is a whole different plane. Whether he's opening for the great George Jones or emceeing a charity fund raiser, Cledus puts the audience in a really good mood with his down-home humor and witty repartee, eliciting everything from happy giggles to gut-level guffaws. In concert, fans simply won't let him leave without hearing the "old standards" like "Coronary Lite", "She's Inflatable," or the perennial favorite, "Did I Shave My Legs For This."
It's no surprise that audiences appreciate the great music/huge hilarity combo - it's as much a part of the fabric of the country tradition as heartache and home. As one fan recently said, "There's not as much humor in country music as there used to be. We all need to laugh, and nobody makes me laugh like Cledus T. Judd."
Cledus counts among his comedic heroes Jerry Clower, Minnie Pearl and parody predecessors Pinkard and Bowden. But his favorite remains Weird Al Yankovic and says one of his dreams is recording a duet with the perennial pop parodist. "When everybody in the pop world knows me like everybody in the country world knows Al, then I'll definitely have made it."
Don't think that's shooting a little high (remember that couch pronouncement in '92) because Cledus T. Judd is no one-dimensional funnyman, and his creativity doesn't stop with inventive and laughable lyrics. His funny story lines have extended to other projects as well, which very well may catapult him into the next stratosphere. He's written a script for a television pilot and has plans to eventually branch out into stand up comedy. He's written a serious autobiography currently ebeingshopped to publishers, wants to record a combo parody/serious music album, and, of course, a rap record.
And besides, he's persistent. In the hard times coming up in the biz, he never once thought about quitting. He says his only-child upbringing that led him to learn to entertain himself also taught him to persevere, to never give up. And he knows, very clearly, why he is here.
"Making people laugh is my job. I have the innate ability to do that. I don't know why, it's just what I am blessed with. And I sure would have done myself and my friends and family and God a big disservice had I not ever done this. I would not have been a complete person. And if they shut the casket on me tomorrow, then I've done what I was put here to do. I hit it. I hit a home run."
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