From his music to his style, Jon Pardi is the epitome of a modern cowboy.
Since releasing his first single in 2012, the 35-year-old Dixon, Calif., singer/songwriter has become a mainstay on country radio, gaining more recognition and accolades each year. Unlike many other male artists who lean more toward trucker hats and graphic T-shirts, Pardi nearly always wears a traditional cowboy hat, plaid shirt and jeans, boots and — on red carpets — elaborately embroidered suits and sport coats that would have made Hank Williams proud.
This throwback style also shows in his music, where fiddles, steel guitars and even the occasional banjo set the tone. Although rooted in traditionalism, Pardi manages to infuse his music with enough contemporary elements to comfortably straddle both classic and modern.
And that’s gotten him noticed.
This year alone, Pardi became the first artist to have two number-one singles on country radio and he also released his critically acclaimed third full-length album, “Heartache Medication,” which spawned the number-one single of that name and a platinum selling certification. The album is also nominated by the Country Music Association for Album of the Year, pitting Pardi against the likes of Luke Combs, Miranda Lambert, Old Dominion and Ashley McBryde.
The album, which he coproduced, was so popular that Pardi recently released a deluxe version with three new songs, including a Western version of his latest single “Ain’t Always the Cowboy.”
“I’m always working on another album, so those were songs we were thinking about for album four, and we just kind of squeezed them in for ‘Heartache Medication,’” Pardi says in a Zoom interview from his Nashville home. “It’s always fun to record and write songs and have something come out.”
This isn’t the first time he’s put out new music in between album drops. Between his first and second albums, he released the “B Sides,” featuring six previously unreleased songs, and in August, he released “Rancho Fiesta Sessions,” an album of cover tunes from some of Pardi’s favorite artists including George Strait, Merle Haggard and Keith Whitley. He also took a crack at some unexpected pieces, including Prince’s “Nothing Compares to You” and Tom Petty’s “The Waiting.”
“With streaming and having music at your fingertips still new — well, it’s not that new, but nobody’s waiting at Tower Records anymore — everything is a lot faster now and attention spans are not as long as they used to be. The whole ‘Rancho Fiesta’ project came from us just playing some of our favorite covers. It was recorded live at my house, old school, with multiple takes. We just picked the best one and mixed it,” he says.
“Rancho Fiesta” might never had been made had it not been for the pandemic, which brought Pardi’s plans to tour for “Heartache Medication” to a halt. Although he was disappointed, he’s made the best of it. Not only has he continued to connect with fans through his music, he’s also become a television star.
Following a successful episode on Country Music Television’s “Off the Road” series, the cable network offered Pardi his own show, appropriately named “Pardi Time.” The eight-episode digital variety series is shot, directed and hosted by the singer, and kicked off in mid-October. It features segments including Pardi Snacks, where he shows his prowess in the kitchen; Til Death Do Us Pardi, where he fills fans in on his impending nuptials to his fiancée Summer Duncan, and Pardi Tunes.
Pardi clearly has his tongue firmly in his cheek during most of the segments, drawing fans along for the ride. “I like being funny, messing around, making people laugh. I think laughter is such a healing thing right now, along with music. So if you can incorporate the two, it’s a win-win for an artist,” he says.
There’s also Gentleman Jon, a character Pardi created who drinks whiskey neat, “like my socks,” and wears a fully tailored suit, vest, dress shoes, a turtleneck, a gold chain and glasses “that may not have lens in them.” Jon provides advice on “beer drinking, relationships, what to do, what not to do.”
Pardi said he wanted Gentleman Jon to “look intelligent and smart and classy.” He got the idea from Matthew McConaughey’s character in the 2019 film “The Gentlemen.” “He’s very dapper and I wanted Gentleman Jon to look like he was in a Guy Ritchey film,” Pardi says.
“I love dressing up, I love anything classy, I love Sinatra and having everybody dress up for a party,” he adds. “I feel when people dress up, their personalities are lifted, they’re happier, they feel good about themselves. So when you look at Gentleman Jon, he already makes you feel good because he looks good and it’s just ridiculous to see me in a turtleneck. On a personal level, I wouldn’t rock a turtleneck, but it looks good on him.”
