TRACE ADKINS made his debut in the country music world more than a decade ago with a platinum-selling album and has since become an undeniable musical force, earning his place among the most identifiable artists of his generation.
An esteemed Opry member since 2003, Trace has built a strong legion of fans by recording songs that possess insightful lyrics and cover a wide range of interests -- many from his own life experiences. With one of the most identifiable voices in country music, the Grammy-nominated artist has had twenty-seven of his singles land on Billboard’s country charts, with 15 breaking into the Top 10. His albums achieve gold or multi-platinum status and three have made chart-topping debuts. He has performed for millions of fans worldwide and consistently sells out venues across the nation. His hard-driving stage show is full of hits, making him one of country music’s top headlining and in-demand artists today.
Throughout his illustrious and successful career, he has received widespread media recognition – from magazine covers to the movie screen, with numerous appearances national TV shows, including Ellen Degeneres, Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson, Live with Regis & Kelly, Real Time with Bill Maher, Today Show, Tonight Show with Jay Leno and so much more.
As an author, he received rave reviews from his book A Personal Stand: Observations and Opinions from a Freethinking Roughneck. Published in 2007 by Random House, the book revealed his strong political and social views and continues to be a strong seller today.
Already a highly successful country music recording artist, Trace grabbed the national spotlight in 2008 while earning the respect of Donald Trump as the runner-up on NBC’s The Celebrity Apprentice. Throughout the season, he starred in some of the show’s best moments, including the season finale, when more than 14 million viewers tuned in as he performed his # 1 hit, “You’re Gonna Miss This.” He has since raised more than $750,000 for his charity.
A long time supporter of the U.S. military, Trace has traveled overseas for two USO tours, performing for troops stationed in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2007, he was honored with the USO Merit Award in recognition of his dedication to assisting others through charitable works. His 2009 ACM performance with the West Point Cadet Glee Club was made available for download at iTunes, raising more than $100,000 to benefit the Wounded Warrior Project, an organization providing extensive support to soldiers who have been severely wounded in combat.
In November 2009, Trace ventured into the comic book world with the launch of LUKE McBAIN, a four-part comic book series whose lead character is based on the country giant’s likeness and persona. The first installment is now available in more than 4,000 comic book stores nationwide and through Trace’s website. Future issues will be released monthly through February 2010.
Trace has also become the official face and voice of BC Headache Powder, marking only the second time in the pain-relief product’s 100 year history, that a country music entertainer has represented the brand. As a spokesperson for the next two years, he will be included in radio ads, images at retail stores and on BC’s website (www.bcpowder.com. BC is also sponsoring more than 80 of his concert tour dates in 2010.
Most recently, Trace has signed with Show Dog-Universal Music, the newly merged record label headed up by superstar Toby Keith and famed producer, Mark Wright. A new single and album is in the works and will be announced soon.
Trace Adkins continues to make his mark as an icon across many pop culture mediums and has achieved success in almost every realm of the entertainment business. With more than a decade under his belt, he is sitting at the top of his game and shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon.
The passion, enthusiasm and conviction in Randy Houser’s music is utterly irresistible.
One listen to his soul-drenched singing is enough to convince you that you are in the presence of a masterful performer. One scan of his deeply felt lyrics is all the proof you need to see that this is a major songwriting talent. And one meeting with this smiling, endearing, open-hearted personality is all it takes to make you believe he deserves to be a star.
That indefinable something, called charisma, is all over his exceptional debut album ANYTHING GOES (Universal Records South). Whether plunging into sadness or leaping for joy in song, Randy Houser has what all great country artists have – believability.
The album is the capstone of an extraordinary run of good fortune for the singer-songwriter. Thanks to his riveting vocal prowess, Randy received great response from both fans and radio programmers with his first single, the gripping, strikingly emotional ballad “Anything Goes” which catapulted into the Top 20 after an appearance onLate Show with David Letterman. His current hit single, “Boots On,” has positioned Randy to be among the next big artists to emerge in the genre. The record is at No. 5 and climbing at Country radio, making Randy the first new male artist with a Top 5 hit since February 2008.
As illustrated through the CD, Randy Houser is a breathtaking vocalist with fire and conviction at his core. The songs he has chosen by other Nashville writers for this album are superb showcases for the vocal side of his talent. In addition to “Anything Goes,” they include the sensual “Strange” and the ultra-cool, groove-saturated “How Many Times”--the latter featuring harmony vocals by superstar Vince Gill.
Randy grew up in central Mississippi. He was born in Jackson and raised in Lake, a small town between Jackson and Meridian. Musically, it’s a region between the Blues and R&B of the Delta and the hard-core country music of the Deep South. There was always plenty of gospel music on the radio as well.
But his true musical foundation was the artistry of his father. His parents split up when he was only seven, and thereafter Randy spent summers with the professional singer and musician. Papa Houser was a fairly well known performer in the Jackson, Mississippi nightclub scene and was also a first call studio musician in and around that area for several years. After he relocated to Biloxi, young Randy decided to follow in his footsteps.
“I started writing songs right away, at 15 and 16 years old. I was already starting, because I hated playing the ‘covers’ of the hits. I knew that if I was ever going to do anything in music, I was going to have to learn to express myself. Otherwise, it was going to be the same-old, same-old.”
His father and mentor died when Randy was 21. He’d told his boy that he didn’t want to be kept alive on machines. After his father lost consciousness, this young man was put in the agonizing position of having to “pull the plug” on the mentor he idolized. That painful experience formed the basis of Randy’s emotional song “I’ll Sleep.” A few years later, Randy Houser made the big decision to move to Nashville to seek his fortune.
“I can literally say that a song changed my life,” Randy reports. “I’ll tell you how I made the decision. I was sitting at home one day and thinking, ‘God, what am I doing?’ I’d been waiting around for so long and hadn’t gone and done what I always said I was going to do. And then that song ‘Life Happened’ came on the radio, and I just started bawling. And right then, I made the decision. I was gone.
“A guitar player friend from Mississippi had moved to Nashville. He said, ‘Well, come on...’ So I came up in early 2003 with an air mattress and a pile of junk in a ’92 Cougar. Two weeks later, the engine blew up in that car. I didn’t know how I was going to make a living, but knew I had to make one.”
Within two weeks of arriving, Randy ran into a woman who’d heard him perform in Mississippi. She arranged for him to sing a “demo” for a Nashville songwriter. Days later, he was getting calls to sing them all the time. Successful, Mississippi-bred songwriters Fred Knobloch and Derek George encouraged Randy. Derek took Randy to the Windswept publishing company, where Cliff Audretch, III became a booster.
Signed by Windswept in late 2003, Randy and co-writers Jamey Johnson and Dallas Davidson were on the charts with “Honky-Tonk Badonkadonk” by early 2005. Since then, Randy’s tunes have been picked up by John Michael Montgomery (“If You Ever Went Away”), Justin Moore (“Back That Thing Up”), George Canyon (“Coming From You”), among other artists. Cliff loved Randy’s own recordings of the tunes and urged producer Mark Wright to listen. Now Cliff and Mark have co-produced Randy Houser’s outstanding disc debut.
