Rodney Atkins is touring the country, playing festivals and headlining county fairs. But it wasn’t too long ago that the country singer probably would’ve considered himself lucky just to have a shot at opening for other singers.
Rodney Atkins is touring the country, playing festivals and headlining county fairs.
But it wasn’t too long ago that the country singer probably would’ve considered himself lucky just to have a shot at opening for other singers.
Around the holidays in 2005, one of Atkins’ friends was working as a property manager for country music superstar Alan Jackson.
“We lived about 100 miles outside of town, and he came to my place,” Atkins said in a recent telephone interview. “We were going deer hunting.”
The friend saw stacks of firewood and asked Atkins where it came from. When Atkins told him he had cut it himself from the surrounding land, the friend said he needed to obtain wood for Jackson.
So Atkins gathered the wood, cut it, loaded it onto a truck and delivered it to Jackson’s property, earning some extra money for Christmas.
Then in January, Atkins released “If You’re Going Through Hell (Before the Devil Even Knows),” the track that would eventually become his first No. 1 single on the Billboard country charts. It was excellent timing.
“I was opening for Alan Jackson probably four months later,” Atkins said. “He gave me that opportunity, and it means everything.”
Remembering the time when he was opening for some of the biggest names in country music, Atkins remembers the little acts of kindness many stars showed him. Brad Paisley and Martina McBride, for example, allowed Atkins full use of the stage and equipment.
“Some acts — which will remain nameless — they limit where you can go on stage. They want to tie you down a little bit as an opening act,” Atkins said. “Where Brad and Martina were about, ‘You go out there and give these people everything you got.’”
“That means a lot,” Atkins said. It’s something he says he has tried to carry forward now that he’s the headliner.
Songs about being human
Atkins has had five No. 1 country hits, including last year’s “It’s America” and “These Are My People” from 2007.
His songs are a mix of material he co-writes and songs by other writers. He said he works closely with co-producer Ted Hewitt, who has meetings during which people pitch songs for Atkins to record.
By the time he heard “If You’re Going Through Hell,” they’d already considered three other songs with similar themes. But there was something about the message of “Going Through Hell” that resonated.
It was a feeling that paid off, with the song becoming a huge hit for Atkins, reaching No. 1 on the charts and being named the most-played country song of 2006.
“What was funny is, a lot of other people had heard the song and said, ‘Nobody wants to hear about that. About struggling,’” Atkins said.
“And Ted and I had discussed what we wanted to play: songs about being human, about life, about being real,” Atkins said.
That was also the idea behind “Watching You,” which Atkins co-wrote. It’s about a man who sees his son learning his dad’s habits, from bad (swearing) to good (praying).
From “These are My People,” Atkins cited the line, “It ain’t always pretty but it’s real.”
“That’s the goal: things that were a little bit different, but that people could relate to,” Atkins said.
Losing the cowboy hat
That could also be said for Atkins’ down-to-earth look. He is often seen wearing blue jeans with a T-shirt, untucked but for a few inches in the front to show off a huge belt buckle. It’s topped off with a baseball cap, the brim tightly curved.
It hasn’t always been that way. At the beginning of his career, Atkins said, record-label marketing people put him in traditional cowboy clothes, as can be seen on the cover of his debut album, “Honesty” (2003).
After the Top 5 success of title track “Honesty (Write Me a List),” Atkins thought he needed to change things up, so he switched from a “big L.A. management company” to go with Greg Hill in Nashville.
“The first thing he said in one of our meetings was, ‘Do you ever wear any of this cowboy hat, leather pants? All I ever see you wearing is jeans, cargo shorts, work boots, ball caps. Because I think that’s you. ... We should let you be you, and make the music match that,’” Atkins recalled.
“Some people, they switch characters and become that image of the dressed up (cowboy),” he said.
Atkins, on the other hand, prefers that his stage persona more closely align with the guy he is in real life.
“It’s just kind of who you are. It’s easier to be that guy,” he said.
Springfield State Journal-Register