By Jason Tanamor
Cledus T. Judd, the Weird Al Yankovic of country music, said he was “born to entertain.” That comparison shined through on Judd’s very first hit single, “My Cell Mate Thinks I’m Sexy,” a hilarious parody of “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy,” by Kenny Chesney, in which Chesney and Tim McGraw were jailed for riding off on a police horse in New York.
Born Barry Poole and once a barber, Judd discovered his calling while watching the Country Music Awards with his mother, although he really didn’t know it. “I had just gone through my first divorce and I was bankrupt living with my mom and step dad,” Judd said. When Vince Gill won for “When I Call Your Name,” according to Judd, he looked at his mom and said, “I’m fixin' to be on television and you'll meet him one day.”
Shortly after, Judd found himself on stage at an amateur night in Atlanta. He won first place, pocketing $40 for singing a couple funny songs and six months later, Judd packed his things and moved to Nashville. “I realized I could make a lot more money for doing more songs,” Judd said.
And that’s what he did, putting together an act described as “taking great country songs and ruining the crap out of them.” Although he’s had great success and feedback, one particular person wasn’t happy. “Garth Brooks was up for a Grammy,” Judd said. “He didn’t want me to do my parody at the time. I told him, ‘you’ve sold more albums than the Beatles.’ Eventually, he let me do it. My song was a hit and Garth ended up winning the Grammy.”
In 1995, he signed on with Razor and Tie Records and went on to parody country greats like Tim McGraw and Shania Twain and has worked and recorded with Vince Gill, Alan Jackson, Deana Carter, Trace Adkins, Charlie Daniels and Brad Paisley, just to name a few. But just working with these talents isn’t enough for Judd. “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,” said Judd. “To be able to call these people my friends, be a part of it, it’s just fascinating.”
Aside from country hits, Judd also pokes fun at rock stars, including Kid Rock, in which Judd parodies “Cowboy” with his own version, “Plowboy.” “I love it (rap music),” Judd said. “Not the hard core killing stuff, but the fun stuff.”
According to Judd, his success is attributed to “not knowing any better,” and from “not being afraid to try something.” “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,” Judd said. “I’m not the best looking or best singer, I just want to make everyone feel at home by putting on a good show and sticking around to sign autographs.”
Judd’s success came at a great time. In the late eighties and early nineties, Judd was caught up in drugs and believed finding this career saved his life. “It was pretty tough, I didn’t think I’d stick around or not. I had no life, no focus,” Judd said. “Let’s just say if this didn’t happen to me, I don’t think I would be here.”
Jason Tanamor is the Editor of Zoiks! Online. He is also the author of the novels, "Hello Lesbian!" and "Anonymous."
By Jason Tanamor