Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s Deep Appreciation for Country Music

via Dwayne Johnson Instagram

The last decade or so has been a slow and strange awakening to the very unexpected, but also super cool relationship that actor and former professional wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has enjoyed with country music.

It starts back in 2011 when Johnson was announced quite out of the blue as the actor who would portray pioneering country legend Charley Pride in a planned biopic film. And this wasn’t just a lark. As hard as it might be to envision the muscle-bound former professional wrestler playing the legendary country crooner, it was all a go.

“Dwayne is such a force on screen,” Charley Pride said at the time. “It startled me a little at first, but he flew down to Dallas and spent a day with me just sitting, talking recently. And when he left it was like parting with an old friend. We had such similar views on so many things.”

That particular incarnation of the Charlie Pride biopic never got off the ground, but that was just the start of the unveiling of Dwayne Johnson as a massive traditional country fan. Over the years, the popular culture superstar has shouted out some of the most important independent country stars. It was in 2017 when he showered praise upon Cody Jinks right as Cody was starting to make massive waves, and specifically Cody’s song “Somewhere in the Middle.” “These lyrics spoke to me pretty quickly,” Johnson said.

Then in 2019 The Rock doubled down on his country music love of both new legends and old ones.

Good shit Sunday. As a lifelong fan of country (traditional/outlaw) music, I highly recommend one of my favorite artists, Sturgill Simpson,” Johnson said. “Sturgill, Cody Jinks, Tyler Childers, Stapleton, Jamey Johnson are a few of my favs who would’ve made Jennings, Merle, Paycheck, Cash, Gosdin and the Possum himself very proud to keep the tradition going. If you know, you know. Now jump in that truck and turn em up. #goodshitsunday #lowerbroad”

Perhaps just as impressive as the names Dwayne Johnson listed off—proving just how deep his knowledge goes of actual country artists from yesterday and today—was the “#lowerbroad” hashtag The Rock concluded his social media missive with.

Of course today, many know Lower Broadway in Nashville as a hellscape of corporate country-themed bars owned and/or named after megastars like Blake Shelton and Florida Georgia Line. But “If you know, you know,” like The Rock said, then you also know the region was once where all the country music legends used to hang out due to its proximity to the Ryman Auditorium, and it’s also where the underground/independent revolution in country music was launched in the 90’s via places like Robert’s Western World and Layla’s Bluegrass Inn.

Dwayne Johnson was born in California, but moved around a lot when he was growing up, living in New Zealand for a while, then in North Carolina, Connecticut, and Hawaii. He then eventually ended up in Nashville, attending both Glencliff High School and McGavock High School. Early in his high school career, The Rock was kind of a miscreant, including during his time in Nashville.

“I grew up loving traditional country, blues and hip hop—but when I was 15 living in a lil’ motel room in Nashville—just me and a buddy of mine—I thought I could be a decent country music singer to make a little money [and] not be broke,” Johnson said in an Instagram post of him posing in front of Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge on Lower Broadway. “A woman heard me singing in a grocery store (true story) and told me I should go down to Broad street and try and sing in one of the honky tonks to get noticed. So that’s what I did. Keep in mind I was 15, but I actually looked 57.”

“One night at a one of country bars, I bought a car from a crackhead for $40 bucks (original agreement was $75:) – and that beat up Thunderbird turned out to be stolen, of course, and about a month later we were forced out of Nashville. Wound up moving to the great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (Bethlehem) where I would FINALLY, get my wayward ass on the right track to become a productive young man.”

Though it’s hard to validate Dwayne Johnson’s story that he once performed at Lower Broadway bars, at about the time he was living in Nashville, Lower Broadway was a fairly seedy place. After the Grand Ole Opry moved from the Ryman Auditorium, the area became fairly run down, with adult bookstores and stripper clubs in between the honky tonks and abandoned buildings. It doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination that The Rock could have found a stage to sing on no matter his level of proficiency, or a stolen care to buy off a crackhead. We also know Johnson moved to Bethlehem, PA in part to get his life straight after the trouble he found in Tennessee.

“And though my 15yr old dream of become a country music legend, never came true… years later, my buddy – the GOAT Willie Nelson would gift me my very first guitar,” Johnson continues, “which I learned to play pretty well. Didn’t matter anyway because I proudly sing in raspy keys that don’t exist.”

Part black Canadian and part Samoan, the professional wrestler turned action movie hero may not exactly fit the conventional stereotype of a hardcore country music fan. But Dwayne Johnson has proved over the years to know his stuff, from old school legends to today’s most important independent country stars. Country music should be proud to have him in its fandom.

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