“One day, awhile back, Mark (Wright) and I were talking about singers. He said, ‘Man, the most soulful singers in history all grew up poor.’ This really rang true for me. That’s part of the reason I sound the way that I do.”
For more information, please visit www.randyhouser.com.
Conventional wisdom says that in the music business, once you achieve a certain threshold of success, caution should be your guide. You’ve come this far, you’re told by everyone around you. Don’t surprise your audience too much.
But trepidation will not be part of Dierks Bentley’s legacy. At every turn in his career, he’s done his own thing, whether that meant touring with jam bands, playing rock venues or recording with bluegrass all-stars on platinum country albums. Now Dierks steps forward with his most artistically daring project yet - the all-acoustic Up On The Ridge - a powerful, beautiful album steeped in the bluegrass and roots music that moved Dierks Bentley to be a country musician in the first place.
His fifth album for historic Capitol Records, Up On The Ridge is a document of an artist who’s using some well-earned freedom to write in a fresh vein and cook up collaborations with the musicians who fascinate and amaze him most in the world. It’s the way all albums should be made - built on an idea and an artist-driven vision - as opposed to formulaic packages of eleven songs with four radio singles.
Dozens of talents have contributed in some way to this project. Besides the five co-written by Dierks himself, the songs come from such varied sources as Bob Dylan, Buddy and Julie Miller, U2 and Kris Kristofferson. The monumental Kristofferson is here as a guest vocalist as well, on his own song, along with a slate of today’s best traditional country singers, including Alison Krauss, Vince Gill, Jamey Johnson, Miranda Lambert, Sonya Isaacs and Chris Stapleton of the Steeldrivers. And then there are the players, recruited from the top echelons of bluegrass and acoustic music. Among them: Chris Thile and the Punch Brothers, the Del McCoury Band, the legendary Sam Bush, dobro player Rob Ickes, guitarist Bryan Sutton, fiddler Stuart Duncan, and mandolinist Ronnie McCoury.
All this energy was corralled by producer Jon Randall Stewart, a singer/writer/picker whose track record in roots and country music Dierks admires as much as anyone. He and Stewart agreed they had to avoid the trap of making a contrived-feeling “Dierks Bentley And Friends” album by creating groups and settings that would let everyone work at the top of their game. They matched songs with pickers and guest singers masterfully. They dreamed up a few crazy ideas and pulled them off. It was a genuine creative adventure made possible only by the fact that Dierks established his credibility in bluegrass circles more than a decade ago.
“This record’s not a departure for me at all,” says Dierks. “It’s really just going back and reclaiming something I feel like I do have some ownership of, which is the acoustic music scene in Nashville.”
Long before his seven chart-topping singles, headlining arena tours, prestigious industry awards or even his record deal, he was a Nashville novice on the brink of discouragement, looking for something musically nourishing and a reason to keep pushing toward a career. And then, providentially, he visited the world famous Station Inn. The humble cinder block building is the nerve center of Nashville’s unparalleled bluegrass scene, and when Dierks went there with a friend on Tuesday night in the late 90s and heard the Sidemen – the Station Inn’s weekly house band – playing hot and fast, it was a revelation. He’d heard only a little bluegrass before and halfway thought of it as “old folks’ music,” but that changed with a few quickened heartbeats. These players were his own age, and the music had both a heart and an edge. Perhaps most remarkably, it came with a big wide front door. When Dierks, a complete newcomer to the scene, approached the musicians with questions and obvious fascination, they were more than willing to share insight into their music.
Dierks remembers the next few years as an inspiring and important time. “They invited me over to their houses for moonshine and picking parties and pot lucks,” he says. “And they knew more about country music and Nashville and acoustic music than anyone on Music Row. Without that whole bluegrass community taking me in and helping me find my foundation, I would have had no place to start from.”
Bentley honed his own style playing all kinds of country music in the clubs and honky-tonks of Nashville’s Lower Broadway and Second Avenue, mixing bluegrass with classic standards, obscure covers he found digging through old albums and an increasing number of his own songs. And when he landed his record deal with Capitol, he was happily surprised to find support for keeping his ties to bluegrass. Not only did many of his singles and album tracks feature prominent acoustic instruments, especially dobro, each of his albums included a certified bluegrass song with the McCourys or The Grascals, a band largely comprised of the guys Dierks had met in those early Sidemen shows.
Throughout his career on Capitol, as Dierks built one of the most loyal, connected fan bases in modern day country music, the press recognized that he was pulling off something extraordinary. His music was grounded in tradition but with enough relatability to work on the radio. No Depression magazine, the bible of the Americana movement, praised him for being a bridge between the roots world and the commercial mainstream. His fans began asking with some regularity when he was going to make a bluegrass album.
Then last year, after a grueling tour, Dierks approached the fall and winter feeling the need to throw out the rule book and indulge in the sounds that brought him to the show. The song that set the tone for the project and gave it its title was inspired by some time spent on an actual ridge – a plot of land Dierks bought in rural Williamson County with no buildings except an old barn and a commanding view of hills, fields and trees. Dierks finally arranged a long-sought writing session with Angelo, a lyrical and sonic wizard who’d come to Dierks’ attention working with Kim Richey but who’d gone on to rock production stardom with the Kings of Leon. A conversation about the good time possibilities of hanging out on the ridge matched with Angelo’s spooky, mantra-like guitar riff, and the gritty title track was born.
From there, the partnership with Jon Randall led to a series of sessions where a complete album took shape. Mountains were moved to get busy artists together in the relaxed setting of Gary Paczosa’s studio. Dierks arranged to write and record with one of his heroes, Tim O’Brien, producing a darkly comic and swinging country/grass classic, “You’re Dead To Me.” Kristofferson’s song “From The Bottle to the Bottom” was unknown to Bentley, a student of great country songs, until it was suggested by Jon Randall. And they pulled together two of the biggest stars of traditional country music – Jamey Johnson and Miranda Lambert – for a three-way harmony blowout on the Verlon Thompson/Suzi Ragsdale song “Bad Angel.”
The production team decamped at one point for Brooklyn, New York, where Dierks spent a magical three days recording with the Punch Brothers, arguably the most innovative and technically complete pickers in acoustic music. He matched voices beautifully on Bob Dylan’s rippling and subversive “Senor.” And he and Stewart pulled off the coup of the album – a searing vocal duet with Del McCoury on U2’s “Pride (In The Name of Love)” over the Punch Brothers exquisitely arranged soundscape – one of the great acts of group interpretation of a standard you’ll ever hear.
U2 and Kristofferson notwithstanding, some of the very strongest songs on the album are by Dierks. He and Jon Randall came up with “Draw Me A Map,” with its seductive dobro-thick melodic theme and its longing lyrics. Their version of “Rovin’ Gambler” is the hardest, fastest bluegrass number on the album. And they wrap the project with the moving “Down In The Mine,” which adds another gem to the historic catalog of bluegrass mining ballads.
