Photo: Mark Deskin

He’s been dominating the Texas country charts with a record seven consecutive hits. Now the Houston native is poised for national success.

Josh Ward’s journey from country cowboy to stage hero doesn’t read like your typical country-singer back story. His traditional twang and classic honky-tonk style may have been influenced by his deep Texas roots and love of classic country artists Keith Whitley, Merle Haggard, George Jones, and Mark Chesnutt, but his path from hobbyist singing for himself and friends and family to pro belting out hits in front of thousands is an uncommon one.

Ward’s drive to perform came from killing time in between rounds at rodeos, where he was an actual contestant. The more he played, the more his music developed. Somewhere along the way he blurred the lines between bucking-bronc cowboy and actual musician.

“In high school, I didn’t want to play football, and I didn’t want to play baseball. We had a Region 9 Rodeo and I got in. Some buddies of mine were bull riders, but I just wanted to ride bucking horses. I did get on some bulls, just because my buddies were doing it, but I never liked riding them. I did that in high school and did it here and there a little bit once I graduated. But at some point I figured out that I could play guitar and sing a whole lot better than I [rodeoed]. Thank God for that.”

Trading out blistered hands and a sore back for melodic picking and dance-hall nights, Ward found his time out of the arena and on the stage reawakened his once-forgotten musical dreams.

“I never in a million years thought that we would take it as far as we’ve taken it today. Heck, I was just having fun and buddies were saying, ‘Hey, you’re better at singing than you are at riding a bucking horse.’ So they just kind of kicked it off and then things just started happening. I never thought — I mean, I had big dreams of always wanting to be a singer and be on the Grand Ole Opry and do what all my other heroes had done. ... And now here [I am], 14, 15 years later and playing music for people in clubs.”

As his inspiration, Ward gives credit to the late, great Chris LeDoux. A singer-songwriter, bronze sculptor, and Hall of Fame rodeo champion, LeDoux had a similar rough-and-tough bucking bronc rider to singer-songwriter story.

“He was one of my huge heroes,” Ward says. “He rode bareback horses and he rodeoed ... so I spent a lot of time listening to him. ... As young kids, we always looked up to him. I’m pretty sure every cowboy has had a tape of Chris LeDoux in their lifetime.”

Ward is now channeling the same energy he had in the arena on a plethora of stages, promising perfection or nothing at all. With natural rough twang and a fearless edge, the outlaw is unafraid to say no to tracks that he has to mold to. A purist, he’s keen on releasing songs that he believes in and is willing to perform for several years after recording.

“I love my music and love my fans and know not to just put a song on the record because it’s a song,” he says. “I want the right songs to be on the record. I want the connection to be there. If I can connect with it and it moves me emotionally or makes me happy or whatever, then I know it’s going to do something to somebody else, so that’s how I pick songs. ... I have to stand up there and make those people believe [what I’m singing], so that’s the way I write. If I don’t believe it, if it’s just words on a paper and maybe it sounds cool, I can’t cut it.”

While Ward writes or co-writes most of his songs, his bold choices in selecting songs written by others are effective. He stumbled on “Whiskey & Whitley,” a track written by Buddy Owens, Kevin Denney, and Mark Narmore searching on songwriter Owen’s Myspace. Ten years later, Ward’s version of “Whiskey & Whitley” was given the Texas Regional Radio Award this past year. His newest song, “Change My Mind” — written by Matt Caldwell and selected by Ward for its high-energy tune and storytelling — is climbing the charts. Other hit tracks include “Broken Heart,” penned by Cody Johnson and Joel Shewmake, and his friend Scott Brown’s “Sent Me You.”

Currently, Ward has two albums: Holding Me Together and Promises. And we’re sure he’s got a lot more in him. After a summer-long tour playing in venues like Fort Worth, Texas’ iconic Billy Bob’s Texas and Los Angeles’ Troubadour, we’re expecting Ward will be inspiring fans and a whole new generation of true cowboy performers.

For more information on Ward and his upcoming tour dates, visit his website.