Practically any songwriter would be thrilled to have one song on the Billboard charts, but singer/songwriter Josh Thompson currently has three hits on the country charts. He is the co-writer of Thomas Rhett’s ballad “Be a Light” (that features Reba McEntire, Hillary Scott of Lady Antebellum, Keith Urban & Chris Tomlin), Luke Bryan’s “One Margarita,” and Jon Pardi’s “Ain’t Always the Cowboy.”
Thompson has co-written more than 35 songs that have been recorded by such artists as Tim McGraw, Rascal Flatts, Darius Rucker, Luke Combs, Brett Young, Jake Owen, Justin Moore and Maddie & Tae. Impressively, Thompson has co-written number one hits for Blake Shelton (“I’ll Name the Dogs”), Jason Aldean (“Any Ol’ Barstool”) and Aldean with Miranda Lambert (“Drowns the Whiskey”). Recently signed to MV2 Entertainment, the Wisconsin native also has songs on upcoming albums from Luke Bryan, Sam Hunt, Florida Georgia Line, and Morgan Wallen.
Before following his passion for songwriting full-time, Thompson was a successful solo artist. He had the Top 20 hits, “Beer on the Table” and “Cold Beer with Your Name on It,” along with the gold record, “Way Out Here.” While he didn’t enjoy constantly being away from home touring, he says his artist experience has enhanced his songwriting.
We are pleased to do this new Q&A interview with Josh Thompson. He tells the stories behind his trio of current Top 40 hits, earning his “free-to-be-stupid” license, and his self-described “bi-polar” songwriting process.
BC: Congratulations on having three singles in the charts right now. One of them. “Be a Light”, may have taken on a deeper or different meaning considering the pandemic our world is experiencing. How do you write that song, and did you envision it as being cut with several artists?
Here’s the video of Luke Bryan’s hit “One Margarita,” which
was co-written by Josh Thompson.
Josh Thompson: I wrote that with Thomas Rhett, Matt Dragstrem and Josh Miller. It was the first time the four of us had been together on the same writing trip. We were in Canada; Thomas was playing shows, and we were along for the ride and writing some songs. I think that was one of the 10 songs that we wrote. Thomas had a meet and greet, and when he got back—he practically ran to the bus-and he’s like, “I’ve got this idea.” He spitballed that chorus, and of course, we all fell in love with it. We knew it was a special song, [but] I had no clue that it would have all those artists on it…that was a very pleasant surprise. It’s awesome to hear them sing a song you wrote. I think it’s perfect.
It’s a crazy time, and it’s a great song for what the world is going through, so it’s just really organic.
BC: On a lighter note, you also have the current “One Margarita” with Luke Bryan. How did that song develop?
Thompson: It was a writing appointment. We [Matt Dragstrem, Michael Carter and I] sat down and decided we wanted to write something fun. It took a minute to find an idea. I forgot who said that about the “one margarita.” It might have been Michael Carter. Things just fell into place after that. We wanted to have a party, fun, don’t-think-about-it, just drink a margarita kind of song.
When I saw the video, I wish I had been invited to that because it looked like a blast. I think it took the song to another level.
BC: You have also a third song on the charts, Jon Pardi’s “Ain’t Always the Cowboy.”
Thompson: I’m a big fan of that song…that’s definitely the oldest. We wrote that in 2017 or 2018, and that was [written with my buddy] Brandon Kinney. We’ve been writing together for 10 to 12 years. I had the idea…he loved it so much he went and bought a 12 pack of beer, and we sat there and drank a couple and finished it.
Here’s the video of the hit “Be A Light” by Thomas Rhett feat.
Keith Urban, Chris Tomlin, Hillary Scott & Reba McEntire,
which was co-written by Josh Thompson.
We loved that song and demoed it immediately. It was always something we thought had real potential of being big. I think somebody had it on hold before Pardi heard it, but Pardi fell in love with it. He loved it long before it got recorded and out on the radio. Finally, he took it to the studio, and he and Bart Butler, the producer, made a masterpiece out of it.
BC: You were an artist before you decided to focus on songwriting. Why the switch?
Thompson: Songwriting has always been my focus. I’m just not traveling in-between them now. I’m able to write a lot more and buckle down and pay attention to that.
BC: Do you miss the artist side?