Throughout this journey of 12 tracks, Dierks’s voice sounds liberated and authentically connected to the songs. Its grainy honesty is captured in all its nuance by the recording genius of Paczosa, who is widely regarded as the top acoustic engineer of this era. “This album is a brilliant piece of work,” says Paczosa. “And he didn’t do it for any other reason than this was the record that was his heart. And even though the bulk of the record is pretty straight ahead bluegrass instrumentation, there are plenty of other elements that, to me, tie this record to his past records. I know his intent, first and foremost was to make a record that he could be proud of.”
"You can’t blame gravity for falling in love.” — Albert Einstein
On Defying Gravity, the openhearted and uplifting new album by Keith Urban, there is a deeply felt musical statement, a life-affirming song cycle marked by a clearheaded sense of passion and hope. From the opening romantic yearning of “Kiss A Girl”, to the heartfelt gratitude of the closing “Thank You”, Defying Gravity offers listeners the inspiring and stirring sound of a great musical artist coming of age and creating his most personal and effecting music yet.
“Fortunately, this is where I am at right now in life, in my marriage, and in my home with a new girl,” Urban says of Defying Gravity’s truly joyful and thankful mood. “And coming the road that I’ve taken to be here, I do feel a lot of gratitude.”
The road that Keith Urban has traveled to get here has been uniquely his own. How else on earth to explain how this kid, born in Whangarie, New Zealand and raised in Caboolture, Queensland Australia, has grown up to somehow become one of the biggest stars in the very American world of Country music?
Since first moving to Nashville back in 1992, Keith Urban has gradually established himself as an extraordinary singer, songwriter, guitarist, and performer who has brought his own distinctive talent, energy, and charisma to Country music and beyond. In return, Urban has now established himself as both a global superstar and a highly respected artist with the impressive track record to prove it, including Grammy Awards, Country Music Association Awards, Academy of County Music Awards and Australia’s coveted Aria Award. He has a loyally devoted worldwide fan base that comes to see him every time he takes the stage, as he connects with the people who have made it all possible.
Keith Urban’s millions of fans have followed his creative progression from his first American album as a member of The Ranch (1997), through an increasingly accomplished series of the Platinum-selling solo albums, Keith Urban (1999), Golden Road (2002),
Be Here (2004), and Love, Pain & the whole crazy thing (2006), as well as the compilation Greatest Hits: 18 Kids (2007). And so for a decade now, Urban has remained a welcome and enduring presence on Country radio thanks to a series of popular and memorable songs, including such 1 hits as “But For The Grace Of God,” “Somebody Like You,” “Who Wouldn’t Wanna Be Me,” “You’ll Think Of Me,” “Days Go By,” “Making Memories Of Us,” “Better Life,” “You Look Good In My Shirt” and “Start A Band,”
Urban’s 2008 guitar and vocal duet with pal, Brad Paisley. And as a core artist on all Country video outlets, Urban’s career to date has also been documented on a series of Platinum video collections.
In recent years, Urban’s remarkable musical gifts have also brought him to numerous places where Country superstars have rarely gone before, whether powerfully dueting with Alicia Keys on the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” on the stage of Live Earth, appearing on Saturday Night Live, or sitting in with the likes of Al Green, Justin Timberlake, BB King and John Mayer at this year’s Grammy Awards.
“I have a real appreciation for the long, colorful, diverse musical road I’ve taken to get here,” Urban explains of his musical journey. “All through my youth in Australia, I got to play in so many different situations.
I grew up in Tamworth -- which is sort of the Country music capitol of Australia -- playing and competing there, but I also formed my own band playing West Coast Rock stuff that I loved.
Then I got a job as a musical director for a cabaret singer, so I was learning “Twelfth of Never” and “Viva Las Vegas” too. At 16, I had to wear a tuxedo and count off the band. You name it -- I played it in every pub and club in Australia, and that’s given me a great palette to draw upon. I feel very lucky to have all these opportunities to play with so many artists who I really admire. Playing with people -- and playing for people -- is what it’s all about.”
And so Urban is thrilled to get the chance to play for people on his upcoming “Escape Together World Tour” Together with KC Masterpiece© and Kingsford©”, which kicks off in May, and will bring him to fans everywhere throughout the summer, joined by his special guests including Sugarland, Taylor Swift, Dierks Bentley, Jason Aldean, Lady Antebellum, Little Big Town, The Zac Brown Band and even one of his childhood heroes, Glen Campbell.
“With Defying Gravity being a very up record, I feel like these songs lend themselves toward playing live,” Urban says. “We’ve spent a lot of the past year playing arenas, which is mind-blowing, and it feels like these songs will work in that sort of space. Also this year is difficult for a lot of people and going to shows is such a good way to get away from everything. I hope the shows can be a moment to escape from everything and be immersed in this other world for a while -- to sing along and be a part of something else. I love touring and playing for people and having that sense of togetherness, of oneness. I don’t want to play at people, but with people. It’s not me and them, it’s us -- so the idea of escaping together is perfect.”
For all the success and the close relationship he has made with his fans, the road that Keith Urban has taken has not been without its bumps, which only makes the happiness and peace that Urban has finally found in his own life, a subject he explores musically on Defying Gravity, all the more meaningful. Produced by Urban and Dann Huff, another gifted guitarist and longtime collaborator, Defying Gravity looks from a variety of perspectives at love as a life-saving, ever-changing force in our lives, from the excitement of courting on a song like “Sweet Thing”, to the atmospheric heartbreak of “’Til Summer Comes Around”, to the pure desire of “Standing Right In Front Of You”, to the constant longing for a love on “Why’s It Feel So Long.”
As Urban explains, “It wasn’t a conscious theme, but listening back, I think the album is about being brave enough to love, which is difficult for a lot of people to do. Most people who have loved have been hurt, and to love for a second or a third time is very, very hard. The tendency is to want to protect and pull back, but that’s the very thing we can’t do.”
With Defying Gravity, Urban is bravely putting his passion, musical and otherwise, on the line as never before. As he explains, “Between marriage and sobriety and having a child, it’s been an extraordinary gift that I just couldn’t have imagined, or maybe I could have imagined but didn’t know how, or when…or if. So, for those things to come together now is absolutely beautiful. It’s allowed me to be present in a way I’ve never quite been. I was always thinking about tomorrow, or the past, anywhere but here. Even though I made an album called Be Here, I still wasn’t ever really here. Now I love being present – I have a lot to be grateful for in the present.”
Listen closely to Defying Gravity — gratitude has rarely sounded so good
Brad Paisley is a walking testament to modern-day country’s possibilities. His albums are cornucopias of words and music that provide alternately poignant and hilarious journeys across the human landscape. A triple threat recognized as one of the finest singers, songwriters, and guitar slingers of his generation, he brings a wide spectrum of subjects and styles to records as diverse and accomplished as anything being done today, and he manages it all with true wit and distinctive style.
