Originally published in the December 3, 2007 issue of Country Weekly magazine.
Trace Adkins has never been reluctant to voice his opinions about his life, career and the state of the world as he sees it. In fact, once you get to know the big Louisiana native, his amazingly colorful life is pretty much an open book. Well, as of Nov. 13, Trace’s life really is an open book—and he wrote it. It’s called A Personal Stand: Observations and Opinions From a Freethinking Roughneck, and Trace, 45, recently took a break at the recording studio to sit down with CW Senior Editor David Scarlett for his most expansive—and personal—interview ever for the magazine. He talks about the book, tunes from his American Man, Greatest Hits Volume II CD, out Dec. 4, and why he’s the way he is. If you think you know what makes Trace tick, think again—and read on.
Country Weekly: Why’d you write this book?
Trace Adkins: People who are usually on the receiving end of my rants and opinions and stuff have encouraged me over the years to write a book. It’s hard for me to accept that anybody would really care about what I had to say or think about anything. But I reluctantly entered into this experiment and, as I got into it, I started enjoying it—and it got to be kind of therapeutic for me, too.
CW: What do you hope people will get from reading it?
TA: I want the book to be my observations and opinions about contemporary history and current events, but I want it to be autobiographical—to explain how I got to that point. I think this way because I came from here, I experienced this in my life, this happened to me. I wanted it to be more explanatory. Not just a rant or something, but to give people an autobiographical journey that led me to my point of view. Here’s why I’m the way I am.
CW: Is there stuff that as Rhonda [Trace’s wife] was typing the book or listening she’d say, “Absolutely not, that’s not going in there”?
TA: I pretty much knew what should or should not be in there. I censored myself—but probably not enough in a lot of people’s opinions [chuckles[.
TA: There are small pockets where it’s still around. That’s why I’m such a big fan of the RFD channel [the network that celebrates rural America]. It’s nostalgic. It’s comforting to know that there is still that RFD world out there and we forget about it.
CW: I know as a kid you worked haulin’ hay and doing other hard jobs. Do you think kids today who didn’t have that opportunity are missing out on something?
TA: Sure they are. There’s something to be said for having that experience of working so hard for your money and then whatever you purchase with that money, it means so much more to you—like some of the rifles that I purchased when I was a kid. I still have those guns and they mean a lot to me and I will always have those guns.
CW: When you had your wreck in high school [the windshield on Trace’s truck was fogged up, and he rear-ended a bus, without ever putting on his breaks, and his nose had to be reattached], did you really think you were going to die?
TA: That was only after I woke up coming out of surgery. I was going to make it, but I didn’t know that. All I saw was that tube coming out of my side and I thought, “My God, if I go to sleep I’m going to die.” I remember very vividly how that felt.
CW: You’ve said some things a lot of artists wouldn’t have. Have you ever thought, “Maybe I shouldn’t have said that or maybe it cost me this”?
TA: Yes. Most of that happened while I was drinking though. [Trace has been in recovery since completing rehab in 2003.] Now, I can censor myself when I feel the need to. But you have to be able to look at yourself in the mirror, too, and at the end of the day say, “You know, I did stand up for what I believe. I didn’t become agreeable just so that I could get along with everybody in the room.”
CW: Have you been in crowds on one coast or the other where they would be totally opposed to stereotyping women, gays or any particular ethnic group, but they will generalize about an entire region of the country and make the most outlandish stereotypical comment about Southerners?
TA: Yes. I heard about an interview that somebody did with Bill Maher the other day in which Bill said they asked him what the most surprising thing is that he’s learned over the years from his show Politically Incorrect all the way through Real Time. And he said the thing that’s surprised him the most is finding out that people you thought were going to be stupid were not—people like Trace Adkins. And people you thought would be smart turned out to be stupid—like Gene Simmons. He said that. I didn’t say that. That was an example to me of somebody that had that stereotype and preconceived idea of what a country artist was going to be like. They just immediately assume that I’m uneducated.
