Willie Nelson, Miranda Lambert and More Reveal Their Secret Talents - Rolling Stone
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Secret Talents of Country Stars: 13 Singers With Double Identities

From Willie Nelson’s martial arts badassery to Miranda Lambert’s equestrian prowess, Rolling Stone Country reveals the secret talents of country’s stars

Willie Nelson

Willie Nelson receives his fifth degree black belt in April.

Gary Miller/Getty Images

It's quite easy to map out the talents of successful singers: whether it's Carrie Underwood's endless range, Kacey Musgraves' clever wordplay or Luke Bryan's tight-jeaned dance moves, these are the skills that sell records, win Grammys or make the ladies swoon. But most of us possess a hidden talent, and musicians are no exception. From breakdancing to taekwondo, these are the varied — and at times surprising — abilities that country stars keep in their back pocket (or land on Johnny Cash's front yard).

Martina McBride

Christie Goodwin/Redferns

Martina McBride, Party Planner

This one's for the girls…and this one's for the floral centerpiece. McBride loves big ole country ballads as much as she loves big ole country bashes, and she's quite talented at executing both. In October, the "Independence Day" singer will release her first book, Around the Table, dedicated to the art of entertaining — which includes directions on how to host your own "Red Wine and Vinyl" party, complete with a playlist. For the record, McBride suggests Malbec, Neil Diamond and a nice Cheddar Cheesesteak Panini: haute hillbilly at its best.

Kris Kristofferson

Kris Kristofferson performs during the Johnny Cash tribute (Photo by R. Diamond/WireImage)

Rick Diamond/Getty Images

Kris Kristofferson, Helicopter Pilot

Though Kristofferson infamously worked as a janitor at Columbia Studios, where he met Johnny Cash, the Rhodes scholar from a military family was also a helicopter pilot, both in the National Guard and for a commercial firm. Frustrated with his inability to get Cash to record one of his songs, he eventually took a bold route: landing a copter in his front yard. "He had beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other," Cash apparently said, though Kristofferson countered: "I said, 'John, you’ve got to have both hands and both feet when you’re flying a helicopter.'" Dierks Bentley and Tim McGraw are also pilots — though neither has ever landed unannounced in anyone's front yard, as far as we know.

Kenny Rogers

NASHVILLE, TN - AUGUST 13: Country Music Hall of Fame member Kenny Rogers at the Country Music Hall of Fame Kenny Rogers Exhibit Opening Reception at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum on August 13, 2014 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum)

Rick Diamond/Getty Images

Kenny Rogers, Tennis Ace

"I can’t play tennis anymore," Kenny Rogers once told Men's Health, "since I’ve got no original body parts that work anymore." Only one clause in that statement is truly surprising — the part about the Gambler once batting balls on the green. But Rogers was actually a professional-level tennis player in his day, searching out courts at every tour stop for years and compiling a collection of racquets signed by the greats, which are currently on display at his Country Music Hall of Fame exhibition. "I developed a national ranking while I was on the road playing with Wimbledon champions," he told Rolling Stone Country. Rumor says his magical beard had power over his backswing.

Miranda Lambert

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 09: Singer Miranda Lambert performs onstage at Fashion Rocks 2014 presented by Three Lions Entertainment at the Barclays Center of Brooklyn on September 9, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Three Lions Entertainment)

Theo Wargo/Getty Images

Miranda Lambert, Equestrian

The Platinum star has a dirty little bourgeois secret: when she rides horses, it's often with an — gasp! — English saddle. Though her spitfire image might conjure up thoughts of a pistol-wielding cowgirl digging her spurs in deep, Lambert rides the thoroughbreds she keeps at her Oklahoma ranch looking more fit for a chic polo match than a cattle call. She even had stallions along for her Rolling Stone cover shoot. "When I'm riding, it clears my head and I'm able to write better music," she once told Horse Channel. Well then saddle up, Sally.

Hank Williams Jr.

NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 31: Hank Williams, Jr. performs at the Fifth annual New Year's Eve Bash on Broadway on December 31, 2013 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Terry Wyatt/Getty Images)

Terry Wyatt/Getty Images

Hank Williams Jr., Metal Detector Buff

The foot-in-mouth son of the legendary Hank Sr. knows how to find trouble, but it just so happens he also has a knack for unearthing long-lost treasures buried deep in the ground. Because if you're going to have your name dragged through the dirt, you might as well do it yourself, right? Williams loves searching for Civil War artifacts and once took Eric Church out on a mission — he even gives metal detectors as gifts. And though he might have once sung that "Angels Are Hard to Find," maybe that's because they're not made of metal.

Colt Ford

BRASELTON, GA - SEPTEMBER 24: Colt Ford attends the 2012 Colt Ford & Friends Celebrity Golf Classic at Legends Golf Course Club on September 24, 2012 in Braselton, Georgia. (Photo by Chris McKay/Getty Images)

Chris McKay

Colt Ford, Golf Pro

Believe it or not, Colt Ford wasn't always Colt Ford — before he was hick-hopping on a "Dirt Road Anthem," he was Jason Farris Brown, a golfer with a strong swing and even a brief professional run on the national circuit. So why'd he trade 18 holes for multi-city tours? "I'm too fat and old to do anything else," he told ESPN. Guess Ford fans better hope he stays away from Jenny Craig.