With the release of his eighth album, American Saturday Night, Brad proves once again that he remains a master of his craft – or, more accurately, his crafts. To date, the album has launched three #1 singles with “Then,” “Welcome to the Future,” and the title track, which became the 16th #1 of his career – and his 12th consecutive chart-topper – making him second only to the great Sonny James as the solo country artist with the most consecutive #1 singles in chart history. “Then” became the fastest rising single of his career, spending three weeks at #1 and becoming a couples favorite, with fans adopting the ballad of love growing better over time as an “our song” unlike anything Brad has ever recorded. Indeed, his singing has never been more nuanced than in “Then,” or in “No,” an observation of life and prayer penned with “Whiskey Lullaby” writers Jon Randall and Country Music Hall-of-Famer Bill Anderson.
Instrumentally, Brad again displays the skills that made his celebration of the guitar on his last album, Play, such a welcome part of the Paisley canon, on songs like “Catch All the Fish,” a flat-out picking extravaganza that Brad says lyrically bookends his girlfriend-versus-fish favorite, “I’m Gonna Miss Her.” Other guitar highlights include such tracks as “Oh Yeah, You’re Gone,” a songwriting and guitar-playing partnership with blues great Robben Ford, and “She’s Her Own Woman,” a bluesy celebration of a strong partner.
As for his songwriting, Brad co-wrote everything on the album and admits he’s never drawn more deeply on his own life than he has in songs like “I Hope That’s Me” (“This song is me,” he says) and “Anything Like Me,” a sweet, toe-tapping musing on fatherhood that features a vocal cameo from two-year-old William Huckleberry Paisley. Huck, incidentally, is the elder of two boys and big brother to Jasper Warren, who was born in early 2009 to proud papa Brad and wife Kimberly Williams-Paisley. While fatherhood has certainly informed his enduring gift for blending heart and humor in his music, Brad’s way with a catchy melody and lyrics that are clever yet profound are also evident in tracks like “American Saturday Night” and his newest single, “Water.”
If there is a song of which he is particularly proud, though, it is “Welcome to the Future,” which is as deep as it is wide in scope.
“This is my favorite thing I’ve ever written,” he says simply. A song detailing the twists and turns of life on the smallest and largest human scales, it is Brad’s take on a world where change and fear can lead to change and progress, a world he urges all of us to embrace and celebrate. It’s a song that touches on painful moments from our past, but acknowledges them with a genuinely real spirit of hope in the recognition of how we’ve overcome, “and with an eye on the future even though we’re talking about how we’re already there.”
The album’s title is Brad’s nod to “the one night of the week everybody is willing to be entertained, to let loose and forget about what’s going on during the rest of the week. I want every night of this year’s tour to feel like Saturday night for people, and this album is filled with that feeling of weekend camaraderie – even in the more serious ones. It’s about all of us celebrating life in 2009.”
“That sort of on-the-job training when you’re really young is a good thing,” he says. “I mean, I was 13 the first time I played on the Jamboree and I was 20 when I left. I opened for Jimmy Dickens and Steve Wariner and Roy Clark and Charley Pride – they all came through there. I met them and watched them all play and learned as much as I could possibly learn. I’m not the same guy I would have been if I’d started playing at 20, and wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing right now. That kind of experience entertaining an audience even goes into making an album, because I’m not one of these guys that wants my record to be background music for somebody. I don’t make dinner music.”
His lifelong musical journey began at age 8 in Glen Dale, West Virginia, when his grandfather, a fan of Chet Atkins, Les Paul, and Merle Travis, gave him a guitar and taught him to play. He was accompanying himself at local events at 10, and he was in his first band, the C-Notes (“You could get us for a hundred bucks”), at 12 with his guitar teacher and mentor Hank Goddard. He followed his father’s advice to strive for excellence and began his long apprenticeship at the Jamboree, playing for six years at the annual Jamboree in the Hills in Wheeling, as well. He cites the community’s support for his early career as invaluable in his development.
After two years at West Virginia’s West Liberty State College, he transferred to Nashville’s Belmont University, meeting many of those who would go on to work with him both on the stage and behind the scenes. Hard work and a growing circle of contacts led ultimately to a publishing deal and then a recording contract with Arista Nashville, whose artist roster, which includes Alan Jackson and Brooks & Dunn, he had always admired.
Brad was quickly acknowledged as one of country music’s most original and multi-talented artists, and his work has attracted collaborators both on record (Alison Krauss, Dolly Parton, George Jones, Bill Anderson) and in his videos, many graced by an extraordinary cast of characters, including Little Jimmy Dickens, Jason Alexander, William Shatner, Jerry Springer, Kellie Pickler, Taylor Swift, Jim Belushi, and Andy Griffith, as well as Brad’s wife, Kim.
The awards and accolades naturally followed. Brad has won three GRAMMYs and been named best Male Vocalist for the last three years by the Country Music Association and the last four by the Academy of Country Music – the only artist ever to garner that distinction three or more times in a row. Among his many other awards, he has also received Album of the Year honors from both the CMA and the ACM.
His singles have provided a soundtrack to many of life’s big and small, profound and less-than-profound moments. He has made us cry, think, and, perhaps most importantly in a world in dire need of perspective and humor, laugh. He has been topical with songs like “Online” and “Celebrity,” and poignant with “Letter to Me” and “When I Get Where I’m Going.” He has been rowdy with “Mud on the Tires” and “Alcohol,” and tender with “Little Moments” and “We Danced.” He has brought us a host of such songs and moments, resulting in 25 Top 40 records and 16 that have hit the #1 spot, in turn leading to sales of more than 10 million albums and year after year of sold-out arena shows.
As much as Brad is the guy next door, a funny, fishing, easygoing sort, his prodigious talent, likeable personality, and strong work ethic have conspired to make him one of the genre’s brightest lights. He is known for bridging the gap between young audiences and country’s roots, uniting generations with the sheer joyful exuberance of his music, stage presence, and videos. With American Saturday Night, he offers what he says is “a record about our times. This is a record about my life and the times I’m living in and the times that my children are living in, and the love and loss and heartbreak and triumphs and everything in between.”
As the frontman of Hootie & the Blowfish, Darius Rucker changed the face of mainstream pop/rock in the mid-'90s. Songs like "Hold My Hand" and "Only Wanna Be with You" peppered Hootie & the Blowfish's popular debut, which eventually sold over 16 million copies and became one of the most successful albums of all time.
Hootie & the Blowfish never revisited that meteoric success again, however, and the band took a break from recording after the release of Musical Chairs in 1998. Rucker used his free time wisely and launched a solo career, which allowed the singer to explore his R&B and country influences.
Born and raised in Charleston, SC, Rucker was exposed to the sounds of Otis Redding, Al Green, and Gladys Knight at an early age. Those R&B icons helped influence Hootie & the Blowfish's recordings, all of which emphasized Rucker's soulful baritone, but it wasn't until the singer's solo career that he truly paid homage to the sounds of his youth.
