Trace Adkins’ Career Moves Forward With Cowboy’s Back in Town

He Talks About His New Album and the "Seismic Shift" in the Music Industry

Trace Adkins reached another career landmark Tuesday (Aug. 17) with the release of Cowboy’s Back in Town, his first album for Show Dog-Universal Music.

The move to the new label followed more than a decade of hits at Capitol Nashville and further solidifies his business relationship with longtime friend and current tourmate Toby Keith, who founded Show Dog Nashville in 2005. Show Dog merged with the Universal South imprint in 2009, and Keith serves as principal of the company.

The album, produced by Michael Knox and Kenny Beard, includes the current single, “This Ain’t No Love Song,” and features Trailer Choir on “Don’t Mind if I Don’t.” A deluxe version of the project adds four other tracks, including “Hillbilly Bone,” Adkins’ collaboration with Blake Shelton. The album closes with “Whoop a Man’s Ass,” a song written by Casey Beathard and Kendell Marvel about the price that should be paid by those whose irresponsible acts include cursing at children or physically abusing women.

A recent interview at CMT’s offices in Nashville veered from a discussion of his new album to his observations about the current state of the country music industry. As always, Adkins has no hesitation in saying what’s on his mind. Did switching labels change the way you approached the new album?

No, I don’t think so. I already had half of the album done before I went over to Show Dog anyway. I had six songs done before I even went over there. No, it didn’t change anything that I was doing. I was already heading in this direction to start with.

There are some ballads on the album, but the overall tone seems more in-your-face than ever.

You know, I’m just doing what I want to do and having fun. I worked with a couple of producers on this one that made it a lot of fun. … We just went in to have a good time. And we did. We had a blast.

It seems like some of the tracks on the new album have more of an R&B and Southern rock edge.

There may be a couple of R&B-flavored things. I know that the song I wrote that’s on there leans in that direction.

Who’s the female singing on it? That’s one thing that jumps out.

Shelly Fairchild. Yeah, she’s great. She’ll just murder you with her voice. She’s so good.

The B-3 organ and saxophone on “A Little Bit of Missin’ You” also added to the R&B feeling.

I thought, “This song needs a sax on it. I can hear it. It just needs it.” So at my insistence, it was put on there.

Most people in Nashville discourage putting horns on country records.

And I don’t think it should be that way. You can look back a long time ago when Johnny Cash had horns and Haggard had horns. Everybody has used them from time to time. I think it’s great. I love horns.

How much has the music business changed since you released your first single in 1996?

It’s really strange … because this business has seismically changed over the course of my career. When [former Capitol Nashville chief] Scott Hendricks told me he’d give me a record deal in ’95, in the 15 years since that happened, there has just been a seismic shift in this industry. All the rules have been thrown out the window, and everything’s different now.

How has that affected you?

It’s affected all of us. I tell a lot of people this: Do you remember when Shania came out and she just did nothing but send singles to radio and sell records for about three or four years and nobody ever saw her [perform] live? You can’t do that anymore. Because you can’t earn any money selling records anymore, so it’s all about touring now. If you’re gonna make a living, you have to hit the road.

Do you sense any paranoia at the labels on Music Row?

Absolutely. Everybody’s scared to death. Sure. They won’t admit that, but they all are. Everybody in this town has 20 copies of their resume floatin’ around. It’s true, man. And not a one of them chicken-shits would tell you the truth about it. But it’s true. Everybody that drove to work on Music Row this morning is looking for another job.

Toby clearly cares about his music and his label, but he really doesn’t seem to worry much about industry politics or what’s happening on Music Row.

And that’s one of the things that’s happening, too. Along with this technological revolution is a little bit of breaking of the union. The good ol’ boy network that’s always been in control of this town and of this business, they’re losing that control. They’re hangin’ on with their fingernails, but they’re losing control.

Given their overall sales numbers, I don’t know how some of the labels are still in business.

I don’t either. And they’re all on the verge of shutting down. Toby goes at it with the absolute right frame of mind. It’s a vehicle. It’s a vessel that we use to transport our goods to market, but we’re not going to depend on it to make a living. It’s not about revenue. It’s a marketing tool. And that’s it.

The concert industry has changed a lot through the years, too. You and Toby both cut your teeth on the bar circuit, but it has to be harder than ever to build a career that way.

It’s almost impossible to make a living just playing clubs anymore. You’ve got to have a day gig. You have to. Which makes it tough, but you have to do the responsible thing. It is hard.

There also seem to be more acts who put out an album and suddenly realize they don’t have a lot of experience onstage once they go on tour.

Yeah. I could point to a lot of people in that situation. I mean, I think the American Idol winners of the world can speak to that. Every now and then, a diamond comes out of there, but most of the time it’s a chunk of coal that doesn’t know what the hell they’re doing.

There’s no substitute for playing in front of people who don’t know who you are and really don’t care about you and your music.

That’s hard, you know. I said all the time that the circuit that Toby and I came out of — that Southwest circuit — if you could play those clubs without getting booed off the stage or fired, then you could play country music anywhere, on any stage on this planet. There was no tougher crowd than that.

Which reminds me of the closing song on the album, “Whoop a Man’s Ass.”

I just thought it was a fun song.

But there’s a lot of truth to it.

Well, there should be. We have become so civilized in this world. I could just go on and on and on about the pussification of this country. But, you know, thank god, there’s still a few people where there are lines that you don’t go across. And if you do, there will be a physical penalty to pay. And I think there should still be that element in this society today. And if we don’t have that element of … punishment, then there will be no deterrent and people will just act terribly … be as big a assholes as they want to be. And we can’t allow that.

Calvin Gilbert has served as’s managing editor since 2002. His background includes stints at the Nashville Banner, Radio & Records and Westwood One.