Pardi’s propensity to dress up will be on full display on Nov. 21 when he and Duncan finally tie the knot. “After three or four times canceling and rescheduling, we’re going to get married on the 21st of November and it is going to be black tie and very small,” he says.
He’s already got his suit for the wedding, which will be black velvet with rhinestones embroidered on the lapels. It was made for him by his custom tailor of choice, Vera Vasiley of V-Atelier in Dallas.
“I call her Vera Bedazziley, she loves throwing rhinestones on everything. She’s been really great — she’s very detailed: her stitching and patching is so cool — we love working with her.”
Pardi, who has also been dressed by famed Western tailor Manuel in the past, says, “I love a rhinestone jacket and the attitude you get when you put it on and walk into a room. I’ve been wearing Manuel and rhinestones and nice suits since 2012 when I went to my first Academy of Country Music awards. I don’t think they were anywhere in style at the time, but I was rocking them. Luke Bryan told me I had balls to wear that jacket.”
Pardi will also be working with Vasiley for his outfit for the CMA Awards on Nov. 11. “We are going traditional with more of a Nudie-style coat. It’s red, green and black, with roses, and bedazzled — rhinestones everywhere. And we’re not going to do suit pants, but I’ll wear black Wranglers.”
The show, which will be televised, won’t have an audience, and only the artists who have been nominated or who are performing will be in attendance. “It’s a very small group and it’s cool that the nominees are going to be there. I’m sure we’ll have lots of COVID-19 testing.” Pardi says he’ll also be singing, but as a tribute to an artist rather than one of his own hits.
Although many old-time stars of country music were known for their rhinestone suits — think Buck Owens and Porter Wagoner — it was Dwight Yoakam that Pardi can relate to the most. Although born in Kentucky, Yoakam became known for championing the Bakersfield sound of country music made famous by Californians Owens, Haggard and others who played honky-tonk music dressed to the nines in bedazzled suits.
“When he came out on stage and his whole band had Manuel jackets and they all matched, and were sparkly. That was who I was drawn to — the cool cowboy, who loved Elvis, tight jeans, an awesome jacket,” Pardi says of Yoakam. “And he led me to Buck Owens and Merle Haggard and the whole Bakersfield sound. I learned this as I started studying country music as an artist. That whole West Coast thing was the Nudie suit — the loud look and the loud guitars. I was just drawn to it.”
Although Pardi admits he’d often prefer to be in a work shirt, “you just can’t go on stage in your Carhartt shirt.” So he’ll often start a concert in one of his cool jackets, but then set it aside. “I sweat so much and I get super hot, so the coats don’t last too long on stage, maybe two or three songs and then I have to take them off. On stage, I’m more of a classic cowboy with the tucked-in shirt, belt buckle, jeans and a nice American Hat cowboy hat.”
As his popularity increased, it also helped bring classic Western dress back to the forefront. “I think it definitely helps the Western style evolve into being more acceptable in country music because at one time, it was like fighting to wear a cowboy hat when everything was untucked. But it ran its course to where I can be me.”
As far as musical influences, in addition to Yoakam, he also cites Strait, Alan Jackson, Joe Diffie, Travis Tritt, Randy Travis and Mark Chestnutt as among the country singers he most admires. “And I love Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, Tom Petty. I was a big Elvis fan as a kid and anything classic and authentic and puts down roots I’m really attracted to.”
He also appreciates a lot of the music being put out by his peers in country music today, including Combs, Thomas Rhett, Dierks Bentley, Lambert, Lauren Alaina, Maren Morris and Eric Church. “I’ve got a lot of friends I can look up tomorrow and have a beer with. It’s a dream come true in that sense,” he says.
As for what he thinks his chances are of taking home the Album of the Year trophy, Pardi says, “It’s hard to beat that Luke Combs guy, he’s doing so well and you just see his numbers and say, ‘There’s no way I’m going to win this category.’ But if something crazy happens, I’ll be ready. I just stay humble and believe that being nominated is a win in itself. Being in that category with how much work I put into making that record and deciding what songs I was going to sing really is something special.”