Rucker planned to jump-start his solo career with The Return of Mongo Slade, which was slated for a summer 2001 release by Atlantic Records, but contractual changes prevented the album's release. A few months later, Rucker jumped ship for Hidden Beach Recordings, which then acquired the master recordings of his debut from Atlantic.
After making a cameo in the Farrelly brothers' movie Shallow Hal, Rucker introduced his mellow, R&B-influenced style with 2002's Back to Then, which featured collaborations with Jill Scott and Snoop Dogg.
Rucker then returned his focus to Hootie & the Blowfish, releasing two albums with the group during the early 2000s, before revisiting his solo career. This time, he opted for a country approach, and the twangy Learn to Live found an appropriate home among country music fans (who sent both the album and its flagship single, "Don't Think I Don't Think About It," to the top of the Billboard country charts). ~ Andrew Leahey & MacKenzie Wilson, All Music Guide
Formed in 2006 by Charles Kelley (brother of singer/songwriter Josh Kelley), Hillary Scott (daughter of Grammy-winning country artist Linda Davis), and Dave Haywood, Lady Antebellum blends contemporary country with soulful '60s R&B into an infectious modern brew that relies on the trio's rich harmonies and impeccable instrumental skills. Since its inception, the trio has gone from dive bars to the Grand Ole Opry, opening for Phil Vassar, Rodney Atkins, and Carrie Underwood along the way. The group signed with Capitol Nashville in 2007 and released its first single, "Love Don't Live Here," which peaked at number three on the country charts. A self-titled debut album followed in April 2008, featuring production from Victoria Shaw and Paul Worley and stocked with more country hits (including the chart-topping single "I Run To You," which also enjoyed crossover success as a Top 40 pop hit).
Within a year and a half, Lady Antebellum's debut had gone platinum and earned a Grammy nomination, and the band enjoyed its newfound success while putting the finishing touches on a second album. Need You Now appeared in early 2010, and its leadoff single -- "Need You Now" -- became the group's highest-charting song to date, topping the country charts while peaking at number five on the Billboard Hot 100.
Reba McEntire was the most successful female recording artist in country music in the 1980s and 1990s, during which time she scored 22 number one hits and released five gold albums, six platinum albums, two double-platinum albums, four triple-platinum albums, a quadruple-platinum album, and a quintuple-platinum album, for certified album sales of 33.5 million over the 20-year period. While she continued to sell records in healthy numbers into the 21st century, she expanded her activities as an actress in film and on the legitimate stage, and particularly on television, where she starred in a long-running situation comedy.
Such diversification made her the greatest crossover star to emerge from country music since Dolly Parton. Reba Nell McEntire was born March 28, 1955, in McAlester, OK, the second daughter and third of four children of Clark Vincent McEntire, a professional steer roper, and Jacqueline (Smith) McEntire, a former school teacher. Her older brother Del Stanley ("Pake") McEntire also became a country singer, while her younger sister Martha Susan ("Susie") McEntire Luchsinger became a gospel singer.
McEntire was raised on the 7,000-acre family ranch in Chockie, OK, traveling with her parents and siblings to the rodeos at which her father competed. Clark McEntire was named World Champion Steer Roper three times, in 1957, 1958, and 1961. (McEntire's grandfather, John McEntire, had won the same title in 1934.) McEntire's mother had aspired to a career in music but never pursued it. She encouraged her children to sing and taught them songs and harmony during the long car trips between rodeos. Alice McEntire, the oldest child, did not actively seek a musical career, but the other three were members of a country group, the Kiowa High School Cowboy Band, as early as 1969, when McEntire began attending Kiowa High School in Kiowa, OK. She also entered local talent contests on her own. In 1971, the Kiowa High School Cowboy Band recorded a single, "The Ballad of John McEntire," for the tiny Boss Records label, which pressed 1,000 copies.
As the early '70s went on, the band gave way to a trio, the Singing McEntires, consisting of the three siblings, which performed at rodeos. McEntire also followed in the family tradition of competing, becoming a barrel racer, the only rodeo event open to women. McEntire graduated from high school in June 1973 and enrolled at Southeastern Oklahoma State University. While attending the National Rodeo Finals in Oklahoma City on December 10, 1974, she sang the national anthem on network television. Also present at the rodeo was country star Red Steagall, who was impressed by her voice and asked her to go to Nashville to record some demos for his song publishing company.
After she did so in March 1975 during her spring break from college, he took the tapes around town trying to get her a record deal and succeeded with Mercury Records, which signed her to a contract on November 11, 1975, that called for her to record two singles for the label. On January 22, 1976, she entered a Nashville recording studio and cut the first of those singles, "I Don't Want to Be a One Night Stand," which, upon its release, climbed to number 88 in the Billboard country singles chart in May. On June 21, 1976, she married Charlie Battles, a champion steer wrestler she had met at a rodeo.
Battles later became her business manager. On September 16, 1976, McEntire did her second Mercury recording session, which produced her second single, "(There's Nothing Like the Love) Between a Woman and a Man." It peaked at number 86 in March 1977. In the meantime, on December 16, 1976, she graduated from college on an accelerated three-and-a-half-year program with a major in elementary education and a minor in music, freeing her to pursue her career full-time. Her record label, however, seemed in no particular hurry, although it picked up her option for further recordings. Her third single, "Glad I Waited Just for You," recorded on April 13, 1977, peaked at number 88 in August, the same month Mercury released her debut album, Reba McEntire, which did not chart.
On September 17, 1977, she made her debut at the Grand Ole Opry. Two and a half years into her recording career, with very little to show for it, McEntire was paired with labelmate Jacky Ward for the two-sided single "Three Sheets in the Wind"/"I'd Really Love to See You Tonight" (the B-side a cover of the pop hit by England Dan & John Ford Coley), which reached number 20 in July 1978. That and her touring as an opening act for Steagall, Ward, and others increased her exposure, and her next solo single, "Last Night, Ev'ry Night," reached number 28 in October, beginning a string of singles that made it at least into the country Top 40. She first got into the Top 20 with her cover of the Patsy Cline hit "Sweet Dreams," which peaked at number 19 in November 1979. She still wasn't selling any albums, however; her second LP, Out of a Dream, released in September 1979, did not chart. McEntire continued to make strides on the singles chart, reaching the Top Ten for the first time with "(You Lift Me) Up to Heaven," which peaked at number eight in August 1980.
Feel the Fire, her third album, released in October 1980, was another failure, but after a couple more Top 20 singles she reached the Top Five with "Today All Over Again" in October 1981. The song was featured on her fourth album, Heart to Heart, released in September, which helped it become her first to chart, reaching number 42 in the country LP list. She achieved a new high on the singles chart in August 1982 when "I'm Not That Lonely Yet" reached number three. It was included on her fifth album, Unlimited, released in June 1982, which hit number 22. But that was only the beginning. The LP also spawned "Can't Even Get the Blues" and "You're the First Time I've Thought About Leaving," which became back-to-back number one hits in January and April 1983. By then, she had moved up from playing nightclubs and honky tonks to being the regular opening act for the Statler Brothers. She went on to work in the same capacity with Conway Twitty, Ronnie Milsap, Mickey Gilley, and others.
