Trace Adkins has been called the "alpha male" of modern country music, an imposing presence in an era when larger-than-life personalities are, well, seemingly everywhere.

"I just don't see it. I don't know why anyone says that about me," he laughed in his instantly-recognizable baritone voice in a telephone interview with Jennifer Chancellor of World Scene Writer.
"At least I'm alpha male in my house, though," he laughed again, referring to raising five daughters and living with his wife, Rhonda, in Nashville.

But Adkins is tough: Not too many years ago, he was shot through both lungs and his heart by his ex-wife, willingly threw himself into brawls and nearly severed a finger in an oil rig accident. He's also wrangled with alcohol addiction — and has been sober for five years, even while headlining national tours awash in temptations.
"Growing up, it was all music," he said. "Mostly gospel, 'til, shoot, about 20 years old. "Granddaddy was a great bass singer. I used to love to stand beside him in church and listen to him sing."

Trace's uncle was J.W. (thats James W. ) Carraway, the popular Christian artist (and railroad engineer) most commonly known as the "Singing Engineer." He recorded music for Zondervan Publishing House before Stamps bought them out. Some of his recordings were, “I’m Just a Singing Pilgrim”, “Beyond the Sunset”, and “James Carraway Sings Hymns to Live By”.

"Uncle John played boogie woogie piano at all of our family gatherings and Mama and all my aunts sang in the choir. As you can see, I grew up with music.”

But by age 20, he'd expanded his love of performing beyond his small home town of Sarepta, La. Through the early '80s, he broke in his country music boots the old fashioned way — stomping out tunes at jamborees and hay rides. And by 1996, he'd made his major-label debut with "Dreamin' Out Loud." Some ten album releases later, Adkins has accomplished more than he ever dreamed was possible. "I mean, sure I dreamed about it," he said in his slow drawl. "But I'm a realist, too. I never, ever banked on anything."

Indeed, Adkins' life is lived by balancing that tottering fence between blue-collar, All-American roughneck and lovable, small-town daydreamer. When CMT asked Trace the most cherished memory of his childhood, he said.

“It's just really hard to pick just one memory. I had a great childhood ... a really close family. Both sets of my grandparents lived in the same little town. My parents both grew up in that little town, and it was like one huge in family. ... Springhill -- population about 1,000 people. So I guess that would be my most cherished memory -- growing up in that kind of environment. It was like a very safe cocoon that I grew up in.

Trace (born January 13, 1962) is the oldest of three boys born to Peggy Carraway Adkins, a teacher, and Aaron Adkins, a cattle farmer and retired paper mill worker. Tracy “Trace” Darrell Adkins and brothers, Clay and Scott grew up in Sarepta, Louisiana, where Trace was a member of the FFA, delivered the national rural newspaper “Grit".

“The place where I grew up in Louisiana backed up to a wildlife reserve,” he says. “I had thousands of acres of pristine woodlands and bayous and I just spent so much of my time out there. I never really wanted to go anywhere else. I was, quite frankly, intimidated by the city; my old man too. He never had any need to go to town.

His father, Aaron Adkins, worked in a mill and instilled a dedicated work ethic in his young son. “There was always work needing to be done,” he says. “My father was a quiet man and you did what was expected of you, and there was no questioning his orders or suggestions. That’s where I learned the rewards of honest, hard work. You could always see the results of your efforts.

Adkins' father gave him a guitar on Christmas morning when he was 10. "I didn't ask for one; I'm not sure why he did it," said Adkins. "But he also paid some guy to give me lessons." (According to the community of Springhill, Trace's teacher, Ron Riley, was from their community and they offer this tidbit about his early life .... Trace and a friend of his that played drums performed together in talent shows at the school. The friend, Danny Reeve, always did the singing. At the time, Tracy was too shy to sing. One of Trace earliest performaces was at age 11, Trace sang "Put Your Hand In The Hand" at A Kiwanis Pancake and Talent Festival in Shreveport, La.

