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Before They Were Famous: Country Stars’ Worst Jobs

Dierks Bentley Faith Hill Eric Church
Rick Diamond / Jason Merritt / Michael Loccisano, Getty Images

They may be stars now, but some of country music’s most popular performers really paid their dues in their early days.

From hawking t-shirts to working for a shop-at-home network, and even selling meat out of a truck, these country stars had to do what they had to do while they worked toward their big break.

In honor of Labor Day, The Boot counts down 10 musicians who gave their blood, sweat and tears to some pretty bad jobs on their way to the top.


Theo Wargo, Getty Images
Theo Wargo, Getty Images
10

Kellie Pickler

Fast Food Car Hop
 
 

If you were cruising through the Sonic in Albemarle, N.C., in the three years leading up to her appearance on 'American Idol,' there's a good chance Pickler delivered your chili cheese dog -- wearing roller skates rather than 'Red High Heels,' of course.

The country beauty has nothing bad to say about Sonic; in fact, she even bought a Sonic ice maker for her tour bus!

 
Rick Diamond, Getty Images
Rick Diamond, Getty Images
9

Eric Church

Shop-at-Home Phone Operator
 
 

Church's first Nashville job was for a home shopping channel, taking credit card numbers from insomniac shopaholics on the midnight to 8 AM shift.

Contrary to his tough-guy image, Church got fired after he was caught trying to be a good friend to the obviously intoxicated callers, talking them out of what they'd phoned in to purchase.

 
Rick Diamond, Getty Images
Rick Diamond, Getty Images
8

Faith Hill and Martina McBride

Merchandise Sellers
 
 

Hill's first country music gig was not singing, but rather selling t-shirts at Reba McEntire's booth at the 1987 Fan Fair.

Her buddy McBride paid her dues the same way. She was the lady behind the t-shirt table at Garth Brooks concerts in the early '90s. Brooks was so impressed by the angelic-voiced souvenir seller, he eventually upped his job offer to becoming his opening act.

 
Cindy Ord, Getty Images
Cindy Ord, Getty Images
7

Steve Earle

Car Wash Attendant
 
 

Before he came to Music City, the hardcore troubadour worked at a Houston, Texas, car wash during the gas crisis of the '70s.

Though Earle looks like a guy you wouldn't really want to mess with, the manager gave him a .25 automatic to carry in his coveralls, just in case testy motorists got out of hand.

 
Frederick Breedon IV, Getty Images for ACM
Frederick Breedon IV, Getty Images for ACM
6

Joe Nichols

Meat Hawker
 
 

The guy who sings 'What's a Guy Gotta Do' hustled frozen meat out of the back of a truck in the 100-degree Nashville heat one July.

"It was so apparently bad that by the end of the day, we would walk halfway up the driveways, and people would just come outside and shake their heads, 'No, get back in the truck,'" Nichols says.

He quit after just one day.

 
Rick Diamond, Getty Images
Rick Diamond, Getty Images
5

Phillip Sweet of Little Big Town

Mall Maintenance Man
 
 

The Little Big Town singer used to work at a Nashville mall doing custodial work, such as cleaning bathrooms, after closing time.

"It would get pretty gruesome after a day's worth of customers," Sweet says. "I got paid seven dollars per hour, and I was by myself most of the time, so I would come up with song ideas to block out the Muzak playing over the mall speakers."

 
Mike Moore, Getty Images
Mike Moore, Getty Images
4

Reba McEntire

Cowgirl
 
 

The Oklahoma redhead started gathering cattle on the family ranch at age six. She also helped turn bulls into steers.

"I would stand behind the bull and hold his tail while Daddy sliced the sack and cut the cord and let the testicles fall," she wrote in her 1994 autobiography, 'Reba: My Story.' "Daddy would pass the testicles to me, and I'd put them in a bucket."

 
Slaven Vlasic, Getty Images
Slaven Vlasic, Getty Images
3

Trace Adkins

Oil Worker
 
 

A colleague of Adkins told him he wouldn't work five years in the oil fields without getting hurt badly enough to miss work.

Sure enough, during his time as a roughneck, the singer had his forehead busted open by a snapped cable and a leg injured by an exploding fiberglass tank. He also got marooned on an offshore rig during a hurricane.

 
Hulton Archive, Getty Images
Hulton Archive, Getty Images
2

Johnny Cash

Cotton Picker
 
 

By the time the Man in Black was eight years old, he was dragging a six-foot-long canvas sack through the fields of his family's farm, picking cotton.

"The bolls were sharp," he recalled in his 1997 autobiography 'Cash,' "and unless you were really concentrating when you reached out for them, they got you. After a week or two, your fingers were covered with little red wounds, some of them pretty painful."

 
Frazer Harrison, Getty Images
Frazer Harrison, Getty Images
1

Dierks Bentley

Toilet Cleaner
 
 

During a summer working at Arizona's Lake Powell, Bentley had to clean 250-gallon portable toilets from the returning rental houseboats.

"It usually had a week's worth of 'stuff' in there from the 10 to 12 houseboat guests," he says.

Once, the old machine used to empty the toilets backfired, sending the hose and all the stuff straight up into the air. "I tried to outrun the rain," he says. "Got nailed."

 

Next: The Top 10 Country Love Songs

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