Angaleena Presley

NASHVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 17: Singer-songwriter Angaleena Presley attends the 13th annual Americana Music Association Honors and Awards Show at the Ryman Auditorium on September 17, 2014 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for Americana Music)

Rick Diamond/Getty Images

Angaleena Presley, Minecraft Lordess

"Ain't No Man" gonna separate Angaleena Presley from a game of Minecraft — when the Holler Annie isn't shooting venom with Miranda Lambert and Ashley Monroe or working on her upcoming solo debut, she's sitting at a computer screen doing, well, whatever it is people do when playing Minecraft (something about putting stuff into boxes). "My mom is a crafter and my dad is a miner," she tells Rolling Stone Country, "so, needless to say, Minecraft is a natural fit for me." Coal miner's daughter, Mine-crafters daughter: same thing, really?

Jake Owen

NEW ORLEANS, LA - AUGUST 23: Jake Owen performs at Champions Square on August 23, 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Erika Goldring/Getty Images)

Erika Goldring/Getty Images

Jake Owen, Wakeboarder Extraordinaire

The Vero Beach, Florida, native may have once wanted to hide his Sunshine State roots, but it's clear Owen's "Beachin'" tendencies run deep. Before he was a country star, he was a wakeboarding enthusiast, hitting the waves with his brunette locks a-flowin', proving that he — and his deltoids — belong on the water. Strangely enough, Owen can credit an accident while boarding for his Nashville career — sidelined from playing golf, for which he had a scholarship, he picked up the guitar to ease his depression. Sliding doors, brah.

Steve Wariner

NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 10: Painter/Singer/Songwriter Steve Wariner presents Wariner's Watercolors during the Three Part Harmony preview & private reception featuring Steve Wariner, celebrity portraits from photographer Russ Harrington, and dulcimers from the collection of the late dulcimer performer David Schnaufer at the Tennessee State Museum on October 10, 2013 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images)

Rick Diamond/Getty Images

Steve Wariner, Watercolor Picasso

Wariner may be famous for his fingerpicking guitar technique (he's one of only four players in the world bestowed with the "Certified Guitar Player" title by the legendary Chet Atkins) but the Grammy winner and Opry member also has a talent for the brush, cranking out collections of delicate watercolors. Displaying his work in an exhibition last year at the Tennessee State Museum, Wariner had actually hoped to be a painter before being discovered by Dottie West. "Watercolors have always been my favorite medium to dabble in," Wariner has said. "I just love the freedom, looseness and the spontaneity of it."

Marty Stuart

NASHVILLE, TN - JUNE 04: Marty Stuart performs during Marty Stuart's 13th Annual Late Night Jam at the Ryman Auditorium on June 4, 2014 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Erika Goldring/Getty Images)

Erika Goldring/Getty Images

Marty Stuart, Hillbilly Paparazzi

With his signature silver hair and twang-rockabilly style, Stuart's subdued, emotive photographs are a change of pace from you might expect the "Hillbilly Rock" singer to snap. But his eye is a delicate one — take his photo of friend Johnny Cash, from a few days before the Man in Black passed: it's a lonesome, knowing stare in stark black-and-white. Currently on display at Nashville's Frist Museum, his work is well deserving of many fabulous superlatives.

Willie Nelson

AUSTIN, TX - APRIL 28: Willie Nelson receives his 5th Degree black belt award at Master Martial Arts on April 28, 2014 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Gary Miller/Getty Images)

Gary Miller/Getty Images

Willie Nelson, Taekwondo Badass

"He's working on a third black belt, but he's kind of cheating," Nelson's wife Annie told Rolling Stone about her husband's habit — no, not that habit, the one that has him wearing white robes and bare feet, not rolling white papers. The Red Headed Stranger took up the martial art seriously over 20 years ago with the Austin-based Master Sum Um, and even had a role in Um's 2007 kung fu film Fighting With Anger. “The man has great discipline,” Um told the Houston Chronicle. “He shows up on time and he’s always ready to train.” See — stoners aren't always late.

Kellie Pickler

LAS VEGAS, NV - APRIL 06: Singer Kellie Pickler arrives at the 49th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino on April 6, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)


Kellie Pickler, Roller Girl

Before the American Idol contestant sang about "Red High Heels," the thing most often adorning her feet were a pair of roller skates. Growing up in North Carolina, Pickler was a waitress-on-wheels at her local Sonic Drive-In, agile skills she later translated into a championship run on Dancing with the Stars. Apparently you can't roller skate in a buffalo herd, but you sure can roller skate with cheeseburgers.

Chris Young

DETROIT, MI - MAY 30: Chris Young performs during the 2014 WYCD Downtown Hoedown at Comerica Park on May 30, 2014 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Scott Legato/Getty Images)

Scott Legato/Getty Images

Chris Young, Breakdancer

Though Young's "Aw Naw" once inspired its own line-dance routine (Half pivot! Shuffle! Half pivot! Shuffle again!), it's the Nashville Star champion's considerable skills (or shall we say "skillz"?) in a different department that really raise some eyebrows: his breakdancing. While he may not win a role in the reprise of Flashdance anytime soon, the country crooner proves that, why yes, you can drop a Toprock to Baby Freeze… in cowboy boots.

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