After all he’s been through, the superstar singer is proud to be here, indeed.
It’s the day before Trace Adkins’ 50th birthday and he’s at his farm near Nashville, Tennessee, recovering from the latest in a long line of reconstructive surgeries. No big deal, he insists. In fact, going under the knife is practically an annual tradition for him.
“Every winter,” he explains in his trademark sandpapered drawl, “I usually get something fixed. It’s either a shoulder or a knee or an elbow or a wrist or an ankle or something. I’ve been pretty hard on my body over my life. It’s catching up with me now, and I have to get stuff fixed.”
This year, Adkins adds, it was time for the knee to get tweaked. Again. “I dislocated my kneecap the first time when I was a senior in high school,” he says. The second injury occurred while Adkins — who hails from the north Louisiana town of Sarepta — played defensive end for the Bulldogs of Louisiana Tech University. Then he made the trifecta during a skiing vacation.
“So it’s been a recurring thing — my right knee is completely trashed. This is probably the last surgery that’s going to give me any relief. I’m probably looking at a replacement at some point.”
One could be forgiven for viewing Adkins’ entire life as a recurring cycle of injury and recovery. While a teenager, he broke both arms, a leg, and some ribs and had his nose partly torn off after his pickup truck collided head-on with a school bus. During his hardscrabble days as an offshore oil-rig roughneck, he had to have his left pinkie finger surgically reattached after accidentally severing the digit while opening a can with a knife. “It’s probably the most ridiculous thing that I’ve ever done to myself,” he recalls with a self-deprecating chuckle. “And I was sober when I did it, so I don’t have any excuses, really.”
Adkins subsequently survived other well-documented mishaps — including a near-fatal encounter with a gun-toting ex-wife — while determinedly trudging the long, hard road from playing honky-tonk gigs to charting multiple-platinum albums. Along the way, he has earned the adulation of an ever-increasing fan base with such megahit singles as “You’re Gonna Miss This,” an irresistibly affecting ode to the importance of stopping and smelling the roses; “Brown Chicken, Brown Cow,” an uninhibited celebration of afternoon delights down home on the farm; and “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk,” an exuberantly rowdy appreciation of shapely female anatomy.
Nowadays, Adkins is a multimedia luminary, a country music superstar who has branched out as an actor (opposite Matthew McConaughey in The Lincoln Lawyer, Val Kilmer in the recent DVD releaseWyatt Earp’s Revenge, and a small army of Hollywood’s elite in the forthcoming Civil War miniseries To Appomattox), a reality-TV regular (courtesy of Donald Trump’s The Celebrity Apprentice), and a bestselling author (A Personal Stand: Observations and Opinions from a Freethinking Roughneck). But despite the lofty heights he has scaled, his most devoted fans continue to think of him as one of them. Indeed, when his Nashville home was razed by fire last year, forcing him, his wife, Rhonda, and three of his five daughters to temporarily relocate to his farm, Adkins was surprised — and deeply moved — when everyday folks began offering donations to finance the building of a new house.
“I was just glad that we as a family were able to take that generosity and point it in the right direction,” Adkins says. “And try to get people to make donations to the Red Cross or whatever else they might want to do. Because we didn’t really need it.”
Don’t misunderstand: Trace Adkins doesn’t think of himself as a man who has it all. But he is someone who knows just how close he’s come, and how often he’s come, to losing everything. We caught up with Adkins to talk about career, family, and close calls.
Cowboys & Indians: You’ve reached 50 — one of those milestone ages. Were there times you thought you wouldn’t make it this far?
Trace Adkins: I don’t think I was ever worried about not making it. But I might have been concerned about what shape I’d be in when I got here. Yeah, it’s been an interesting trip. But, you know, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
C&I: That almost sounds like a line from the title cut on your latest CD, Proud to Be Here. Is that part of the reason why that song means so much to you?
Adkins: Absolutely. That song, of course, speaks to the guardian angels who’ve looked out for me. But that song also had another meaning for me. I mean, to be around and still be relevant in this business after 15 years — that’s a pretty good nail to hang your hat on.
C&I: Many of the songs you perform have such an autobiographical feel that it’s surprising to learn you didn’t write most of them. Do you actively seek out songs that reflect aspects of your life, or do songwriters approach you with songs they hope will remind you of yourself?
Adkins: It’s the latter. I have been in this town so long now, and I’ve developed personal relationships with so many of these songwriters, that they know me. They know who I am; they know what I’m about. They know what I like to sing about; they know my history. So every time we get ready to make a new album, I just put the word out that I’m getting ready to go back in the studio — and those guys will start saying, “OK, Trace is getting ready to record. Let’s write some new songs, blah, blah, blah.”
