How Luke Combs Missed The Chance To Record Cody Johnson’s ‘Dirt Cheap’

Songwriter Josh Phillips reveals that he initially sent “Dirt Cheap” to Luke Combs and shares how it ended up in the hands of Cody Johnson.

By

Madeleine O’Connell

| Posted on

March 6, 2024

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Cody Johnson, Luke Combs; Photo by John Shearer/Getty Images for CMA

Cody Johnson is making waves with his newest single, “Dirt Cheap.” Seeing all the success he’s had with this song, it’s hard to imagine any other artist delivering this sentimental storyline with the same level of emotion and authenticity as he does. However, according to the tune’s sole songwriter, Josh Phillips, the song almost ended up in the hands of another country star – Luke Combs.

“Dirt Cheap” Was Initially Offered To Luke Combs

Both being North Carolina natives, Phillips told Country Now that he and Combs have been friends “for a very long time.” In fact, he said Combs was one of the first people to give him a chance as a songwriter. The Warner Chappell Songwriter has previously written tunes for Combs such as “Angels Workin’ Overtime” and “Can I Get an Outlaw.” Throughout his career, Josh Phillips has also written for other country stars like Jason Aldean, Brantley Gilbert, Chris Young, Michael Ray, and more.

Photo Courtesy Josh Phillips
Photo Courtesy Josh Phillips

“I guess if it wasn’t for Luke, I wouldn’t be here today. So I owe a lot to him,” Phillips shared. 

Since their history of working together goes back quite a ways, the two-time CMA Entertainer of the Year was the first person Phillips thought to reach out to when he wrote what he considers to be “one of my favorite songs I’ve ever written.” Unfortunately, Combs missed his chance to take it into the studio, leaving Phillips to find a new artist to cut his song. 

“He’s one of my great buddies, and I guess it got lost in the text chain and he didn’t respond. I was like, man, I don’t know who to send it to,” he explained before revealing what made him decide to pitch “Dirt Cheap” to Cody Johnson. 

How Did Cody Johnson Come Into The Picture?

“I walked in the house one night. Jordan, my wife, was lying in bed watching TV. I was kind of just defeated. I said, ‘Baby, I don’t know who to send this to. It’s one of my favorite songs I’ve ever written.’ She said, ‘Why don’t you send it to Cody Johnson?’ And I said, ‘Well, it’s funny that you say that, because back when I was an artist, many years ago, I wrote with his producer, Trent Willmon, I’ll just send it to Trent if he’s still producing him. Maybe in a long shot, Cody will hear it.”

Not more than five minutes after sending the demo over to Willmon, he called Phillips back and with great emotion in his voice, he said, “Thanks for making a grown man cry.” Willmon’s strong reaction to the tune that centers around the priceless memories that a home can hold for a family, was enough for him to send it off to Cody Johnson. Luckily, the Texas native felt the same connection and even related to it on a personal level.

Cody Johnson - Dirt Cheap
Cody Johnson – Dirt Cheap

“A Really Surreal Moment”

Josh Phillips wrote the song in March of ’22 while sitting around a fire in his backyard and reflecting on all the memories he and his family had made there, as they were in the midst of trying to find and move into their “dream home.” Then in early 2023, he learned that Johnson had decided to cut it for his third major label album, Leather, which dropped in November of 2023.

“I didn’t pitch it for the longest time ‘cause, you know, we never write songs by ourselves, and it made me underthink it. And it was a song just for me. So I think it was early ‘23 when I found out, and it was just a really surreal moment of just like, man, this is so cool. I’ve had cuts before, had a lot of cuts on other folks, but this one was different just because it was our story. It wasn’t just something we were writing and putting words to. It was a real story that me and Jordan and my family had lived and breathed. So when Cody cut it and found out that it was also his story, it was just the icing on the cake. It was nuts. This song has been nothing but a series of thanking God. It seems like every other month it takes on a new life, which has been amazing.”

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Luke Combs Shares His Regret

Although Luke lost out on the chance to record “Dirt Cheap” for his catalog, Phillips shared that his longtime friend and fellow songwriter was still happy for the song’s success and promised to never let another opportunity like that slip through his fingers again. 

“I actually had that conversation with him about a month ago…he was so happy for me,” Phillips admitted. “He was just like, ‘Man, you wrote a song of the year and I missed it. That’s never going to happen again.”

He continued, “I think he’s happy where it landed too, because it did land in the perfect place. I think God has a plan for everything and he definitely did with this song.”

All of Phillips’ fears and uncertainty surrounding the fate of the tune washed away the moment he heard the final version of Johnson’s recording of “Dirt Cheap.”

“It’s amazing. I don’t think anybody could have done it just the way that he did it. Me and my wife may have shed a couple tears when we heard it the first time. I brought it into her as a work type, just a recording with me and a guitar on my phone and she started crying and she loved it…so when we went out to Trent Willmon, Cody’s producer’s house, and he played us the final version at his studio. Again, it’s just a Godsend. We cried, and we thanked the Lord for it.”

“Dirt Cheap” will impact country radio on March 11 and has racked up nearly 55 million global streams with an average of 3.4 million streams per week. This all stemmed from a song that Josh Phillips thought he was just writing for himself, as a way to express the love he felt for his home, and his family that has grown inside of it. It has now been heard by a countless number of country music fans as Johnson has made it an integral part of his shows each night.

“To see it do what it’s done, it’s just been so humbling. I can’t even describe it,” said Phillip. “I was telling somebody last night, I said, ‘I’ve just been so full of joy and love for the past couple of months. It’s just wild.’”

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Madeleine O’Connell graduated from North Central College with a bachelors degree in Journalism and Broadcast Communications before deciding to pursue her studies further at DePaul University. There, she earned her masters degree in Digital Communication & Media Arts. O’Connell served as a freelance writer for over two years while also interning with the Academy of Country Music, SiriusXM and Circle Media and assisting with Amazon Music’s Country Heat Weekly podcast. In addition to Country Now, she has been published in American Songwriter, Music Mayhem, and Holler.Country. Madeleine O’Connell is a member of the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music.