Sara Kauss/FilmMagic Cody and Brandi Johson
Cody Johnson was briefly miffed that his wife, Brandi, woke him up on Wednesday morning before his alarm went off. And then he found out why she'd done it: She had to tell him he'd just won his first CMA award, for music video of the year.
"It was so great to wake up that way," Johnson told PEOPLE on the CMA red carpet, confessing he'd simply forgotten the category winner is traditionally announced the morning before the show.
By the end of the night, Johnson had picked up one more trophy, for song of the year, winning two of his four nominations. Both awards honor his blockbuster hit, "Till You Can't," a soaring anthem that has launched the Texan's career into a whole new stratosphere this year.
Johnson said he's still trying to soak in the accolades and, at the same time, keep a level head. At age 35, he knows he's come quite a distance from his days as a rodeo bull rider and state prison guard.
"I think the word is 'accomplished' tonight," he said. "It's a great feeling. Every now and then I'll allow myself to feel those emotions of … I don't know … It's not gratitude, but excitement — that little kid on Christmas [feeling]. Like, this is pretty cool. I'd be a fool not to say this is pretty awesome."
Michael Loccisano/Getty Cody Johnson
But even as his star has been on the rise, Johnson said he and his wife have worked hard to keep their family life down to earth, especially for their two daughters, Clara Mae, 7, and Cori, 5.
"We don't spoil our kids to where they can have whatever they want," Johnson said, repeating advice that surely the two girls have heard often: "If you want something you're gonna work for it. Your mom's not your maid. You're gonna clean your stuff up."
Johnson likes to take each girl out on the road separately "so they can see Dad works," he said. "I teach them there's character in hard work. This is not just, 'You're gonna watch me on TV tonight and it looks real glamorous.' It's a lot of miles, a lot of work."
When he's home on his ranch outside Huntsville, Texas, he has other responsibilities for the girls to witness. "I'm working my horses, I'm working my cows," he said. "I'm putting out hay, I'm putting out feed. So they still see Dad's a rancher, and he's got this cool other job, too."
Johnson said he's begun to introduce his daughters to hunting, one of his favorite pastimes, though once they get in the deer stand, he adds, "it's really not about the hunting."
"You'd be amazed at the conversations that we have," he said. "We just tune the world out. And for me, I need that time to turn the volume down a little bit, too."
Jason Kempin/Getty Cody Johnson
Johnson said he's also been taking the time to teach the girls the life lessons that he sings in "Till You Can't," which he performed on the CMA awards show.
"I tell them, life is not forever," he said. "Everyone dies — every dog, every horse, every person. That's all gonna happen. So while you're here, you have to make sure and tell the people that you love, that you love them. Say sorry to each other. Don't be mean. Appreciate each other. Appreciate the fact that your mother cooked you a dinner. And just instill in them that one day — and we don't know when that day is — God calls us all home. You have to make the most out of this life that you've been given. They really understand that."
Adds the proud dad: "They're such brilliant little girls."