The unlikely success of country music sensation and now world-renowned ladies man Trace Adkins has come neither quickly nor without a few bumps and bruises. Adkins’ musical career got off to a rather tardy start with his first record deal in 1994 at the age of 32. He had nothing to offer the Nashville brass but 10 years of slave-driving work on the oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. The strapping 6’ 6” Louisianan with an intimidating baritone voice would leave the oil rigs in his rear view mirror anyway and head to Nashville to pick up the guitar he’d learned to play as a kid under his father’s tutelage. A Capitol Records executive spotted Adkins playing a honky-tonk and soon signed him to the deal that launched his early career. It would eventually prove a dead end, however, when the same exec got fired years later and Adkins found his future hanging in the balance.
During a one-year stretch in 2001, Adkins was arrested and jailed for driving under the influence, seriously injured in a tractor accident, and finally directed to alcohol rehab. Later in that same year he landed on his feet and released a career-saving album in Chrome, which would prove to be the break he’d been waiting for since Louisiana. These days you can’t walk in a honky-tonk or even a mall without hearing or seeing traces of Trace. His double platinum Songs about Me album in 2005 spawned the signature hit “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” and paved the way to instant CMT credibility then the smash follow-up Dangerous Man last year. “Ladies Love Country Boys” sent him over the top, with a legendary video and ensuing reputation as the ultimate ladies man.
Bullz-Eye: Having been all over Webster’s dictionary website, typing in different spellings and even different languages, I must ask what is the textbook definition of “badonkadonk”?
Trace Adkins: Huh, huh…uh, I think in the Rap dictionary it’s “much junk in the trunk.”
BE: (Laughs) So where did you come up with that song?
TA: Jamey Johnson and Randy Houser and Dallas Davidson were all down at the Wild Horse drunk one night and they were up on the upper balcony looking down on the dance floor, and saw this ol’ gal down there just knockin’ people around, ya’ know. And that’s where it came from.
BE: Just saw your new documentary “American Man” on GAC over the weekend. Watching the ladies going nuts during your performance of “I Got My Game On”, it would appear that it’s pretty good to be Trace Adkins these days.
TA: Yeah, well, it’s good work if you can get it, I promise you that. Things are great for us, we’ve had a good run these last few years. I can’t complain about anything.
BE: It’s really just taken off for you these last few years, hasn’t it? You got started later than most, not until you were well into your 30s, right?
TA: Yeah, I got a record deal when I was 32, been around 12 years now. We came out of the gate pretty hot, had a platinum album right out of the chute. Going into my second album, the president of the label got fired. After that I went through a slump that lasted three or four years. It was tough sleddin’ there for a while, lots of doubt whether I was even going to keep doing it. But I made it through and now he’s gone, there’s a new guy at the helm and things are good.
BE: Like we’ve seen so often, when the tide turns and things start getting good, it can really explode in a hurry. Just the last couple years since, I guess, the Songs about Me record, your career has really taken off.
TA: Yeah, that kinda kicked it off, but it really goes back to Chrome. I think Chrome really turned things around, in fact, I know it did. That was a different kind of video and a different kind of song.
BE: Then you spun out your first greatest-hits package. Today is the release of your second greatest hits collection called American Man: Greatest Hits Vol. II. How do you decide the timing of a greatest hits package?
TA: Well, this one was circumstance. We had the next album pretty much done and ready to go, then this “Apprentice” thing came along the first of October, so I didn’t have time to finish the studio album. I just figured we’d put it off and have some kind of release in the first quarter next year. Then the label called and wanted to do another greatest hits package. I had not even thought about it. But you know how the business works, the label wanted to get some product out this year…
BE: Especially right before Christmas.
TA: Yeah, greatest-hits packages are a good opportunity for the label to make almost pure profit, so it helped them with their bottom line. It was fine with me, it just kinda caught me by surprise. I didn’t think we had enough material to do another one. I was just as surprised as anyone else, then I saw it all put together and said, “Well, I guess it’s legitimate.”
BE: You’ve got some new material on there, too. “I Got My Game On” is looking like it might be one of your biggest hits to date.
TA: No, it’s not gonna be a hit, it’s already dead. I think we just went to that well one too many times. Radio just didn’t want to play another one of those kinds of songs right now, so we’re coming with another sappy kind of song after the first of the year. It’s called “You’re Gonna Miss This” and it’s on the greatest hits.
BE: You say it’s dead, but it’s all over country radio and CMT right now. I love the video. Is Rodney Carrington a friend?
TA: Rodney’s a great guy. I’ve known him a few years. He’s on Capitol, too. When I thought about this video, I knew I wanted someone recognizable and someone who wouldn’t have a problem being self-deprecating. I knew Rodney would do that. We had a blast doing that video.
