There was a time when this tall, deep-singing, Louisiana boy didn’t really have a place he could call home. Sure, he had a place to crash after playing another honky tonk somewhere throughout the Southwest, but it really wasn’t home. With his family having stayed behind, in addition to a house and steady job, Trace Adkins had become somewhat of a lonely wanderer desperately seeking stardom.
The house was sold; he and his wife eventually divorced; and Trace reached a point where he had decided to give up the whole music bit and hopefully get back his job doing the only other thing he knew how to do — drilling oil wells back in Louisiana.
Now, things have changed for the 6-foot-plus-tall, burly-voiced singer.
He still beams at the mention of his beautiful bride Rhonda of just less than a year. In addition to being gushingly proud of his daughters Tarah and Sarah, he and Rhonda now have a brand new baby daughter, Mackenzie Lynn, who was born on January 27th. Trace’s home couldn’t be a happier one, and as far as finally finding a steady job or ever fulfilling his musical dream, he managed to hit a double with one swing. He’s the reigning Academy of Country Music Top New Male Vocalist of the Year; a platinum album seller who’s scored such hits as “The Rest Of Mine,” “This Ain’t No Thinkin’ Thing” and “There’s A Girl In Texas”; and being named the February CMT Showcase Artist.
“Shoot, man, it’s really hard for me to look back retrospectively at this whole past year all at once,” explains Trace. “It’s overwhelming. I had so many dreams that came true in 1997 that it’s just almost too many to even count. But I guess if I could look back and just pick one millisecond that kinda summarizes how I feel about the whole year, it would be that second when they called my name at the ACM Awards for Top New Male Vocalist of the Year. The way I felt right at that particular second is really the way I feel about 1997. That pretty well sums up the whole thing.”
Trace’s platinum-selling debut album, Dreamin’ Out Loud, literally kicked off the Big Time for the singer. His current Big Time disc is already following the same successful path — turning out the phenomenal hit, “The Rest Of Mine,” a ballad he co-penned for his wife, and his latest release, “Lonely Won’t Leave Me Alone.”
“Lonely is about emotion as well, but it’s tempered with a groove that just feels really good,” Trace says. “It’s a song that I enjoy performing live, so I have a lot of fun with it. It’s another one that gives me a chance to move a little bit and have a good time, but at the same time, lyrically, it’s a sad song.”
His new “Lonely…” reveals yet another different side of the one-time gospel quartet bass singer we’ve not heard before. “This song really surprised the folks at Capitol because it has a falsetto part in there that they didn’t know I could even do. When we were picking songs for the album, that song came across in a meeting one day. Someone knew it was a good song and played it, but they said they didn’t know if I could do it. I said, ‘Why not?’ They said, ‘Well, there’s that falsetto part…’ So I said, ‘Man, I’ve been singing in beer joints for ten years, and in a four or five-hour dance gig, I didn’t always sing lead on every song. Sometimes I’d sing harmony. Then sometimes I’d sing the really high parts and sing them falsetto.’ I always got a kick out of it because people would look at me kinda weird, and I knew they were thinking, ‘Look, that big dude is singing the high part,'” he laughs. “So it was something that I knew I could do, and I had fun with it.”
While success and happiness seem to be flowing across the board for Trace these days, he’s really having fun with his live shows and videos. Being tapped as CMT’s February Showcase Artist couldn’t have come at a sweeter time.
“We are all just so happy about that,” he admits. “Some people don’t think that videos really help out artists that much, but I, on the other hand, can tell everybody from experience, that it does. Let me just put it this way — the video for ‘Thinkin’ Thing’ took my career to another level. It just did. The guys in the band can attest to the fact that after that video came out, things started to change. We’d go do a show, and kick that song off, and women down front would just lose their minds,” he laughs. “We would all just kinda look at each other up there on stage like ‘What’s going on here?’ There was only one explanation for it, and that was the video. I could hear them. They’d scream ‘Dance like you did in the video!’ That’s when dancing became a compulsory event for me. Before, it was just something that I enjoyed doing when I felt like doing it. But now, I feel like I don’t have a choice. They’ll throw stuff at me if they don’t think I’m performing like I should,” he kids.
“But I hardly ever feel pressured by that kind of thing, though,” he continues. “Every time I get on stage, that’s the one hour a day that I live for. That’s the reason I got into this business — was to perform live in front of people. I just love it. So I don’t ever have any trouble finding motivation to really get into the music, and there’s nothing fake about it.”
Perhaps the only thing that Trace hasn’t yet been able to change is letting his hair down a little bit — literally. The entertainer actually wanted to let go of the cowboy hat and ponytail for at least one shot in his new “Lonely Won’t Leave Me Alone” video.
“No, they didn’t let me do it,” he said with a bit of a sigh. “They just didn’t want me to do it. I have had some measurable success, I suppose, but they thought there still wasn’t enough familiarity with me for a lot of people. And if I did this one video with my hair down, there would be that person out there who had never seen me before, or maybe had only seen me once or twice, and wouldn’t recognize me. So we just didn’t think it was quite time yet. And letting my hair down is not really something I do all the time anyway. Everyday, I’m wearing a cowboy hat and a ponytail, and the reason for that is with my hair down, it’s long enough these days that, quite frankly, it just gets in the way,” he chuckles. “I was also thinking ‘You know, I bet all these people out there probably think I’m as bald as a cue. So I just don’t want people to think I wear this hat because I’m bald or anything. I wear this hat because I’ve worn one since I was a kid.
“My wife, being the eternal publicist, and one who is good at what she does, I might add, her big deal is to repeat impression, repeat impression, repeat impression. When someone is just getting started in this business and every time someone sees you, they see you the same way, that’s how you establish familiarity with the country music fans. So when they see you, they know you immediately. You just don’t want to change that too quickly. Lord knows that it’s hard enough just to get to that point that when they see you, they do know who you are.”
Trace knows who he is, too, and won’t soon forget what brought him to where he is today. Those lonely and struggling times throughout the 80s will long serve as priceless lessons about not only making it in the music world, but about not giving up on dreams and happiness.
“That time was very frustrating for me. I was playing a lot of clubs out in Texas and New Mexico,” he remembers. “I was doing the whole Southwest honky tonk circuit. It was frustrating because I didn’t know how to bridge that gap from being a part of one of the most popular dance-club bands in the Dallas/Ft. Worth metropolis, to actually making records. I had no idea how to go about making that happen. When it didn’t in 1990, I finally just got so frustrated with it that I just quit. I went back to working — doing the only other thing I knew how to do — drill oil wells. I had resigned myself to the fact that I never would be successful in the music business. And I was okay with that. I’m just a regular hard-working guy, and if getting my hands dirty every day for the rest of my life was what I had to do to make a living, I was all right with that. But luckily, a gentleman called me on the phone and said ‘Hey, if you don’t go to Nashville and try to make this happen, I promise you one of these days you’re going to look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself the question, ‘I wonder what would have happened if…’? Honestly, the thought of that scared me worse than quitting my job, selling my house and moving here. So that’s what I did.”
The new year for Trace is already bringing on new ventures and changes. He and his band have kicked off 1998 by playing several dates with Alan Jackson. He’ll then move on to a touring stint with Clint Black and country newcomers the Kinleys.
Talk about change — there was a time, too, when Trace remembers that the only songs he was playing in those memorable honky tonks were songs of Alan Jackson’s and George Strait’s. It was just a short while ago, however, that after he’d finished performing his own show at a state fair, he wandered down a few yards and heard a local band playing Trace Adkins’ tunes.
Change is good.