Johnny Staats grew up in a musical family in West Virginia and got his first mandolin at age seven. By the age of nine, he was in his first band, and in his teens he began appearing at local competitions. When he graduated from high school in 1988, he married and took a job as a U.P.S. deliveryman, but he continued to play and attend bluegrass festivals in his spare time. He won he Ohio State Guitar Championship in 1992 and again in 1993. In 1995, his Crossroads Band won the band competition at Winterhawk, NY, and he won the guitar competition at MerleFest. He took the mandolin championship a the Vandalia Gathering in Charleston, WV, in 1996, 1997, and 1999; in 1997, he also won the guitar championship and came in third in the fiddle championship. With that, he was featured on the Mountain Stage radio series and people in Nashville began touting his talents. After recording a series of demos with Nashville bluegrass stars, he was signed to Giant Records, which released his debut album, Wires & Wood, in 2000, credited to the Johnny Staats Project.