don’t deal no
But he’ll live
his life with no regrets.
He coulda been a lawyer,
been a millionaire,
Roundin’ up the
clouds as a pilot in
There’s no guarantee,
just day-to-day, But
he’s gonna make
a living… The
like the cowboy described in his
song lyrics above, Johnny U could
have been – and has been –
successful doing a lot of different
things in his life. But all he ever
really wanted to be was a cowboy.
Here’s a man who was a college
track star, a high school math teacher,
a rodeo cowboy and country music
artist. Most recently he’s
become an entrepreneur, restaurant
owner, host of his own local TV
show and a real estate agent. His
life, just like his songs, has included
loves had and loves lost, lessons
learned and lessons taught, dreams
realized and dreams dashed.
his 53 years, as both his spirit
and ego have evolved, the only constant
in Johnny U’s life has been
horses. His love of horses helped
him connect with his father. It
led him to become a professional
rodeo cowboy. It’s what inspired
him to write several of his songs.
Today, Johnny’s yearning to
spend more time with his horses
is the driving force behind his
desire to excel in the real estate
were born and raised
on that Snake River Canyon,
Yes, that’s where you learned
to be free.
the 4-year-old ranch boy from Shoshone
ever wanted was a herd of horses.
He would go out to the pasture and
tie a rail between two cottonwood
trees with bailing twine. He would
then carefully select a variety
of small tree branches – the
thin, smooth sticks were race horses;
the thicker ones were work horses.
Each one had a string tied around
it for reins and little Johnny rode
his stick horses every day.
worked like a man
since he was 12 years old,
Before the morning light
he’d saddle up a green broke
Put the biscuits in his pocket
Dad and Mom had baked,
And with a spirit wild as
his young horse,
He’d ride and
work the range.
learned horsemanship, integrity
and the value of a hard day’s
work from his father, who was also
named Johnny. Father and son became
best friends, confiding in one another,
never judging, always understanding.
An honest and sincere man, the elder
Johnny made a living as a rancher,
but the family never had a lot of
Johnny’s dad always believed
he was the most fortunate man alive.
“I’ve lived in the best
part of life as any human being
can imagine,” Dad would say.
“I was raised in the horse
age and here they are putting a
man on the moon. If I were to die
right now, I can’t imagine
it getting any better. This has
been a great life.”
was better for the boy than to ride
in the saddle alongside his father
and best friend. The man was everything
Johnny ever wanted to be.
high school in Shoshone, Johnny
attended Idaho State University
on a track scholarship. Following
graduation, he became a high school
math teacher. But it wasn’t
the algebra or geometry that motivated
favorite part of teaching was the
counseling,” Johnny says.
“Some kids have come back
and said, ‘You saved my life
because you let me spend time to
visit with you.’ That is the
his years of teaching, Johnny competed
in local rodeos. Then, in the fall
of 1983, Johnny began down a new
road. He and his wife divorced and
he quit teaching. “I was too
young to have a midlife crisis,”
he says. But in a way, it was. In
his late 20s, Johnny knew if he
wanted to follow his dream of riding
horses to rodeo fame, he was running
out of time.
figured if I’m going to do
this, I gotta do it now. I wasn’t
getting any younger,” Johnny
says. So he hit the professional
rodeo circuit, made some money and
was on his way. During his early
rodeo years, Johnny Urrutia became
simply known as, “Johnny U.”
walked through valleys,
stood on mountain tops,
Seen a pretty face or two.
Sometimes I lingered
long enough to fall,
Sometimes I just
enjoyed the view.
riding horses in the rodeo
and playing his guitar, Johnny
U began to reconnect with
himself. He wrote his first
song after his divorce as
a way of coping. “When
I was going through these
adversities, I would write
a song about them,”
he says. “So my first
albums were really sappy.
People thought, ‘Geez,
this guy is depressing.’
But I didn’t write the
songs to put them on albums;
I wrote and sang them so that
I could throw them away and
move on. It was music therapy.”
Johnny met with more adversity when
knee, shoulder and wrist injuries
forced him into surgery and out
of rodeo.“Maybe it’s
good that I didn’t know then
what I know now because maybe I
would have skipped all that adversity
and wouldn’t have learned
a thing,” Johnny says. “I’m
really comfortable with reasons
for things not working out because
I just don’t believe in coincidence.
Everything happens for a reason.”
goin’ to Tennessee,
Goin’ to chase my dreams…
I’ve got to live the dream,
To find out all that I can be…
his recovery, Johnny struck a music
deal with Dodge Rodeo and became
their national representative. For
the next 15 years, Johnny U and
the Dodge Country Band toured the
nation 300 days out of the year.
The deal with Dodge catapulted Johnny
U’s music career and he went
on to record 10 albums. His first
single, “He’s a Cowboy,”
charted in 1984. His music was especially
hot in Europe, where he had six
top-10 songs. He nearly always attracted
the best musicians to play in his
band. Coupled with his good looks
and genuine cowboy charm, it wasn’t
long before Johnny U had a loyal
“It always bothered me to
sign autographs,” he says.
“I always thought it was vain
to sign a picture of myself. I didn’t
want a Fan Club, so we called it
a Friendship Club.”
Over the years country music evolved
as rock-and-roll cowboy music became
the contemporary sound and peaked
in popularity. But Johnny U has
always stayed true to his roots.
“I’m very western and
very cowboy. That’s who I
am. That’s what I do best.”
wants to be a cowboy,
No one wants to ride the range.
