When you're six feet, five inches tall you stand out. Add a cowboy hat and you stand out even more. Then, make the subject from Texas with darker than average skin and there's no question that Cowboy Troy (AKA Troy Coleman) isn't exactly an average guy. Yet while Troy may revel in being instantly identifiable from the rank and file in many ways, he also feels that his music shouldn't be deemed something outrageous, gimmicky, or bizarre. "I grew up listening to a mix of country music, rap and rock, with a little bit of funk and pop," Coleman says. "That didn't make me unusual back home (Dallas, Texas). Whenever I would go into the honky-tonks and they put on Run-DMC or Sir Mix-A-Lot, the floor would be packed with the cowboy hats swaying and people having a good time dancing. So it didn't seem like that big a deal for me once I decided to try music that all these things would converge in my music."
Mix in like-minded co-producer John Rich (AKA J. MONEY) and this convergence really starts to make sense. "John was one of the first people in the business that understood how natural what I was doing really was and that it wasn't an act, just a natural extension of myself and my musical influences," Troy remembers.
Yet it's precisely that different blend, a convergence of country, rap and rock that Troy dubbed "hick-hop," that's still causing quite a stir throughout the country music world. Two years ago, when Cowboy Troy's Warner Bros./Raybaw debut, Loco Motive, debuted at number two on the Billboard Country Albums chart, the industry could not deny that something unique was going on. Despite minimal (to put it mildly) country radio support (the lead single, "I Play Chicken With The Train," peaked at number 48 on the charts), the song managed to become the number one country download at the iTunes music store. The little Loco Motive that could has since gone on to sell some 342,000 copies.
And the world took note. Troy was everywhere-from the pages of People, Rolling Stone, Time, and USA Today to The Tonight Show, Good Morning America, Larry King Live and the list goes on. But perhaps more than anything else, it's his hosting gig on USA's Nashville Star that has kept him in the national consciousness these past two years. Troy has co-hosted this series with Jewel, and he's fierce in his defense of the show and desire to separate it from what happens on American Idol. "First of all, there are no people on our show that don't have any talent, nor is anyone interested in making a name for themselves by ripping up folk," Troy said. "Now that doesn't mean there won't be critical statements, or that people won't acknowledge when someone isn't singing in tune or doing material that doesn't work. But if you watch our show you won't see anyone delighting in ridiculing a contestant or trying to follow their own agenda. The most important thing for everyone on our show is making sure that the best and most talented people win and that they get the seasoning and advice they need to make it in the business."
Troy stands behind his words: he invited Nashville Star season five winner Angela Hacker to lend vocals to "Lock Me Up" and "Hick Chick" on his forthcoming album. For extra flavor, Black In The Saddle also features rocker M. Shadows, lead singer of Avenged Sevenfold, as well as the deep baritone of Troy's MuzikMafia cohort James Otto. The resulting body of work is a tasty melting pot of country, rap, and rock 'n roll.
As he prepares for the June 5 launch of his second release Black In The Saddle, Troy reflects on the evolution and emergence of a career that's quite unique in many ways. Anyone who's pegged him in either the novelty or strictly rap category may get a big surprise with this next release. "I'm going to be pushing the envelope a lot further than anyone expects this time," Troy says. "I've done a lot of experimenting here. We've got strings, some songs where you might even think about the Beatles, others where the rock influence comes through, especially Motorhead, and of course the Run-DMC and rap. I'm comfortable pushing the envelope a lot more. There are also some songs here that are darker, and have a message. If you just thought that everything I did was comical or upbeat, this shows another side. I think music sometimes has to challenge and make people listen, just as much as make them feel good or want to dance. You can do all three of these things with the songs on Black In The Saddle."