CW: In the book, you talked about your many brushes with death. And you talked about your brother Scott and his death in a car wreck. What would he think of your career today?
TA: You know what, I almost would bet that my baby brother, were he still alive today, would be here. He would be here with me and he would probably be working with me in my organization. I wouldn’t have been able to keep him away, it would have been impossible. He loved to hear me sing and be around that. He went out on the road with me one summer while I was playing clubs and he just loved it. We were 10 years apart.
CW: Where were you when you got the news that he’d been killed?
TA: I was onstage.
CW: In the middle of a show?
TA: Yes. I was onstage with my garage band. I didn’t have a record deal or anything. I moved here to Nashville in ’92. This was in ’93 and I was onstage and these two cops came right up to the front of the stage and I immediately thought, “Oh my God, I’m going to jail, and I don’t even know what I did. It was probably something they found out about that I thought nobody knew and I’m going to jail” [he chuckles].” So I came off the stage and they said, “You have to go home right now. There’s an emergency, something has happened.” They wouldn’t tell me. So I called home and my wife told me.
TA: To that point yes, I guess. My first divorce, when that first happened, that was probably the most painful thing I’d ever gone through. That was my first experience with emotional pain turning into physical pain where your chest would tighten up and you thought you were going to die. And I was a young, in-shape man at the time and I thought it was going to kill me. So, his death was comparable to that. It was a horrible time.
CW: I thought it was interesting that you said being shot in the heart by your second wife was a gift because it eventually led to Rhonda, who was a good friend, coming to the hospital and bringing you flowers.
TA: That’s how our relationship started blooming. It really started from that point. I don’t care if it was just simple pity on her part—it still worked out for me.
CW: Is the down side of having so much success with “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” and songs like that . . . that maybe some of your more serious songs don’t get the attention they should?
TA: I don’t know, but here’s what happened and this is the truth. It was last year during Fan Fair, or whatever they call it. Capitol had this luncheon where all these program directors and radio people came in. Luke Bryan played and then I closed the show. We picked three songs we were considering for the next single and played them. And the overwhelming reaction over the course of the next couple of days was that “I Wanna Feel Something” was the one. They really wanted to hear something like that from me, something with some substance and depth. So we sent it to them. They wouldn’t play it. A few of them did, but it was the most disheartening thing. It was so demoralizing to me. I really took it personally. I had just come off a two-week No. 1, first time I’d ever had that, and “I Wanna Feel Something” just tanked.
CW: In the book you talked about admiring John Wayne and how that breed is definitely a vanishing one. What do you think has made American men so willing to be emasculated?
TA: Society has changed. Now that give-no-quarter kind of masculinity is looked at with disdain. Not only is it not accepted, it’s not tolerated. Men these days are just all too willing to accept that, go along with it. Rhonda and I talk about it all the time—the way I have to be because I have all daughters, and my father had all sons. [Trace’s daughters are Trinity, 2, Brianna, 6, Mackenzie, 9, Sarah, 19, and Tarah, 22]. The way he was able to run the show compared to the way that I have to run my show, it’s just completely the opposite ends of the spectrum.
CW: Do you think your two older daughters didn’t get the best of you as a father?
TA: I feel so guilty about that and they know that and they take full advantage of it [chuckles]. I tell them “no” very seldom. But I do feel guilty about my older two girls not having the father that my three little ones have. It’s not just about the drinking and that kind of stuff, it’s the age thing, too. I was a young man. I didn’t even know who I was yet. I was just still fumbling and feeling my way in the dark, through this life, trying to figure out who I was and what I was doing.
CW: What can break your heart?
TA: Kids in pain. I cannot stand that. I’ve seen my little girl trip and fall and I can feel it myself. It’s hard to even explain how it feels when one of your children gets hurt—how it literally causes you pain.
