His heartfelt meditation on fatherhood, “Then They Do,” inspired a book published by Rutledge Hill Press last year; he was nominated for Best Male Video by the Country Music Television’s Flameworthy Awards earlier this month; he had a Busch Series race named after him by NASCAR, the “Trace Adkins Chrome 300”; he made his acting debut on the CBS television sitcom Yes, Dear; was chosen as the voice of Kentucky Fried Chicken’s new national television campaign; AND was inducted as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Whew.
That said, success has taken quite a circuitous route for the Louisiana-born singer. Growing up on country and gospel music in the tiny Southern town of Serapta, La., after attending Louisiana Tech for a couple of years, Adkins found himself about as far from the bright lights of Nashville as one can get — working as an offshore oil rigger for nearly a decade. “My old man was in the timber industry,” Adkins said. “So I went into the oil business,” he says with a laugh.
Continuing to sing and perform on the side (he was a bass in an all-male gospel quartet before switching to more traditional country), Adkins didn’t start seriously thinking about the music business until he began to front a number of shows along the notoriously rowdy Texas club circuit. “Well, I played beer joints for a long time out in Texas, and I moved up to Nashville in 1992, and actually played pretty much just one little place — a small club east of town,” Adkins said.
Following a bit of serendipity, Adkins found himself signed to a major record label — Capitol Records Nashville. “It was kind of strange. I mean, my wife worked for Arista Records, and she was coming in on a flight. I was at the baggage claim getting her luggage — playing my role of boyfriend/pack mule, you know,” he said laughing. “And she introduced me to the president of Capitol [who happened to be on the same flight], told him I was a singer, where I was playing and to come on out and see me.”
A short time later, Capitol’s president did just that. After Adkins’ first set, he walked on stage and said he wanted to offer him a record deal. “It was a long road getting there, though,” he said. It’s a line that rings true coming from Adkins.
A study in contrasts, his dominating presence (a burly 6-foot-6, 245 pounds) belies a quiet nature and the quick wit that saw him through nearly a dozen appearances on Bill Maher’s now defunct political talk show Politically Incorrect. And while some mainstream country stars have a tough time living up to the images they like to portray — “All Hat, No Cattle” is one of his signature songs — Adkins has the scars to back up his classic country tale of woe.
A list, in no particular order: He had to have a finger sewn back on following an industrial accident; his nose had to be reattached after a highway crash; he was run down by a bulldozer and had a 400-barrel oil tank explode as he was repairing it; he dropped out of college to marry his high school sweetheart and experienced his first divorce after four years and two daughters; a second wife accidentally shot him through the heart and lungs during a domestic dispute (no charges were ever filed); and he decided to give up his hard drinking ways to concentrate on his third wife and their two daughters nearly a year and a half ago.
After a string of No. 1 country hits, Adkins appears to have successfully harnessed all these experiences into a winning formula. “Pain and sex,” he says with a laugh, those are the defining characteristics of a good country song. “Pain and sex.”