It might be argued that Mercury Records had taken a 20-year-old neophyte singing the national anthem at a rodeo and, over a period of more than seven years, groomed her until she became a chart-topping country star. McEntire appears not to have viewed things that way, however. On the contrary, she seems to have been unhappy with the songs the label gave her to sing and the musical approach taken on her records, feeling that she was being pushed too much in a country-pop direction. She also has criticized Mercury's promotional efforts on her behalf. And, despite her recent success, the long years of development meant she was nowhere near repaying the investment Mercury had made in her, which, of course, was charged against her potential royalties on the company books. (Although she received yearly advances from the label, she later said that she did not see her first royalties from Mercury until 1988.)
So, she sought a release from her contract and, after cutting one more album for Mercury, her sixth LP, Behind the Scene, released in September 1983, she signed to MCA Records, her new contract taking effect on October 1, 1983. The first fruits of the switchover suggested that not much had changed. Her debut MCA single, "Just a Little Love," was a Top Five hit in June 1984, shortly after the release of an album of the same name, but that LP was actually less successful than Unlimited. McEntire took strong action. Set to have Harold Shedd (Alabama's producer, and thus a hot commercial property) produce her next album, she rejected his suggestions for songs and the sweetened arrangements he imposed on them and appealed to Jimmy Bowen, the newly installed president of MCA's country division. Bowen allowed her to pick her own material and to eliminate the strings and other pop touches used on Just a Little Love and her Mercury releases.
The result was the pointedly titled My Kind of Country, released in November 1984, which was dominated by covers of old country songs previously performed by Ray Price, Carl Smith, Connie Smith, and Faron Young. Even before the album's release, however, and before its advance single, "How Blue," hit number one, McEntire was named Female Vocalist of the Year by the Country Music Association (CMA) on October 8, 1984. It was a surprising win; Dolly Parton, Barbara Mandrell, and Charly McClain had all arguably been more successful during the previous 12 months. But it was a forward-looking recognition for a performer who was wisely aligning herself with such artists as Ricky Skaggs and George Strait as a "new traditionalist," moving country music back to its roots after the decline of the pop-country Urban Cowboy phenomenon of the early '80s. "How Blue" hit number one in January 1985, followed by the second single from My Kind of Country, "Somebody Should Leave," which topped the chart in May as the album reached number 13. (Eventually, it was certified gold.) With such success, McEntire was able to start headlining her own concerts.
For her next album, Have I Got a Deal for You, released in July 1985, she worked directly with Bowen, the two billed as co-producers. Another new traditionalist collection, it included her own composition "Only in My Mind," a Top Five hit, as well as a Top Ten hit in the title song; though the LP was not as successful as its predecessor, it too went gold over time, and it helped McEntire earn her second consecutive CMA award as Female Vocalist of the Year. Another important accolade came on January 14, 1986, when she became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Perhaps even more important than McEntire's decision to perform music in a more traditional country style was her search for material that she felt women would respond to.
Just as Loretta Lynn had spoken for pre-feminist women in the 1960s, McEntire had begun to address the emotional and empowering concerns of women in the 1980s. "Whoever's in New England," her next single, released in January 1986 just ahead of an album of the same name, was a case in point. Kendal Franceschi and Quentin Powers' song was written in the voice of a Southern woman who believes her husband is having an affair during his business trips up north, but pledges that she will remain available to him when "whoever's in New England's through with you." It was a career-making song for McEntire, not least because it was promoted by her first music video.
Reaching number one in May 1986, it marked a major breakthrough for her, beginning a string of chart-topping hits that didn't begin to slow down for the next three years. "Little Rock," the follow-up single, also hit number one, as did the Whoever's in New England album, her first LP to be certified gold. (It later went platinum.) Her career in high gear, McEntire released her next album, What Am I Gonna Do About You, in September 1986, prefaced by a single of the same name that hit number one, as did the gold-selling LP, which also featured the chart-topping single "One Promise Too Late." On October 13, 1986, McEntire not only won her third consecutive Female Vocalist of the Year Award from the CMA, but also was named Entertainer of the Year. On February 24, 1987, she won her first Grammy Award for Country Female Vocal for "Whoever's in New England."
She released Reba McEntire's Greatest Hits in April; it became her first platinum album and eventually sold over three million copies. (It also became her first album ever to cross over to the pop charts.) On June 25, 1987, she filed for divorce from Charlie Battles, her husband of 11 years. After her divorce was settled and Battles was awarded the couple's ranch in Oklahoma, she moved to Nashville. McEntire's string of hits continued with the release of The Last One to Know in September 1987, prefaced by a single of the same name that reached number one in December. The album, also featuring the number one hit "Love Will Find Its Way to You," reached number three and eventually went platinum.
McEntire won an unprecedented fourth straight CMA award as Female Vocalist of the Year in October. In November, she released a holiday album, Merry Christmas to You, which, over the years, sold more than two million copies. She engendered controversy with her next album release, Reba, which appeared in May 1988. Here, an artist who had jumped on the new traditionalist bandwagon in 1984 abruptly jumped off, returning to more of a pop-oriented style, without a fiddle or a steel guitar anywhere. The album's leadoff single was "Sunday Kind of Love," a cover of the 1947 Jo Stafford pop hit.