BE: It looks like it, great video. You mentioned “Celebrity Apprentice”…looks like Donald Trump’s new show will feature a star-studded cast and air after the first of the year. Tell me about your role in that.
TA: Well, it’s just like all the rest of the “Apprentice”s, ‘cept we’re all playing for charity. None of us are trying to get a job working for Donald Trump, I know I’m not.
BE: (Laughs) Maybe the other way around?
TA: No, no…but this wasn’t a no-brainer for me. There was considerable thought that went into it. There’s a charity I’m closely involved with, and my wife and little six-year-old girl. She’s cursed with severe food allergies, and so the charity I lend most of my time to is the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN). So it was an opportunity for me to raise awareness about that charity and the research that they’re doing to help people like us. There are 12 million people in this country that have severe food allergies, three million of those are school-aged children. We’re doing something these days to cause our babies to have these allergies. I know when I was growing up there weren’t any kids in my school that had food allergies. And now there are three million kids that have severe food allergies and it’s a daily struggle to deal with that, and try to be vigilant and keep from being exposed to stuff that could kill them. You know, so that’s why I did it, not for any other reason.
BE: You just touched a nerve. I’ve got a one-year-old baby girl who has severe food allergies. She can’t eat anything with milk, eggs, or peanuts. She’s basically on a soy-strict diet, which is plenty challenging.
TA: Yep, and that’s exactly what Brianna is, she’s allergic to milk and egg. You know, there’s something that we’re doing to our babies that’s causing this. We need to find out what it is and that’s what the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) is. You should check into it. It’s a great organization to join. They can help people like you and me immeasurably.
BE: It’s very hard to manage this thing. We’ve gotten to the point we hardly can go out to eat any more with the kids…
TA: Oh, man, you’ll get used to that. We simply don’t go out to eat as much as a family. We just don’t do it. It’s hard to trust people, people that aren’t aware of how careful you need to be. If you cook on a grill surface that had dairy on it, I don’t care how well you cleaned that cook top, if you cook her food on top of it, those proteins are still there and she’s gonna have a reaction. You can’t trust just anyone to know that.
BE: So this is why “The Apprentice” made sense to you?
TA: That’s it. It’s an opportunity for me to forward that mission, which is to make more people aware. That’s the only reason I did it. If I had a chance to win the quarter-million dollars for FAAN, that would be wonderful. But I can give ‘em money, I can’t get that awareness that this show afforded the opportunity to get. And I had to constantly remind myself that I was on that show representing a charity, because I tell ya’, it was an exercise in restraint the likes of which I’ve never experienced.
TA: There were days I literally wanted to bloody somebody up! I had to remind myself that I couldn’t go there, because my six-year-old little girl wouldn’t have done that and that’s who I was representing.
BE: Well, best of luck with that. So ’08 looks like you’re preparing for a full-on “American Man” tour. You’ve got some of the young up-and-comers slated to open- Bucky Covington, Luke Bryan, Kellie Pickler, to name a few. A couple of them are former American Idols. What’s your take on the “American Idol” phenomenon? Good for the industry, bad for the industry?
TA: Oh, I don’t know, man. I don’t take anything away from those people who made it to the finals and eventually won the thing. That’s some tough competition. There’s a few ways to go about this thing, trying to get a record deal or whatever. If you don’t wanna go about it in the more standard kinda way, go out and play the clubs and do that sort of thing, if you wanna take a short cut, more power to ya’.
BE: Tell me about your song selection process. How do you find the songs or the writers that you ultimately work with, since you don’t write much yourself?
TA: I’ve been in this town long enough now that I’m fortunate, I’ve got a lot of friends that are song writers. All the songwriters in this town know when they’ve written a Trace Adkins song. I’ve had so many of ‘em finish writin’ a song and they’ll send it straight to me. Now, what has started happening is if a songwriter has written something that is so incredibly nasty that they know nobody else will cut it, they send it to me. I guess they think I’m their last hope. If I won’t cut it, nobody will. And I get some nasty stuff, so nasty Conway Twitty wouldn’t have cut it, you know what I mean?
TA: There’s no real formula, though. There’s just something about a song that will speak to me. There always has to be something there that I can sing with conviction. You know, that just carries back to my days singing gospel music. If you can’t believe in what you’re singin’, you ought not be singin’ it.
BE: On the “American Man” special on GAC, you referenced the early influence your daddy and granddaddy had on you musically. What were other influences you had? Was it always country music?
TA: Well, it was strictly country in the house. I’d get a little gospel now and then if Mama had her turn to run the turntable. But my daddy had a pretty nice collection of country stuff, so that’s what I grew up listening to. I didn’t start listening to my own music and buying my own stuff until I got my own vehicle. My old man wasn’t gonna let me play my stuff in the house. I started buying rock cassettes when I started driving my old truck, so I was 16. That’s when I really started listening to music other than country and gospel.