They all want to wear
the spurs and glitter,
They don’t want to know the
up on the ranch in Shoshone, Johnny
had learned to be a real cowboy.
He didn’t have to pretend,
like Alan Jackson, Toby Keith, Kenny
Chesney and several other country
music stars do. During his time
in Nashville, that’s what
set Johnny U apart from the rest.
He’s a true cowboy singing
true cowboy songs.
“Those guys don’t have
an idea of what it’s like
to go out and break the ice for
the stock cows in the winter, or
be on a green broke colt when you’re
out on the range and it’s
about to buck you off. They don’t
know that side of cowboy life. Yet,
the perception is that they’re
cowboys. They can never know what
being a cowboy is if they don’t
feel that adversity.”
All the lessons Johnny had learned
on the range as a young cowboy couldn’t
have prepared him for the unique
challenge of playing on the road
300 days of the year.
“People would ask me how long
I had been out on the road and I’d
say, ‘I started three wives
and six kids ago.’”
thought that it was worth the hours
And time away from you
To get ahead…
I almost had everything
That money can’t buy.
1998, a series of events made Johnny
reevaluate the direction of his
life. He was writing songs, hoping
to have one picked up by a major
recording artist. One night, Johnny
was at the famous Bluebird Café
in Nashville when his old buddy
Garth Brooks walked in. The country
music legend was wearing a ball
cap and a sweatshirt so nobody recognized
him. He and Johnny had a drink and
chatted a while when Garth asked,
“I’m getting ready to
do an album. You been writing anything
“Yeah, but I don’t think
I have anything that’s worthy,”
“Well, give me what you’ve
got,” Garth said.
Just then, somebody recognized Garth
and soon there was a crowd a dozen
deep harassing the star.
“Hey, I gotta go,” Garth
“You got the tape?”
“It’s in my car. I’ll
meet you in the parking lot.”
Once outside, Johnny handed his
cassette to Garth, who quickly ran
across the street, jumped into his
SUV and drove away as fans chased
At that moment, Johnny U realized
something. He reasoned that maybe
he would never become a huge star
like Garth, but in actuality, he
didn’t really want that life.
“Here’s a guy who can’t
even have a beer without being bothered.
I never wanted to be that guy,”
Johnny says. “That guy’s
got as much money as God and he
can’t buy what I’ve
got. What a price he has to pay.
And all he really wants is what
Around that same time, Johnny U’s
dad was critically ill back in Idaho.
Johnny desperately wanted to spend
time with his best friend, his father,
while he still had the chance.
“All of this stuff was happening,
and my heart just wasn’t there
be free as the wind,
In the wide open pastures,
’Cause God let one cowboy
came home to Idaho. The walls of
his house in Twin Falls are covered
with pictures of his family. There’s
a Bible on the coffee table, although
Johnny claims to be more spiritual
than religious. That’s why
he was able to make sense of the
impending events in his life.
Johnny’s dad had a favorite
horse named Candy. When Candy died,
Johnny’s dad was heartbroken.
One day, while sick in bed, Dad
told Johnny he dreamed that God
told him He would send Candy down
to get him.
The next day, when Johnny entered
his dad’s room, he appeared
to be asleep. Then suddenly, he
sat up, grabbed the bed sheets like
they were reins and said, “Whoa
Candy! Whoa there!… Okay,
get up.” He lay back down
and was gone.
he’d never trade all else,
That God had to give,
For his good horse,
saddle and reins.
All of his pleasures,
some of his heartaches,
Thoughts of his wild yesterdays.
The best of his memories,
peace to his heart
Came back when he
just rode away.
wrote dozens of songs about his
dad’s death because he agonized
so much over losing his best friend.
What made things harder to swallow
was, just two months after he left
Nashville, Johnny’s good friends
were hanging out with Garth Brooks
and co-wrote a song with him. Ironically,
Garth also decided at the time to
start opening his shows with cowboy
singers. Johnny realizes that could
have been him, but he’s not
“I’m where I’m
supposed to be,” he says.
“That could have been a direction
for me, but for whatever reason,
it’s OK. All I really wanted
to do was be a cowboy. When it all
comes down to it, that’s where
I probably would have been the happiest.”
Today, Johnny U keeps busy. He is
part owner of Johnny’s at
Señor Caesars restaurant
in Twin Falls and performs there
every Wednesday evening. He’s
close to finishing the recording
of his 11th album. Plans are being
made for him to host cowboy western
dinner shows locally. He’s
in the process of filming a variety
show in which he performs and promotes
his other entities.
Most recently, Johnny U has jumped
headfirst into the real estate business.
He’s still doing things “The
Cowboy Way” – with the
hard work, integrity and wisdom
his father taught him years ago
between the sage and saddle.
“I’ve done a lot of
things in my life, trying to figure
out what I’m going to be when
I grow up,” he says. “But
I’ve never been without a
horse, and I never will be.”
While his life now is busy with
family, horses and business, Johnny
is enjoying the adventure.
“I think the most fulfilling
thing I could do in my life is take
all my adversities and struggles
and help younger people,”
he says. “I look back on all
the adversities I’ve had,
and I’m telling you, in this
last year, I’ve been able
to use every one of them to my benefit.
I’ve reached a higher level,
because of the trials, that I would
have never reached without them.”
Someday Johnny wants to slow down
and focus on just two things: Counseling
youth and riding cutting horses
until he can no longer sit in the
saddle. Until then…
I’d just tell them with a
Down the road,
’Round the bend.
listen to and purchase any of Johnny
U’s music you can find him