Thompson: I do miss a great crowd, a rowdy lit-up crowd, but as far as the rest of it…the constant gone from January to Christmas and the whole never home aspect, I don’t miss that at all. I really enjoy being home and having my weekends. I didn’t know what a Saturday and a Sunday felt like for 10 years. I don’t take one for granted to this day.
BC: Did your experience as an artist help you as a songwriter?
Thompson: I think without a doubt. I would play new songs in my set, and [I saw how] the crowd reacted to a song they had never heard before. I learned a lot about what connects with my country fans. I take that along with me whenever I write, and try to mold it into something I think a crowd of people want to hear.
BC: I’d like to back up a moment, and ask you about your early experiences in music.
Thompson: I definitely grew up singing, and my family loved country music artists like Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Conway Twitty, and George Jones. When I picked up a guitar at age 21, I started cutting my teeth and learning how to play those songs, and after that I started writing my first song. Then, I wrote another one and another and a hundred of them, then 200 of them and decided I needed to move to Nashville. I moved here when I was 25, I’ve here ever since.
Here’s the audio of Jon Pardi’s single “Ain”t Always The Cowboy,”
which was co-written by Josh Thompson.
BC: Can you tell me about how the songwriting process works for you?
Thompson: It’s very bipolar if I were to describe it, because there’s no rhyme or reason sometimes. I do write everyday, from Monday through Friday, in a business setting structure. As far as how song ideas come, sometimes I wake up at 3:00 a.m. and have to run to the kitchen and sing something in my phone or write something down. Or I’ll be watching a movie or show, reading a magazine or book, or just listening to a conversation that I’m not even in from friends or people around me. Somebody says something that sparks an idea. When you go into those meetings, we’ll say, “Here’s an idea, or here’s a melody on a guitar.” It’s like you’re piggybacking off one another. Sometimes you get a great song; sometimes you don’t.
BC: Do you feel like you’re more of a melody person or lyricist?
Thompson: They kind of go hand-in-hand. I’m definitely more lyric orientated. I definitely spend a little more time making sure the lyric and the melody, the cadence and the phrasing is a bigger point to me. Generally, a song is three or four chords, maybe five, and the way you sing it in-between those chords is what makes a song different to me.
BC: I want to ask about a couple of your earlier #1 hits. I love Blake Shelton’s “I’ll Name the Dogs.” Who had the idea for that?
Thompson: That was an idea…actually, I was trying to name my son. At the time I was throwing out things like Razor, Broadhead, Rambo, Remington, just kind of being goofy (laughs). And my wife Macy just said, “You stick to naming the dogs, and I’ll name the babies.” I wrote that down and thought that was awesome. Luckily, I had Ben Hayslip and Matt Dragstrem again [in the writing session] the next day, and I brought that up.
I said it because I had my feel-free-to-be-stupid license. They loved it more than I did! That gave me the confidence to power through it. And Blake fell in love with it.
Here’s the video of Blake Shelton’s #1 hit “I’ll Name The Dogs,”
which was co-written by Josh Thompson.
BC: You also had another number one with “Drowns the Whiskey” for Jason Aldean (featuring Miranda Lambert).
Thompson: We wrote that on my tour bus. I think we were heading to Miami, Oklahoma from Nashville with my guitar player at the time, Jeff Middleton, and Brandon Kinney, who I wrote “Ain’t Always the Cowboy” with. We got on the bus at midnight, and we were going to write a song. I think we were done around 4:00 a.m. That song stayed as a guitar-vocal. We didn’t demo it for three years. I think it was September 2013 when we wrote that song.
Jason and Miranda and [producer Michael] Knox took it to a completely different level. It’s one of those things when it’s time, it’s time.
BC: Are there certain writers that you feel like you jibe with best?
Thompson: I’ve definitely got my go-to’s, your buddies and the ones you’ve had some success with and work well with. I do really like throwing in completely new people now and then. There’s an aspect to two people that have never been in a room before … that can make a song turn out great. I guess the new first impression thing. We’re both really striving to write a great song.
BC: What’s up next for you?
Thompson: I’m going to keep writing songs. I’m probably going to be gearing up to make a record of my own and release that. I might do some touring around it, like a 5 city tour, if you will (laughs). I’ve also been dipping my toes into the producer pool, and exploring writers and artists and getting on that side of it.
Bill Conger is a freelance writer for various publications including Bluegrass Unlimited, ParentLife, Homecoming, and Singing News and is currently writing a biography on The Osborne Brothers with Bobby Osborne. He can be reached at [email protected].