"There wasn't any doubt what kind of music I'd be playing. My daddy was, and still is, a huge country music fan; that's all he ever listened to. He didn't go to church; he'd stay home and listen to Merle Haggard and Buck Owens. I learned all those songs on that guitar," Trace said.

Trace has said one of his best Fourth of July memories almost ended with a visit from the fire department. He chuckles, as he remembers being about 14 and setting the pasture behind his house on fire. He says "we just kept shooting bottle rockets and then happened to notice that the whole pasture was on fire.

Trace played every sport his high school offered, football because he loved it, and basketball because he was the tallest kid in school. His passion for football helped his team reach the regionals, while his distain for basketball contributed to the worse season his school had recorded.

At 17, he survived his first brush with death. On his way to school driving his 1955 pickup, the windshield frosted except a small porthole shaped area, he suddenly found himself blinded by the sun and ran into the rear of a school bus. No one on the bus was injured but Trace was not so lucky. Both lungs were punctured, ribs were broken and Adkins' nose was severed and had to be "sewn back on."

That same year, a quartet from New Sarepta Baptist Church asked him to play the guitar with them while they sang. They were practicing for a youth banquet at the church. At the back of the group, Trace began to harmonize with them. Hearing his deep bass voice and the quartet's leader asked him to come up front and sing with them. This was the beginning of the New Commitment Quartet. They performed for area churches during his high school years and during college. The group recorded two albums for an independent label: The New Commitment Quartet, released in 1979, and The Best of the New Commitment Quartet, released in 1980.

Adkins left the New Commitment Quartet after a preacher refused to allow him to enter his church because of Trace's long hair, which was not nearly as long as the mane he is famous for today.

"I learned more about music in the five years that I sang bass in the gospel quartet than any other time. Basically, you're learning music theory in a hands-on kind of way--without the books. From that, too, I also learned about the sincerity with which you have to approach your songs. Because if you sing gospel music and you don't really mean what you're singing about, not only are the people going to see through it, but you're going to feel bad about yourself, too. You're going to be hypocritical and just up there mouthing the words.

"That's something that really carries over for me in country music," continues Adkins. "I purposely pick songs for projects that, somewhere in that song, something strikes a chord in my heart that really means something. It could either be about an experience that I've had or one that I am having. I can sing some of the verses in my songs and know those feelings all too well. Now, in my life, I also know the joys in those positive love songs. But then when I sing a light-hearted, up tempo song, that's exactly how I feel, too. I may feel like dancing.

Upon graduating high school third in his class, the 6 foot 6 inch Adkins played defensive end for the football team at Louisiana Tech University where he studied petroleum technology. However, after two years of college, repeated knee injuries ended his chances of a career in sports and led to his putting education on hold.
Around the same time, Adkins married his high school sweetheart, Barbara Lewis, with whom he had two daughters, Tarah who was born in 1983 and Sarah who was born in 1985, but the union ended four years later.
At 23, Adkins took a pipefitting job on an off-shore drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico, spending the next eight years or so working in the oil industry as a derrick man and pipe fitter who never gave up playing music even while giving the Global Marine Drilling Co., among others, more than a decade of long days and hard labor.

“I grew up in the oilfield, and that’s who I am and what I am,” Adkins says. “I’m a Southern gentleman—polite, hospitable and respectful—but I’m not going to try to be squeaky clean. I’m not that kind of person. I’m a roughneck, and I won’t try to hide it.”
"My philosophy is very simple," Trace said in 2004. "It comes from the oil fields, a roughneck work ethic, that you go out on the rig and you put in 12 hours and at the end of the day you are fatigued to the point where you cannot move and you have the satisfaction of knowing that you did a good job that day, you earned your money. But you also know that you are going to hit the rack and get seven or eight hours of sleep and it doesn't matter how hard you worked, or how good a job you did, you have to get up and do it again tomorrow." He still carries that work ethic with him today.