It peaked at number five in July, actually the worst showing for a McEntire single in nearly three years. But the album had already begun a run of eight weeks at number one by then, and it was supported by the subsequent chart-topping singles "I Know How He Feels" and "New Fool at an Old Game." It eventually went platinum. Also in 1988, McEntire founded Starstruck Entertainment, a company that handled management, booking, publishing, and other aspects of her career and, eventually, represented other artists as well. Sweet Sixteen, released in May 1989, was actually McEntire's 14th regular studio album, but her 16th counting her authorized MCA hits compilation and Christmas album. The leadoff single was a cover of the Everly Brothers' "Cathy's Clown" that hit number one in July, and it was followed by three Top Ten hits, "'Til Love Comes Again," "Little Girl," and "Walk On," as the LP spent 13 weeks at the top of the charts, with sales eventually crossing the million mark
It also reached the pop Top 100. McEntire had already recorded her next album, Live, the previous April for release in September and, though it took more than a decade, another platinum certification. That gave her some breathing space. On June 3, 1989, she married Narvel Blackstock, her manager, who had been part of her organization since joining her band as its steel guitar player in 1980. On February 23, 1990, she bore him a son, Shelby Steven McEntire Blackstock. A month earlier, she had made her feature film acting debut in the comic horror film Tremors, which had been shot the previous spring. McEntire was back on tour by May 1990, and she returned to record making in September with her 15th regular studio album, Rumor Has It, which was prefaced by the single "You Lie," a number one hit. Three other songs from the LP placed in the country Top Ten: the title song, a revival of Bobbie Gentry's 1969 hit "Fancy," and "Fallin' Out of Love." The album eventually sold three million copies. McEntire was on tour promoting it when, on March 16, 1991, seven members of her band and her road manager were killed in a plane crash after a show in San Diego. She dedicated her next album, For My Broken Heart, to them when it was released in October. The disc was another massive hit, going gold and platinum simultaneously shortly after its release and eventually selling four million copies, its singles including the chart-topping title song and another number one,
"Is There Life Out There." Also in 1991, McEntire co-starred in the TV mini-series The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw. Her 17th album, It's Your Call, was released in December 1992, and, like Rumor Has It, it was an immediate million seller, eventually going triple platinum. (It was also her first Top Ten pop album.) Its biggest single was "The Heart Won't Lie," a duet with Vince Gill that hit number one in April 1993. McEntire's next chart-topper was also a duet, "Does He Love You," sung with Linda Davis; it hit number one in November 1993 and was included on her September release Greatest Hits, Vol. 2, an album that sold two million copies practically out of the box and another three million over the next five years. "Does He Love You" won McEntire her second Grammy, for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals, and a CMA award for Vocal Event. She also appeared in the TV movie The Man from Left Field in 1993. By 1994, while continuing to reign as country's most successful female singer, McEntire was increasingly turning her attention to other concerns.
Her 18th regular studio album, Read My Mind, appeared in April. Another instant million-seller that went on to go triple platinum, it threw off five country chart singles, among them the chart-topping "The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter" and, controversially, "She Thinks His Name Was John," a song about a woman who contracts AIDS from a one-night stand. Even McEntire's star power could propel such an atypical country subject only as high as number 15 in the charts. Meanwhile, she had parts in two feature films released during the summer, a speaking role in the drama North and a cameo in the children's comedy The Little Rascals. (She also made an uncredited appearance in the Western film Maverick and was heard on the soundtrack album.) She executive produced and starred in a TV movie based on her song, Is There Life Out There?
And she published her autobiography, Reba: My Story, which became a best-seller. McEntire's 19th album was called Starting Over, released in October 1995. Intended to mark the 20th anniversary of her recording career, it was a collection of covers of well-known songs. It not only topped the country charts but hit number five in the pop charts, selling a million copies out of the box. But, boasting only one Top Ten hit, a revival of Lee Greenwood's "Ring on Her Finger, Time on Her Hands," among three chart singles, and not achieving a multi-platinum certification, it suggested that McEntire finally had peaked commercially as far as country music was concerned. (In a considerable departure for a country singer, MCA released a dance remix of McEntire's revival of the Supremes' "You Keep Me Hangin' On" from the album that reached number two on Billboard's dance chart.)
That didn't keep her from starring in another TV mini-series, Buffalo Gals, playing famed Western sharpshooter Annie Oakley, a part her rodeo background suited her to perfectly. She bounced back on the country charts somewhat with her 20th album, What If It's You, released in November 1996. The album spawned four Top 20 hits, with "How Was I to Know" reaching number one and "The Fear of Being Alone" and "I'd Rather Ride Around with You" each getting to number two. Simultaneously certified gold and platinum, the album eventually topped two million copies. The singles drawn from What If It's You kept McEntire's name in the country charts throughout 1997, as did the holiday benefit record "What If," the proceeds from which were donated to the Salvation Army. But for the first time since 1978, she did not release a new album, even a compilation, during the calendar year. Aiming for a splash, she teamed up with the popular country duo Brooks & Dunn in the spring of 1998 for a single called "If You See Him/If You See Her." It hit number one in June, helping to set up the release of her 21st album, If You See Him, which also brought her three additional Top Ten hits on its way to selling a million copies. She appeared in the TV movie Forever Love (the title of one of those Top Ten hits) during the year and made several guest-star appearances on TV series.
After publishing her second book of memoirs, Comfort from a Country Quilt, in May 1999, McEntire had two new albums ready for the fall. Secret of Giving: A Christmas Collection, a September release, was her second holiday CD, which she accompanied with a TV movie, Secret of Giving. The disc eventually went gold. So Good Together, issued in November, was her 22nd regular studio album, prefaced by the Top Five single "What Do You Say." Although none of the songs from the album topped the country charts, it did feature a second Top Five hit, "I'll Be," and a Top 20 hit in "We're So Good Together," and it went platinum before the end of 2000. As in 1997, McEntire went without an album release in 2000, and in this case, it turned out that she definitely was positioning herself for a career beyond country music, as events in 2001 showed. In February of that year, she stepped in as a replacement star in the Broadway revival of Irving Berlin's musical Annie Get Your Gun that had begun performances in 1999 with Bernadette Peters in the title role of Annie Oakley.
Barry and Fran Weissler, the producers of the revival, were known on Broadway for making money by keeping production costs down and by the extensive use of what was derisively called "stunt casting": bringing in a well-known personality, often one without much of a theater background, as a replacement to extend the run of a show, as a means of exciting the tourist crowd who would recognize the name of a prominent TV star, for example. McEntire had been preceded as a replacement in Annie Get Your Gun by soap opera star Susan Lucci and TV actress Cheryl Ladd, both of whom kept the show going while being largely ignored or derided by theater insiders. McEntire turned out to be an entirely different proposition. First, although she lacked legitimate theater experience, she had by now done plenty of acting on television and even a little in film. Second, she had long since brought unusually high production values to her concerts that included choreography and costume changes, good preparation for similar demands in the theater. Third, she could, of course, sing. And fourth, with her rodeo background and Oklahoma accent, she was an ideal Annie Oakley, just as she had been in her previous TV portrayal. (Never mind that the real Annie Oakley was from Ohio; in everybody's mind, this female sharpshooter and star of Buffalo Bill's Wild West show, the precursor to the modern rodeo, was a Westerner.) The result was a triumph for McEntire. Reviews were ecstatic, and tickets sold out.
