A cool breeze was blowing its valedictory to summer Monday afternoon (Oct. 3) as guests strolled onto the open-air sixth-floor balcony of BMI’s Nashville headquarters to salute singer Rodney Atkins and the co-writers of his latest hit, “Take a Back Road.”
The writers being spotlighted were Rhett Akins and Luke Laird. Each of them has seven No. 1 singles to his credit, but “Take a Back Road” is their first hit written together.
Both writers currently have songs all over the Billboard charts. Laird’s include Miranda Lambert’s “Baggage Claim,” Eric Church’s “Drink in My Hand” and Chris Young’s “You,” while Akins scores with Justin Moore’s “Bait a Hook,” Luke Bryan’s “I Don’t Want This Night to End” and Craig Morgan’s “This Ole Boy.”
While waiting for awards to be handed out, the partygoers foraged on a colorful buffet of Mexican delicacies or jostled for drinks at the beehive-busy bar. Some stood at the chest-high walls surrounding the balcony and looked down at the 5 o’clock traffic inching around the city.
BMI’s Jody Williams called the crowd to order and began his encomiums by pointing out that “Take a Back Road” spent two weeks in the No. 1 berth.
Over the past two years, he continued, Akins has had 14 singles on the charts, a consequence, he said, of his ability to “tap into the psyche of country fans.”
“Psycho,” Akins corrected.
Williams labeled Laird “a master lyricist and a musical freak,” a reference to Laird’s ability to write songs as emotionally and thematically diverse as Carrie Underwood’s “So Small,” Sara Evans’ “A Little Bit Stronger” and Blake Shelton’s “Hillbilly Bone.”
“Take a Back Road” is the first single from Atkins’ new album of the same name which was released Tuesday.
Williams began dispensing awards by calling the two writers and Atkins to the stage. Before it was over, though, there were as many as 18 people on stage, among them Atkins’ manager, the song’s publishers, the record label’s promotion team and various friends and family members.
Heaping further praise on Akins — not to be confused with Atkins — was his publisher, Tom Luteran of EMI Music, who calculated the songwriter has had the No. 1 song for 14 weeks out of the past 73 weeks.
Atkins — not to be confused with Akins — called his wife to the stage.
“She was responsible for making the meatloaf,” he explained, “when Rhett came over to write [with me].”
Speaking of the song being honored and the impact it’s had on his fans, Atkins said, “It’s not a ditty. It’s a song that moves people.”
Instead of giving the two writers a conventional plaque or trophy, Atkins presented each with a customized “cornhole board,” a bean-bag tossing game handcrafted by a friend he said he’d known since grade school. Naturally, he summoned his friend to the stage.
“It’s family, that’s what Music Row is,” said Atkins, as he surveyed the people surrounding him.
Also onstage was Mike Curb, owner of Atkins’ record label. Atkins announced that “Take a Back Road” was Curb Records’ 300th No. 1 single.
Taking the microphone, Curb recalled his first No. 1 came when he persuaded Hank Williams Jr. to record “All for the Love of Sunshine” with his group, the Mike Curb Congregation.
Curb co-wrote the song with Harley Hatcher and Lalo Schifrin as the theme for the Clint Eastwood movie, Kelly’s Heroes. The song topped the country charts for two weeks in 1970.
Curb pointed to his daughter, Courtney, standing in the crowd and holding his grandson, Carter. He beckoned them to the stage for a round of applause and a photo.
“Not all No. 1’s are equal,” Keith Kaufman told the celebrants when he came up to give Laird and Akins trophies on behalf of Country Radio Broadcasters.
Kaufman said “Take a Back Road” was so popular at country radio stations, it had been played more than 90,000 times, thus racking up around 478 million “audience impressions.”
Laird read his “thank yous” from his cell phone’s notebook.
“All the control we [songwriters] have over the whole process,” he said as he thanked the Curb Records promotion team, “is just writing the song.”
He said he was overwhelmed when he was offered the chance to write with Akins. He said he had all Akins’ tapes from his days as a recording artist and had seen him open for Brooks & Dunn. He added he had even sung Akins’ 1996 hit, “Don’t Get Me Started,” in a high school talent contest — which he lost.
“It was such an easy day,” Akins said of that first writing session with Laird. He said Laird already had the opening guitar lick, as well as a strong sense of how “dirty” and rap-inflected the song should sound.
“We kind of had our inner Run-D.M.C. come out,” he said.
Akins also described his first writing session with Atkins. He said his publisher called him while he was out on a three-day turkey hunt and demanded he drop everything and go immediately to co-write with Atkins.
“I went over to Rodney’s house in full camo,” Akins recalled. He alerted Atkins to the fact that he was so fatigued from his hunting trip that he might fall asleep as they were writing. And then he did.View photos from the No. 1 party.