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Before They Were Famous: Country Stars’ Worst Jobs

If you think today’s country stars haven’t paid their dues, you haven’t met these performers. 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.

This list was originally published on Sept. 1, 2011 by Brian Mansfield.

Kellie Pickler
Christopher Polk, 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 Kellie 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 recently bought a Sonic ice maker for her tour bus!

Eric Church
Dave Mead, Lollapalooza

9. Eric Church – Shop-at-Home Phone Operator

Eric’s first Nashville job was for a Home Shopping channel, taking credit card numbers from insomniac shopaholics on the midnight to  8AM shift. Eric 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.

Faith Hill Martina McBride
Randy Janoski, Getty Images

8. Faith Hill and Martina McBride – T-Shirt Sellers

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

Steve Earle
Kevin Winter, 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. The manager gave Steve a .25 automatic to carry in his coveralls, in case testy motorists got out of hand.

Joe Nichols
Red Bow Records

6. Joe Nichols – Steak Salesman

The guy who once sang ‘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,’” Joe says. He quit after just one day.

Phillip Sweet
Ethan Miller, Getty Images

5. Phillip Sweet of Little Big Town – Mall Maintenance Man

The 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,” Phillip 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.”

Reba McEntire
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.”

Trace Adkins
Bryan Bedder, Getty Images

3. Trace Adkins – Oil Worker

A colleague of Trace 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.

Johnny Cash
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.”

Dierks Bentley
Rick Diamond, Getty Images

1. Dierks Bentley – Toilet Cleaner

During a summer working at Arizona’s Lake Powell, Dierks 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.”

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