March 28, 2007, has to rank among Rodney Atkins’ more memorable birthdays. That’s the day BMI threw a party to celebrate “Watching You” — a song he co-wrote and recorded — having reached No. 1, the day he received a platinum award for his album sales and the day Mike Curb, his label chief, gave him a rather unusual car.
Several hundred guests packed BMI’s massive reception area for the event. Among them were newcomer Taylor Swift, who stood unobtrusively at the back of the room with a friend, and songwriters Dave Berg and Sam and Annie Tate, who had provided Atkins his breakthrough hit, “If You’re Going Through Hell (Before the Devil Even Knows).” It was the kind of crowd you had to edge through sideways — when you could move at all.
“I never stopped believing it was possible to have No. 1’s,” Atkins told a press conference before the presentations began. “But having an album go platinum is definitely huge.” This is Atkins’s 11th year with Curb Records. Prior to “If You’re Going Through Hell,” his highest charting single was “Honesty (Write Me a List),” which peaked at No. 4 in 2003.
He told reporters he’d gotten “a lot of e-mails” from people with addiction problems who praised him for the message “Watching You” carried — that kids learn values from watching their parents. “It kind of shook them loose,” he said. “I’m proud to be a part of family-friendly [country music]. … People want those kinds of songs.”
Still looking a bit dazzled by the onset of good fortune, the lanky Atkins admitted he had “no idea” why Curb Records had kept him on its artist roster so long without hits. But he did say a senior executive at the label kept encouraging him to write and record. He ended up recording the If You’re Going Through Hell album in his home studio.
This summer, in addition to his solo appearances, Atkins will be on separate tours with Martina McBride and Brad Paisley. “They represent the best of what country music stands for,” he declared. “I can’t explain how humble and thankful I am to be a part of this group.”
Atkins said he hasn’t really indulged himself with the extra income his booming career is generating, except for “putting in a circle drive at my house so the [tour] bus can turn around.”
Atkins noted that his 5-year-old son, Elijah, who co-stars in the music video for “Watching You,” is now getting a taste of his dad’s stardom. The singer said the two were recently eating at a Taco Bell when a customer looked their way and exclaimed, “That’s the ’Buckaroo’ kid!”
“Then,” Atkins deadpanned, “they recognized me.” After a couple of similar encounters that same day, Elijah chirped, “Daddy, we’ve got fans everywhere.”
Although Atkins had no hand in writing his current single, “These Are My People,” he noted, “Every single piece of that [song] was a piece of me growing up.”
Atkins’ co-writers on “Watching You” are Steve Dean, also a BMI writer, and Brian White, who’s affiliated with SESAC. BMI’s Jody Williams presented Dean and Atkins each with a guitar for their achievement. Mike Curb gave Atkins a plaque signifying that >If You’re Going Through Hell had been certified platinum (meaning that 1 million copies have been shipped to record stores).
Then came the big surprise when Curb told Atkins he was giving him the vehicle he’d driven in his last two music videos. With that, he pointed to the battered, roofless, olive drab International Scout parked at the BMI entrance.
“I predict that will be in the Country Music Hall of Fame some day,” Curb said. The crowd cheered as though it had already happened.
Oh, yes, it was Atkins’ 38th birthday.