And you know, that’s a very cool place to be. It’s almost as though you’re a politician and you have these speechwriters, and they know what your positions are, what your stance is on certain issues, so they write stuff that perfectly fits what you’re about.
C&I: Are you ever surprised by any of the songs you’re offered? Like, “Gee, how did they know that about me?”
Adkins: I don’t think so. I think with my book and everything else, anyone who wants to know everything there is about me can find it out. I don’t have any secrets, really. The only thing that’s surprised me is, I’m the guy that ... well, if a couple of songwriters get together and they write a song that’s so suggestive or nasty that they’re afraid nobody’ll record it, I’m usually the guy who’s their last hope. If I don’t do it, nobody is going to do it.
C&I: Is that how “Brown Chicken, Brown Cow” came your way?
Adkins: [Laughs.] Yes. And I think the guys who wrote that thought, No way — he’ll never cut this. But, yeah, that’s a good example. Because I think they also thought, Well, if he doesn’t record this, who are we going to get to cut it?
C&I: For a while now, you’ve been easing into acting, with standout supporting roles inThe Lincoln Lawyer and, more recently, Wyatt Earp’s Revenge. Do you find playing a character in a film is a bit like pretending to be a character in a song you’re singing?
Adkins: Yeah, it’s not that much of a stretch. But it’s something that I get a kick out of. I really do. I enjoy challenging myself. I think it’s important that we keep finding things to do in this life that are outside our comfort zones, so that we don’t get stagnant and we continue to grow. That’s part of the enjoyment of life, that adrenaline rush that you realize you’re getting when you’re in a situation where you have absolutely no idea what to do. There’s quite a thrill that comes from that. A lot of times when I’m on a movie set, I just look and think, My God, I hope these people don’t find out that I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.
C&I: Well, you certainly pass the credibility test inWyatt Earp’s Revenge, if only because you look comfortable on a horse. A lot of directors say it’s not always easy to find actors who appear at home in the saddle nowadays. And to make matters worse, some actors actually will lie about their riding ability — until they embarrass themselves on camera.
Adkins: Well, that little movie there came about as just a spontaneous thing. I was actually in L.A. doing something else when my agent called, and she said, “Look, this guy called. They’re shooting this thing tomorrow; I thought you’d be perfect for it. Do you want to go do it?” So I said, “Sure.” When I got to the set that first day, they were having this big discussion because one of the actors had been replaced only that day, and they were going to have to go back and re-shoot a lot of stuff for that very reason. When they’d asked the guy if he could ride, he’d answered yes — where in actuality, he could not. He got on the set, he got on the horse, and he was petrified. Couldn’t ride. So they had to fire him.
Adkins: Actually, I thought it was funny, because the first thing they asked me when I showed up on the set that first day was, “Can you ride?” And I told them, “Sure. I grew up riding. I’m no stranger to a horse’s back.” And they looked at me for a moment as if to ask, “Really?” And at the time, I thought, That’s a funny question. Doesn’t everybody know how to ride? But they told me [that] a lot of actors just flat-out lie because they want the part so bad. I guess they figure, How hard can it be? I’ll just show up and get on the horse, and I’ll be able to ride. And then they find out they can’t do it.
You know, the same thing happened when I went to do The Lincoln Lawyer. They asked me if I could ride a motorcycle, and I was like, “Sure.” But that wasn’t good enough for them. They told me, “Well, we’re going to have to put you on a motorcycle and follow you around for a little while.” So I said OK and got on the bike and rode around L.A. for about half an hour.
C&I: The riding in Wyatt Earp’s Revenge went off without a hitch?
Adkins: I guess the most nerve-racking part of shooting that stuff for Wyatt Earp’s Revenge was trying to get that horse I was on to go run up that sandy road. I was probably the heaviest man who ever got on that horse, and I don’t think he knew quite what to do with me. I almost asked the wrangler if he had any spurs, because I couldn’t get him to go. It was like, whenever I tried to get him to run, he’d look at me like he was saying, “Seriously? Are you kidding me?”
C&I: Your character, Mifflin Kenedy, has outlaw sons who are — well, let’s just say they’re great disappointments to him. During filming, did you find yourself thinking, I’m glad I have daughters?
Adkins: [Laughs.] Well, I love all my girls. But I admit: The reason I have five daughters is, I tried to have one son. Now I have a grandson, so I guess he’s going to have to bear the burden of my expectations.
C&I: Do you expect that you’ll be a doting grandfather?
Adkins: I don’t want to make the boy soft. So I guess demanding would be a better description.
C&I: You might just be the first grandpa to be voted Country’s Sexiest Man by readers of Country Weekly. How did that honor go down with your wife and daughters?
