Country star John Rich: How music took a Texan from novice guitarist to ‘Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)’

How rejection pointed country star John Rich to his biggest record deal

‘The Pursuit!’ host John Rich shares the story of how hearing ‘no’ led his career to ‘Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy).’

Before country artist John Rich was a Fox Nation favorite or the voice behind American country anthems, the singer was just a little kid from Texas with big dreams.

"The Pursuit! with John Rich" host himself sat down with his old friend and fellow country singer Cowboy Troy to chat about friendship, music and how hearing the word "no" brought him his biggest "yes."

Growing up in Amarillo as the son of a preacher, Rich was exposed to his father’s way of spreading the word of God – through gospel music and his guitar. The first time he and his father attended guitar lessons, Rich said he was praised for being a natural and was gifted his first-ever guitar for Christmas in 1979.

"The worst punishment to give me… was ‘take the guitar and put it in a closet. And you can’t practice,’" he said. "That’s how much I loved playing guitar."


As a senior in high school, after moving back to Tennessee where his mother grew up, Rich noted his first public performance auditioning for Opryland in Nashville where he was hired for the gig.

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Rich was soon after picked up by musician Dean Sams, a member of country group Lonestar, and was invited to practice with the band. Satisfied with his vocal range, Rich recorded no. 1 Lonestar hit "Come Cryin’ To Me" in 1996.

"When that happened, blew my mind," he said. 

But the dream didn’t last long. Rich admitted that the instant fame led him to become argumentative and "combative" with his Lonestar bandmates which resulted in getting booted from the group.

The expulsion influenced Rich to write music extensively for more than a year and pointed him towards a solo record deal with the same label that signed Lonestar. But his first few singles completely flopped and his record deal was pulled.

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"Now you’ve been fired from a band, your solo deal is over like that, I mean it didn’t last six months. Now what?" he asked. "Now you’re really in trouble."

The discouraged artist continued to write with a bad taste for the industry until he was introduced to high-spirited singer Big Kenny. Rich said he was immediately impressed by Big's energy on stage and in October of 1999, the pair began writing music together.

"Out of those songwriting sessions come this body of work… and we were meeting in the middle at some spot that neither one of us could define," he said. "Still to this day, if you ask him or me to define Big & Rich music, we can’t… It’s a chemical reaction."


The duo received a call from Paul Worley, one of Nashville’s largest producers, and assumed they’d be pitching him songs for country icon Martina McBride. But Worley had another idea in mind – to sign Big & Rich to Warner Brothers Records.

"Boom!"  Rich said. "Biggest break we ever had."

Big & Rich turned in their first record "Horse of a Different Color" and heard surprising criticism from the label on one song in particular, "Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy), for fear that the artists would not be taken seriously. But once the album dropped, the song went viral throughout radio stations across the nation.

"You have to know that if it feels right to you and this is the way I’m supposed to move, the way I’m supposed to step, you step," Rich said. "No matter what they say."


Rich went on to write hits for major stars like Taylor Swift, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill and others, earning him ASCAP songwriter of the year three years running.

"Not bad for a country kid from Amarillo, right?"

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