BE: So what rock stuff were you into at the time?
TA: The Eagles, Journey, Boston…uh, you know…Foghat, .38 Special, and then Skynyrd and Marshall Tucker, Molly Hatchet, and the Allman Brothers. The list goes on and on, everybody that was hot back then, the Stones. You know, I never was a Beatles fan, I never got into that stuff. I’ve said before, and some people take offense to this statement, but I believe the best rock and roll was made between ’75 and ’85. Ah, there were a few exceptions, but pretty much everything before and after that, you can keep it.
BE: Wow. That’s a bold statement. (uncomfortable pause, reflecting on the time period ’75 to ’85) I was in high school in the early to mid-‘80s, and I agree with you that people want to cast off that decade as being all disposable music, but there was a lot of good rock and roll still being made. Some really good stuff carried over from the ‘70s, and I’m not talking about the goofy MTV progressive stuff, A Flock of Seagulls and all that crap.
TA: You know, there’s a reason why those bands from that era can still tour, it’s because they made the best music, man.
BE: Well, you named many that are still touring. I just saw .38 Special open for Skynyrd earlier this year.
TA: Yeah, bands like Journey and, and…Styx. I mean Styx is still out doin’ it, for God’s sake! Foreigner. So many bands are still able to tour on the strength of that stuff they cut back then. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a bill at a state fair that A Flock of Seagulls was on. (Laughs)
BE: What about music distribution? If you’ve got kids at home, you’re well aware of the digital download revolution. What’s your take on the controversy over illegal downloads and file sharing?
TA: I don’t really know that it’s affected my career any differently than it’s affected anybody else. Everyone is either benefiting or suffering equally. I kinda look at it a different way. I’m a little saddened that one of these days people aren’t gonna have anything to show off for a music collection. What are they gonna have, an iPod in a shiny glass box? You think back to our age when people had those great collections of LPs with the artwork and everything. It was a big deal to have that! It’s gonna get to the point that the only people owning the CDs we put out are the collectors, people who want the artwork and the official copy. Everyone else is gonna end up 40 years from now going, “I got nothing!” Nothing to put my hands on, nothing to remind me of the music I grew up with. And that’s kind of sad to me.
BE: I agree with you completely.
TA: I don’t think anybody’s thought of that aspect.
BE: I’ll be damned if I ever get rid of my CD collection.
TA: Yeah, because it means something to you!
BE: That’s for sure. I see you’ve got a book out. It’s called “A Personal Stand: Observations and Opinions of a Freethinking Redneck”…
TA: (Interrupting) No, “Roughneck.”
BE: “Roughneck,” right, “a Freethinking Roughneck.” Sorry about that. So what’s the difference between a redneck and a roughneck?
TA: Well, a roughneck is a job title, but it’s more than that. It’s a way of life. I worked in the oil field for ten years before I started doing this, and most those years were spent roughneckin’ and workin’ on an oil rig. The roughnecks are the ones up on the rig floor. Becoming a roughneck is what separates the rock star from the groupies, ya’ know. It’s a dangerous way to earn a livin’, it can be deadly at times. I had my share of breaks and bruises, and I saw guys get hurt to the point they could never work again. There’s a certain way of talkin’ that goes along with it, a certain swagger that you carry yourself with if you were the cock of the walk on that rig. It was some good money, I loved it. And that roughneck work ethic is still with me today. I wake up knowin’ that no matter how good a job I did yesterday, I still gotta go out and do a good job today.
BE: Well, the book touts your views on politics, personal responsibility, fame, and parenting. Coming from a guy with five daughters at home to a guy with two baby girls himself, you got any parenting tips for me?
TA: Huh, huh, huh. Well, ya’ know, I don’t claim to be father of the year or anything. I do the best I can, and try to stay as in tuned with what’s going on in my kids’ lives as I can. Try to be as hands-on as I can be. Like you said, I’ve got all daughters, so it’s a nightmare. I love my girls and they take good care of me. My mama said, “Those girls will take care of you when you get old and the boys won’t.” I think she knows what she’s talkin’ about.
BE: I know you’re from just outside of Shreveport, Louisiana, right?
BE: We up here in the Buckeye State got a little tackle football game coming up in a few weeks against your LSU Tigers. You got any predictions on that game?
TA: (Laughs) Well, I’m not all puffed up about it this year, you know. I don’t think anybody should be. Both teams kinda backed their way into this deal. The National Championship was Missouri’s and West Virginia’s if they had wanted it. They didn’t want it, so by default our teams are playin’. So I don’t think either one of us should be beatin’ our chest or anything.