Adkins: I got a lot of eye-rolling. That’s basically how they feel about it. This is about the third time I got a title like that. So their reaction is kind of like, “Yeah, whatever.”
C&I: Sounds like Rhonda, your wife, is not a particularly jealous lady.
Adkins: Oh, no — she’s the coolest chick ever. And she was in this business about eight years before I got in it. She was a publicist at Arista Records, so she knows how this business works. She doesn’t have any insecurities. She’s not affected by the smoke and mirrors part of it. She sees through it completely.
C&I: You’ve talked about how you like to relax by riding around on a tractor on your farm near Nashville. But didn’t you have a nasty near-fatal accident on a tractor a few years back?
Adkins: Well, it was actually one of those Kawasaki Mules, what they call a UTV [utility terrain vehicle]. But, yeah, it rolled over on top of me. It was a pretty scary little deal there. Luckily, I was drunk, so it didn’t scare me that bad. You know, it’s amazing — after you quit drinking, you stop going to the emergency room on a regular basis. This December made it eight years since I’ve had a drink. And it’s amazing, like I said: I don’t think I’ve been to the emergency room for an accident since then. Knock on wood. Mind you, it’s not something that I flaunt. But it is an explanation for some of the accidents that I had. That was a good lesson for me: Don’t operate heavy equipment when you’re hammered.
C&I: That’s a hard way to learn a lesson. But you know this better than most people: Some folks won’t quit drinking until they reach a point where they see what might happen if they don’t.
Adkins: That’s right. And I had got to that point. It came to me when I was about three weeks into my rehab experience. It was simply a moment of clarity. I just thought, Wow. I’ve got such an opportunity here. All I have to do is keep my nose clean, and I probably won’t ever have to have a real job again. So what the hell am I doing? And I walked out of there with a real clear purpose. And it’s worked for me.
C&I: The last time you were interviewed for Cowboys & Indians, you mentioned that you never expected “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” to chart so high for you. Is that still the most surprising hit you’ve ever had?
Adkins: Actually, I think “You’re Gonna Miss This” has eclipsed that. That was a song that I never intended to be a single. I recorded that song because it was so poignant, because my oldest daughter was about to get married. That song just had a really personal meaning for me at that time. When the president of the record label told me he wanted to release it as a single to radio stations, I told him, “Dude, they’re not going to play that. I just think it’s so sappy; they just won’t play it.” And I was completely wrong.
C&I: You have five daughters. How many times have you had a “You’re Gonna Miss This” type of conversation with them?
Adkins: Quite often. I’ve tried to stress to my kids that you need to savor this. You need to make the most of every day that you have when all the responsibilities that you have are pretty much restricted to just being a good kid, and don’t get in trouble, and everything else is taken care of for you. This is the only time in your life when that’s going to be the case. You need to realize that, and take advantage of that. And enjoy it.
C&I: You’ve never been one to shy away from speaking your mind, whether it’s been during interviews on CNN or Fox News Channel, or while writing your book. Can you see yourself ever turning away from music to pursue a political career?
Adkins: If I did, it wouldn’t be at a national level. Because I know myself well enough to know, if I ever do choose to throw my hat into the political ring, that I don’t want to be anywhere where I can’t effect any change, where I can’t get anything done. I can’t even imagine the frustration that those politicians on a national level must feel day in and day out without seeming to be able to make a difference. I think I would much rather keep it at a local level and be more effective and see the results of your efforts, rather than going to Washington, D.C., and being subjected to that infantile, juvenile playground fight there every day. I just wouldn’t be able to tolerate it, I’m afraid.
C&I: Back to music. Will you be doing more touring this year?
Adkins: Country music artists by and large tour most of the year. We don’t do like the pop acts or the rock acts and do an extensive three-month tour and never come home. We do two or three days a week, and then we come home. And then the next week we do two or three more days. Or we go out and do weekends. And that’s kind of how we do our whole year. This year, we’re going to do some more theater stuff. I’ve been talking about doing this for a few years now. I wanted to play in a few more intimate venues, where you get to do a more storyteller-type show, because I don’t get to do that enough.
C&I: How about something you haven’t gotten to do in movies that you’d like to. Do you have a dream role?
Adkins: Yes. I’ve said this before, so it’s no secret: a mute gunfighter. Where you don’t have any lines to remember. Like, somehow, he had some horrible, unfortunate accident, and he lost his tongue. He can still hear and stuff. He just can’t speak. It’ll be just a lot of situations that you’re placed in. And you get to kill people. And, of course, the women can’t resist you. That’s the ultimate role, isn’t it? I mean, that way I wouldn’t even have to deal with the singing expectations.
From the April 2012 issue.