Another thing Adkins couldn’t hide was his passion for singing, songwriting and entertaining. Transferring his years of gospel experience towards his true love of country music. His coworkers heard him playing and singing, and, in 1985, one of them connected him with the Louisiana band "Bayou Speak Easy." Adkins sang lead in the group and wrote its 1986 single, "Bayou Sunrise." Other members of the band included: Glen Colliver, Sound Tech, from Wichita Falls, Texas; Randy Stafford, Keyboard Player; Billy Bob "Bear" Middleton, Guitar Player and Clint Pitre, Drummer, from Oppelousas, Louisiana.

"I had been takin' just my guitar around to little jamborees and hayrides around home on the weekends, doing a couple of Haggard tunes or something, but I wanted to be in a band," Adkins told POLLSTAR.

Adkins began playing the honky-tonk circuit in the south and southwest and performed at local venues whenever possible. Bayou eventually won a regional talent contest and competed in the national finals in Nashville, Tennessee. After this success, Adkins spent four years touring with Bayou in cities in Texas, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Mississippi.

Adkins had to learn to feel the emotions in both his songs and his audiences-especially those from the honky-tonk circuit. But quite often, the crowds weren't as easy to perform for as they are today. Adkins developed a performing style he described as "combat country."

"Combat country, to me, means a lot of things. First of all, it can mean going from Merle Haggard to Jimi Hendricks in the same set," he explains. "It was also an attitude that I would take the stage with in all the clubs. I can always tell the feeling that's in the room--whether I'm making the contact I need to or not. When I don't it's no one's fault but my own. When you're a bar band and playing five or six nights a week in one town and then go to another town and do the same thing again, the people coming in there aren't really coming to see you. It's their local hang-out, and you just happen to be the band playing there that week. I would always go in there knowing that, along with the feeling of 'Now you're going to pay attention!' It was really almost like a combative attitude. I was going in there to fight for their attention. So that gave me the incentive to play as hard as I could and do whatever I could to get their attention."

Looking back, he said, "I lost everything I owned, I went through a divorce, then I kept partying too hard, chasing (women), chasing the dream, staying in trouble all the time. But I wouldn't trade that experience 'cause I learned everything that you're NOT supposed to do. I already made all those mistakes before I got my break.

"I played some really rough little beer joints and stuff. I think maybe my all-time worst gig was at a wedding reception. We played the song for the bride and groom to dance to, and the next song was going to be grandparents and the parents and all that. So, we started the second song and about half way through, grandma fell dead on the floor.

And we were still playing, and finally, the father turned around and yelled, "Stop! For God's sake, stop playing. My mother's dead."And I looked at the guys and was like, "What do we do now? OK, let's wait." And they tried to revive her, bless her heart, and she's dead. And after they hauled her away, we were all still standing there, because this is unprecedented. So we asked somebody, very politely, "Do you want us to continue to play?" And they're like, "No, you're done."

And then the guys [in the band] go, "We gotta get paid." I said, "What?" They said, "You've got to go ask for our money." I said, "Why me?" "Because you're the lead singer. Go get our money."I hated that! I was like, "Look, dude, I really hate to ask this, and if it was just me, I'd let it slide. But the guys ..." That was a bad gig. He was fairly surly when he was giving us the money. That was the last reception we did.

"Trace was a struggling musician like the rest of us trying to make a name for himself on the Texas circuit," said bandmate Randy Stafford. If it was going to put food in our stomachs, he'd call it on stage. I learned a lot, to say the least. I was in awe how we could go night after night, wondering how we were going to get anywhere doing this for very long. But, Trace kept us working until finally in the Summer of 1989 he'd had enough. He went back to Louisiana to try and regain his perspective."

Trace, now a single father of two little girls, grew disillusioned with the music business and returned to the drilling rigs. Nonetheless, when he cut off his left pinkie while opening an oil-barrel lid he asked doctors to sew it back on in a permanent bend so he could still play the guitar. But riding out hurricanes on swaying oil rigs in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico wasn't Adkins' dream. He was a singer who grew up listening to his father's Merle Haggard and Buck Owens records. Adkins was headed to Nashville.

1 comment:

Renegade said...

The man on the far right (photo above - maroon shirt) is Mike Pair, bass player circa 1989. Glenn Colliver is not pictured.