The Tony Awards did not have a category for replacements (one has since been added), but she was given special awards for her performance by the Drama Desk, the Outer Critics Circle, and Theatre World. She stayed in the show until June 22, 2001. Unfortunately, there was no new cast album recorded to immortalize her appearance. During the run of Annie Get Your Gun, McEntire was seen in a small part in the film One Night a McCool's, released in April 2001. Her most extensive filmed acting role began on October 5, 2001, however, when the half-hour situation comedy Reba premiered on the WB TV network (later renamed the CW network). The show became the primary focus of McEntire's activities, and she moved to Los Angeles to accommodate it. She had not, however, given up country music entirely. In the summer of 2001, she released a single, "I'm a Survivor," that peaked in the country Top Five and prefaced a new compilation, Greatest Hits, Vol. 3:
I'm a Survivor, released in October. It topped the country charts and went gold. McEntire was occupied primarily with her TV series during 2002 and 2003. She finally returned to record making after two years in the summer of 2003 with a new single, "I'm Gonna Take That Mountain," which peaked in the country Top 20. Room to Breathe, her 23rd regular studio album and first in three years, followed in November and went platinum over the next nine months. The disc's second single, "Somebody," hit number one, and it was followed by another Top Ten hit, "He Gets That from Me," and the Top 20 "My Sister." Reba continued on into 2004 and 2005. McEntire found time in the spring of 2005 to return to the musical theater, if only for one night. In another piece of inspired casting, she portrayed the "cock-eyed optimist" from Arkansas, Ensign Nellie Forbush, in a special concert version of Rodgers & Hammerstein's South Pacific performed at Carnegie Hall. The all-star production, also featuring Broadway star Brian Stokes Mitchell and actor Alec Baldwin, was filmed for a PBS special on the network's Great Performances series and recorded for an album, both of which appeared in 2006.
By 2005, the catalogs of Mercury and MCA had been combined in the major label Universal, and in November MCA released McEntire's first combined hits collection, the double-CD set Reba: 1's, with two newly recorded tracks. It went gold and platinum simultaneously. In 2006, as she began the sixth season of Reba, McEntire also voiced a character in the holiday film release Charlotte's Web. The sixth season of Reba proved to be the last, as the show signed off the air on February 18, 2007. Not one to sit idle, McEntire toured the U.S. from May 25 through August. On September 18, 2007, she released a new album, Reba Duets, featuring such guests as Justin Timberlake, Don Henley, Kelly Clarkson, Kenny Chesney, Carole King, Faith Hill, Ronnie Dunn of Brooks & Dunn, Vince Gill, Rascal Flatts, LeAnn Rimes, and Trisha Yearwood. It was prefaced by the single "Because of You," a duet with Clarkson. For the week ending October 6, 2007, Reba Duets became McEntire's first album ever to enter the pop charts at number one.
| Truly innovative country acts are a rarity, and those that emerge from the generally traditional ranks of Nashville's Lower Broadway are rarer still.
That, however, is part of what makes Jypsi such a phenomenal story. Lower Broad may be known for its seemingly endless supply of talented and innovative players, but it had never seen anything quite like them. Musically, both sparkling three-part harmonies and jaw-dropping four-way lead breaks mark this wellspring of talent and energy, and when it comes to image, it's safe to say country fashion will never be the same.
Though they are Nashville-based and country at their core, the members of Jypsi are versatile enough to draw on a broad spectrum of musical influences, from Bill Monroe to Django Reinhardt, and to be invited to the stone country Stagecoach Festival in the California desert and to the more broadly based Bonnaroo in rural Tennessee and South by Southwest in Austin.
There’s a very good reason that no less than four songs from Rodney Atkins’ platinum-selling 2006 album If You’re Going Through Hell became No. 1 hits—a feat that no one had accomplished since 2002. It’s the same reason that two of those songs became the most-played of 2006 (“If You’re Going Through Hell [Before the Devil Even Knows]”) and 2007 (“Watching You”), and why concert audiences all over the country are cheering him on and singing along.
It’s because Atkins has a rare gift for reflecting the lives of his listeners in his music—their hopes, their concerns, their spirit, their adversities, even their sense of humor. Simply put, as he sang in another chart-topping smash, “These Are My People.” A native of small-town East Tennessee, the adopted son of a loving family and the proud father to a family of his own, Atkins understands regular lives because he still leads one. “People always talk about image—‘You’re the guy in the ball cap, the All-American country boy,’” says Atkins, who does indeed still favor caps to cowboy hats. “But if the songs don’t connect with the folks listening, then none of that stuff matters.”
Atkins makes that connection again and again on his much-anticipated new album, It’s America. Just listen to the down-home philosophy of “Got It Good” and “Tell a Country Boy,” the heartfelt balladry of “The River Knows,” the fist pumping feel good “It’s America” and much more from across the musical and emotional spectrum. “I try to sing songs with an honest view of ourselves, of myself, of the struggle, of the laughter,” he says. “It’s about being human.”
Credit Atkins’ honest view to his upbringing. He was adopted as a frail, sickly infant from the Holston Methodist Home for Children in Greenville, Tenn. (for which he has passionately raised awareness and financial assistance since finding stardom), but two families returned him to the home because the burden of caring for him was too great. Then Allan and Margaret Atkins took him in. “From what I understand, I became more sick than I had ever been during that time,” he says. “But it just never crossed their mind to take me back.”
With their love and care that weak, ill child grew into a strong, healthy young man. He began singing in church as a boy, and learned to play guitar and write songs while in high school. Soon after he headed off to college, Atkins began making regular trips to Nashville in order to write, perform and learn the business. Word got around quickly about this talented and charismatic up-and-comer, and soon he was signed to Curb Records. Atkins’ 2003 debut album, Honesty, earned him a Top 5 hit with “Honesty (Write Me a List).”
Never one to stray far from his roots, Atkins, along with his wife of 10 years, Tammy Jo, continue to raise their family (7-year-old son Elijah and two teenage stepdaughters who affectionately call him “Big R”) and enjoy a simple life right here in Middle Tennessee. “My family is my priority,” he says. “I cherish them so much.” Atkins and longtime producer Ted Hewitt even recorded the vocals for If You’re Going Through Hell and It’s America at the singer’s modest home studio, little more than a closet really, amidst the hubbub of his happily full house.
This unique recording technique proved a winning one, and the chart-topping, platinum-selling If You’re Going Through Hell gave Atkins his true breakthrough. In addition to the overwhelming radio and video airplay, he earned the Academy of Country Music’s Top New Male Vocalist award, plus five other ACM nominations and two Country Music Association nominations. He has also had the opportunity to amass some amazing memories—from public moments like performing for a half-million people at the National Memorial Day concert in Washington, D.C., to private ones like getting to thank hero Garth Brooks for his inspiration. He’s performed for former President George W. Bush. Twice. He’s toured with the superstar likes of Brad Paisley, Brooks & Dunn, Martina McBride and ZZ Top. Similarly, he’s had the pleasure of helping the causes that mean a lot to him, such as the National Council for Adoption. “A lot of my dreams have become reality – I’m living the American dream,” he acknowledges. “It’s amazing to me.” Even so, Atkins hasn’t changed a bit. He’s still the caring husband and father who wants to see his family thrive, still the hopeful dreamer who paid his dues in honky-tonks across America, still the small-town boy who inherited his parents’ warmth and work ethic. He still feels an unbreakable connection to the fans who buy his albums, request his songs and fill up his shows. These are his people, and he has no intention of letting them down.
“With this record, I knew I wanted to keep making songs that folks can sing along with and laugh at and pump their fists to,” he says. “Sometimes it is the simple things in this great country that really make me appreciate it. When we share this sense of pride through music, you become friends with everybody listening. It’s an honor to go out there and represent the everyday man, and to represent country music and what it’s all about.”