Drake Milligan: Honky Tonkin’ About

Country singer Drake Milligan
Photo courtesy Robby Klein

Drake Milligan is no ordinary country music performer. It takes only a minute of watching him perform and listening to his music to realize that despite his youth, he is solidly entrenched in the roots of country and rock ‘n’ roll.

Born in Fort Worth, Texas, the 26-year-old first got widespread attention from music fans when he and his band performed on America’s Got Talent in 2018. His song “Sounds Like Something I’d Do” brought the house down and garnered him unanimous “yes” votes from all the judges.

In 2022, his debut album Dallas/Fort Worth was called one of the best country albums of the year by Billboard magazine. He went on to play at the Grand Ole Opry, Stagecoach, the CMA Music Festival, and on the Kelly Clarkson Show. He recently opened the National Finals Rodeo.

Last year, Milligan’s “Honky Tonkin’ About” single reached No. 1 on Canadian Country Radio. He’s been performing around the country since, and just released a new four-song EP, Jukebox Songs. He hits the road this year alongside Cody Johnson for a 2024 U.S. tour, and will be branching out to Europe and Australia.

We chatted with Milligan about his love for the country lifestyle and his musical influences.

Western Life Today: You grew up in Texas. How did spending your early years in the Lone Star State inform you as a country singer?

Drake Milligan: There’s just such a history to music in Texas, and you can’t help but be surrounded by especially great country music. I grew up loving George Strait, the king of country in Texas. Then you have the history of people like Willie Nelson and even the Western swing history that revolves around Fort Worth. You had Bob Wills back in the day. There’s still some of that hanging on. Fort Worth is such a traditionalist city. They still have the Stockyards. You can still go down there and feel that Fort Worth really holds true to its roots. Just being surrounded by that, you can’t help but be affected by it.

Country music singer Drake Milligan
Milligan has recently released a four-song EP titled Jukebox Songs. Photo courtesy Robby Klein

Western Life Today: You had horses growing up?

Drake Milligan: We had a couple of horses. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a cowboy so bad. We’d go down to the Houston Rodeo every year, and I’d dress up in my chaps and my spurs. I always wanted horses. Finally, my mom gave in and got us horses. We rode them, and they quickly became pets. We just loved on them, and they got all fat and happy. I was always infatuated with the cowboy lifestyle.

Western Life Today: What were their names?

Drake Milligan: We had Boots and Shoogs. Shoogs is still around. Boots was a Paint. We also always had tons of cats and dogs growing up. I grew up on like 20 acres outside of Fort Worth. It was great. Me and my brother, instead of sitting around playing video games all the time, would go down to what we called “the bottom” and fish. We’d fish in the front yard, fish in the pond. My mom had a bell that she would ring if she wanted us back in the house. We grew up being outdoors all the time.

Western Life Today: I heard that when you were a kid, you went to a lot of rodeos. What was your favorite event?

Drake Milligan: I’ve always loved bulldog and steer wrestling. I think that’s so cool. Just the physicality of it is pretty impressive. I never really rodeoed myself, though it was something I always wanted to do. I had friends that did it, and I supported them. I think if I ever rodeoed, it would be something a little less physical. I’d probably rope or do something like that.

Western Life Today: With your busy schedule, how do you stay connected to your country roots?

Drake Milligan: I get back to Texas as much as possible. I’m based out of Nashville now, but one of these days, I’ll move back to Texas and hopefully be able to get a piece of land. My family leases about 6,000 acres in West Texas, about an hour and a half east of Lubbock out in Knox County. I grew up going out there. During hunting season, going out there was priority No. 1. On a Friday after school, we all headed down there, me and my dad, and my grandpa and my brother.

I just love being out there. It’s mesquite flats, red dirt, ravines, cedar trees—what everybody else would look past, but I think it’s beautiful, and very gamey. It’s where I go out to recharge. I think I feel more inspired when I’m out there than anywhere else.

Western Life Today: Let’s talk about your music. Who are your musical influences?

Drake Milligan: Well, my base of musical influence was always pretty traditional country. I’d drive around with my parents and listen to their music, which was a lot of Merle Haggard, George Jones, Alan Jackson, George Strait, and even some of that western swing. My mom loved the outlaw stuff, Waylon [Jennings] and Kris Kristofferson. When I was a kid, I just loved just that old-school country music. I loved Randy Travis growing up. I still do. I still love all that music.

Then when I was about 7, I discovered Elvis, and that totally changed my world. I found him by accident. I saw an Elvis impersonator at a restaurant, and thought, “What is this? This is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.” I started watching Elvis’ videos at that time. I’d never seen anybody really reach an audience and entertain the way that Elvis did. I think that’s where it clicked for me that I could take the songs that I love, the classic country songs, and use the entertainment value of Elvis. That’s what made me really want to get into music and become an entertainer.

A photo shoot with a country music singer
Milligan cites many influences on his music, including Elvis Presley. Photo courtesy Robby Klein

Western Life Today: What’s coming up for you now? I know your EP just came out.

Drake Milligan: Yes. The Jukebox Songs EP just came out. We’re headed out on the road. I’m getting ready to go to Alaska for the first time. I’ve gone up to Alaska fishing during the summer, but this is first time in the winter, and the first time playing shows, so that’ll be new.

Then we head out after that to Europe. We’re playing a bunch of shows. We start in Berlin, and then go to London and Rotterdam and Switzerland. Then we go from there to Australia. It will be my first time playing in Australia. I’m going to play a festival over there.

Then when we come in from that, we’re going to spend a few days here and then we’re on the road with Cody Johnson for a couple months.

Western Life Today: Oh, wow. You’re busy!

Drake Milligan: Yes. It’s definitely going to be a busy year.

This article about Drake Milligan appeared in the April 2024 issue of Western Life Today magazine. Click here to subscribe!

Audrey Pavia

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