Rodney Atkins and songwriters Dave Berg and Rivers Rutherford converged at ASCAP’s Nashville headquarters Wednesday (Oct. 24) to revel in the No. 1 achievement of “These Are My People.” The song is Atkins’ third chart-topper from his album, If You’re Going Through Hell.
The lanky singer’s previous two successes were the album’s title cut, which Berg also co-wrote, and his own co-write, “Watching You.”
Atkins, Berg and Rutherford huddled with reporters before the party started. “It’s Dave Berg,” Atkins asserted when asked what accounted for such a sudden cascade of success after having floundered in the recording business for so many years. (He first charted — low and briefly — in 1997.)
“These Are My People” is a song with which everyone can identify,” Atkins proclaimed, noting that he is from East Tennessee, Berg from Portland, Ore., and Rutherford from Memphis. He said he’d recently returned from an appearance in New Hampshire for the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition TV series. “We did it for a whole community who related to the song,” he said. “High schools have sent me MP3s of them singing it at their graduations.”
It was his own “red-neckedness,” Atkins said, that caused him to open the song with twin fiddles instead of via the guitar lick used in the original demo. Moreover, he continued, he picked the song to be the first one on the album in order to establish a prevailing mood.
Turning to Berg and Rutherford, Atkins praised them as “the kind of songwriters who see around corners.”
A reporter asked Atkins, who has often appeared on the Grand Ole Opry, if he had any memorable stories about Porter Wagoner, the Opry patriarch who is now battling lung cancer in a Nashville hospital. Atkins said he had always heard it was a good-luck sign if Wagoner mangled your name when introducing you to the Opry audience. Sure enough, when Wagoner first presented Atkins, he declaimed, “Ladies and gentlemen, from Cumberland Gap, Ronnie Action!”
ASCAP’s Dan Keen presided over the awards presentations and began by observing that “These Are My People” is Berg’s fourth No. 1 and Rutherford’s eighth. Among those cheering Berg on was his brother, Rick, who had flown in for the occasion.
Keen also pointed out that Berg’s co-write, “If You’re Going Through Hell (Before the Devil Even Knows),” had tied for song-of-the-year honors at the recent ASCAP country awards ceremony. He praised Rutherford for “channeling Ray Charles” in his performance of “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” during the Kenny Rogers tribute at the same event.
Dan Hill of Cal IV Entertainment, one of the publishers of “These Are My People,” said that the song was four years old. “We thought it was an instant hit [when we first heard it],” he recalled. “It took Rodney and [producer] Ted [Hewitt] three years to recognize that.”
Atkins thanked the publishers for bringing him great songs at a time that his career seemed “dead in the water.” In summing up, he added, “The good Lord has put up walls to guide me to certain places where I’m supposed to be.”