The sixth-generation cattle rancher and country singer-songwriter showcases his gift for storytelling.
C.J. Garton is an Oklahoma-born country singer-songwriter who, in addition to recording and performing his own music, has penned tunes for such stars and legends as Tanya Tucker, David Alan Coe, Struggle and Whey Jennings, Daryl Singletary, and Brooks & Dunn. But in his other life, he’s a cowboy.
Specifically, he’s a sixth-generation rancher with Cherokee blood running through his veins, and he still lives on his cattle farm that was founded by his family during America’s land rush in the late 1800’s, just outside of Bristow, Oklahoma. “Growing up on the ranch,” C.J. says, “you were surrounded by George Strait, Merle Haggard, and Willie Nelson tunes, and working cattle, and waking up early. I learned a lot about common sense and hard work out there, and I'm proud to say that I think that translates into my music. It's just working man's music and honest songs that got me through it.”
It’s an indication of just how close C.J. remains to the folks in and around his hometown that, while shooting the video for “Good Gone,” his latest single, he was able to enlist the participation of the Bristow Police Department and the Bristow City Juvenile Detention Center staff to help him tell the laughable story about a musician who has just been released from prison and is facing property repossession.
And even though the video’s narrative doesn’t perfectly match the song’s story, it’s extremely entertaining while by showing C.J.’s off-the-wall and creative approach to storytelling by way of a music video.
We recently spoke with C.J. Garton about “Good Gone” — both the song and the video (shot, produced and directed by Karl Weidmann of Southern Cabin Films) that it inspired.
C&I: To begin with the obvious question, what inspired this particular song?
C.J. Garton: Well, it’s a funny story, because I did a horse ride where I rode close to 700 miles with my son across four states when he was 13 in 2019, back to Oklahoma from Nashville. And before we left, we were kind of celebrating the big event that was getting ready to happen. My friends came over, we had a cookout, had a few beverages, and relaxed. And I didn’t realize until that next morning — I woke up about 5:30, and started getting the horses ready — that I was feeling the repercussions of the celebration a little bit while I was settling the horses up and standing in the church parking lot. I was thinking to myself, “Man, we probably should not have celebrated so much before I go off on a 30-day adventure.”
And so staring at the church windows and getting those horses settled up with that little bit of a lingering headache, I felt that song was falling out of my head, kind of like an emotional state of how you’d feel over a heartache, a continuation of waking up feeling like that every day over a bad breakup. We’ve all been through those. So it was a relatable thing I could feel. And that song just kind of fell out. And about 20 minutes later when I got the saddlebags and the horses and saddled up and everything, that song was the very first one we wrote on a horse ride.
C&I: But the music video seems to tell a different kind of story.
C.J.: Well, I’ve always said I grew up about a hundred years too late. But I was very fortunate to be a young fella who got to experience a different era in the way I grew up. My grandpa, my dad and everybody, we were very old school. We didn’t have cable, we didn’t have the internet, things like that. Because out on the cattle ranch, we were one of the last places around our little town in Bristow to get that. And what was available, my grandpa just wasn’t paying for. It wasn’t necessary for him. So I grew up listening to the old things. Like, I’d go and find reel-to-reel my grandpa had that he had in his house. And I’d find old VHS tapes and VCR tapes in my dad’s stuff.
And so I grew up watching The Blues Brothers and Every Which Way But Loose — all these old ‘70s films, all these old classics. And I really loved it. I was literally 10 or 20 years behind them watching stuff that was had been made. And so I fell in love with that nostalgia of that. So when I made this music video, I thought to myself, “I’d really like to do a throwback and pay homage to some of these classics.”
C&I: Sounds like you were inspired.
C.J.: [Laughs] So the prison theme and story theme and everything else in the video was based upon The Blues Brothers. And it’s like the whole Jake and Ellwood thing. I played Jake and my brother played Elwood — which honestly should have been a role-reversal, because my brother’s the shorter one, but he had to come pick me up. And we went and bought a Bluesmobile. I found the thing on the marketplace, and the guys delivered it — and it had no windows in it. So while that video was being filmed, you might think it was a beautiful day. But we were out there freezing our butts off in 20 some degrees, filming that thing and trying to play cool.
But it was awesome. And the whole town, Bristow, got around us and supported us. And with the support we got from my hometown and our videographers, everybody just kind of came together and just magic happened.
C&I: When you’re not on the road performing, or recording music in Nashville, you’re back in Oklahoma on your ranch. How big is your spread?
C.J.: We’ve got quite a few acres out there. There's around 6,000 working acres that we operate. Original homestead is about 1,200, 1400 acres on one side. And over the years, we have slowly just grown and developed and branded that. Because like I said, I’m a sixth-generation rancher by birth. We’ve really kind of been the true Yellowstone before Yellowstone became a thing.
C&I: So how many head do you have right now?
C.J.: About 840. And I got our horses, Honcho and Lefty, the ones that I trained, but we also got about 20 or 30 horses out there. We used to have about 80 or 90 but things got really rough last year during the drought in Oklahoma. The price of hay just quadrupled. And so it’s been tough for every farmer and rancher.
C&I: Finally, how would you say your Cherokee heritage has influenced your life and music?
C.J.: Tremendously. I think the Cherokee and other Native American tribes have a closer relationship with the earth and the spiritual side of things around us. And so for me, I guess, it’s had a connection with how I perceive the world around me. And so to be able to embrace that side, along with my cowboy lifestyle, is a very harmonious thing, I believe. So I like to put that in the forefront. I think what Native Americans have endured, how they’ve shaped this country and how they've been able to make it through everything they have — that’s a testament to their character. And I really, really just have a lot of admiration for that.