CW: Tell me about the Twin Towers’ ground zero, what was the emotion you felt when you first saw that?
TA: People always use this term, and I think it gets used without being given the weight that it deserves, but it was “life-altering.” Most everything in this country, everything in our generation is going to be measured by pre- and post-9/11, that’s the way it’s always going to be for us. But, me personally, having had the experience of standing there while that huge mountain of debris was still there . . .
CW: Do you think Americans today have the stomach to be as brutal as we might need to be to prevail?
TA: No. Not yet. We might some day. It’s going to take something really catastrophic. I hate to even speculate on what that might be. But it will take a little more prodding for us to get down on that level.
CW: What do you think is still good about America and Americans?
TA: Just the freedom that we enjoy. I know that sounds trite, but it’s true. We can travel all over this country and go anywhere and do pretty much anything we want to do. Freedom to make your own mistakes and your own gains—that’s the best thing about it.
CW: When you are no longer around, what do you want your girls to remember about you?
TA: I just hope they will remember me as a dependable guy, one that they could count on no matter what for whatever they truly need. I’m the go-to guy. I don’t know where my 2-year2old heard this, but she’s calling me “big guy” now. [He does an impression of Trinity calling him “big guy.”] I know she heard it on TV or something. It’s so cute. I hope she never stops calling me that.
Life’s Better Sober
In his new book, A Personal Stand: Observations and Opinions From a Freethinking Roughneck, Trace pulls no punches about his years of alcoholism, substance abuse and eventual life-changing rehab experience. Here’s some of what he has to say in the book about the before and after of his drinking days.
“Before I opened my eyes, I reached over the bed and felt around for that gallon jug of Cuervo, found it, grabbed the handle, spun off the cap, and then I turned it upright—all before I even got out of bed. That was how I kick-started my day, and those are the depths to which I’d sunk while on the road.”
“Back then I was a pretty mean drunk—I was the drunk in charge . . . I was a walking ugly scene in the making and I knew it.”
“I headed out to my farm, locked the gate, went out to the barn, and polluted myself. . . . At the rate I was drinking, somebody was going to go out there one day and find me dead.”
“My intervention was like an ambush. Everybody in the room [Trace’s wife, Rhonda, his manager and an intervention specialist] had letters they had written . . . and they pummeled me with words and feelings. I was really on the spot. . . . It was time to own up to my drinking problem once and for all. . . So I surrendered.”
“I admit I’m powerless over alcohol and that my life has become nmanageable. . . . Once you get past [admitting] that, the jig is up,”
Trace has been sober since completing rehab in January 2003.
Trace’s Greatest Hits, Vol. II – Track List
Here’s what’s on Trace’s new American Man, Greatest Hits Volume II CD, set for a Dec. 4 release. His next studio album is due early in 2008.
- Ladies Love Country Boys
- I Got My Game On (new song)
- You’re Gonna Miss This (new song)
- Honky Tonk Badonkadonk
- Hot Mama
- Rough & Ready
- Songs About Me
- I Wanna Feel Something
- American Man (new song)
- I Came Here to Live
Trace’s Words of Wisdom
Here are some classic “Tracisms” from his new book, A Personal Stand: Observations and Opinions From a Freethinking Roughneck.
- “Okay, I’m here in case someone needs killin’, and if you’re around long enough, maybe we’ll converse.”—On his role as “enforcer,” greeting his daughters’ new boyfriends.
- “Soccer is a European sport and it ought to stay a European sport, that’s how I feel about it. We’ve got better sports.”
- “I’m living proof that the American Dream is alive and well.”
- “I am a Dennis Miller Conservative—Dennis Miller for president!”
- “A country boy needs a place to be a country boy.”
- “I still believe the only way to fight Islamic terrorism is to crack skulls. We need to flush them out of their caves and kill them.”
- “I just call ‘em like I see ‘em.”
photos by Tamara Reynolds