Rolling out the hits
Acclaimed for hits like “Watching You,” “Take a Back Road” and “If You’re Going Through Hell (Before the Devil Even Knows),” country star Rodney Atkins says there’s no special formula to his songs’ success.
“I try to find songs that I can relate to, songs about going through a struggle, or making a mistake, or just being human,” he explains. ” ‘Watching You’ is about making a mistake in front of your kids and trying to do the best you can. ‘Back Road’ is about being in a bad place and pushing through it. ‘If You’re Going Through Hell’ is obviously about a struggle. One of my favorite lines in that song is, ‘It ain’t always pretty, but it’s real.”
With a successful career spanning more than 15 years including platinum-selling albums and six No. 1 singles, Atkins’ songs have deeply impacted fans.
“When ‘If You’re Going Through Hell’ first came out in 2006, I got an email from a guy who was in the parking lot of a church, and he had lost his wife and job,” he explains. “He said, ‘I had a pistol in my hands and that was going to be it. But then ‘If You’re Going Through Hell’ came on the radio, and that was 20 minutes ago and the gun is gone and I’m home. Your song saved my life.’ Stories like that through the years blow me away. It was a dream to not just have hits, but to have songs that can touch lives.”
“Going Through Hell” became Atkins’ signature song. The inspirational story relates to his challenging childhood. Adopted as a baby, his parents nursed him through a major respiratory infection and taught him the value of perseverance.
Raised in Tennessee, country music became an early passion.
“My parents said when I was about 6 years old I told them I wanted to be Charlie Daniels when I grew up,” he recalls. “I wanted to be Charlie Daniels or Pete Rose. They let me get into their record collection, and I can remember listening to Ray Charles’ ‘Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music’ over and over. I just loved the songs and stories. By middle school, there was Randy Travis, Dwight Yoakam and Alabama. I was country crazy.”
Interviewed earlier this month on the day that Merle Haggard died, Atkins remembers a fortuitous encounter with the country legend.
“When I first came to town (Nashville), I played a writers night and a publisher gave me his card. The next day I went to his office with my guitar and a backpack. I tried to open the door of the building and it hit my guitar. A hand came around me and a voice said, ‘Let me get that door for you, son.’ I turned around, it was Merle Haggard. It was my first day on Music Row. It’s such a huge loss.”
After earning a hit with “If You’re Going Through Hell,” Atkins scored his second No. 1 country single with “Watching You,” which was named the No. 1 song of 2007 on Billboard’s year-end chart.
The song was inspired by his son, Elijah, who had been singing his dad’s “If You’re Going Through Hell” in elementary school.
“I do all my vocals at home and he heard me singing,” Atkins explains. “The next day at school, his teacher told me they told all the kids to get quiet to line up for lunch, and he started singing, ‘if you’re going through hell.’ That night I told him you need to be quiet when they tell you to be quiet, and then I wrote that song.”
After releasing a Greatest Hits collection last year, Atkins is currently working on a new album.
“I’ve been writing a lot for this new project,” he says. “There’s some classic country stuff. I’m excited about a bunch of these songs.”
Married to country singer Rose Falcon, Atkins is stoked that his wife is joining him on the album.
“We’re singing a couple of duets together. She’s such a great singer. We’ve written about three or four songs together.”
Making his Maui debut next week at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, co-headlining with Justin Moore, Atkins says they’ve played some shows together before.
“Some of the charity events I put together, he always steps up,” Atkins says. “It’s cool to do these with Justin.”
With hits like “Lettin’ the Night Roll,” “If Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away,” “Small Town USA” and “Backwoods,” Moore has been topping the country charts since 2009.
On his most recent album, the opening track tells of a time in country music “when Johnny rocked and Willie rolled, they just did it with a whole lot more soul.” The song, “Old Back in the New School,” he says, reflects his more traditional approach to country.
“We need to accept all the different styles of country music, but we have to be careful we don’t lose the core, which is what makes country music great,” Moore says.
Growing up in a small town in rural Arkansas, Moore fell in love with country at an early age.
“I’ve always loved country,” he says. “My mom and dad have videos of me singing Dwight Yoakam’s ‘I’m a Honky Tonk Man’ when I was about 4 years old. I grew up playing sports and wanted to play baseball in college, but in junior high, my uncle had a southern rock band and I thought that was pretty cool.”
His rural upbringing inspired his first No. 1 hit, “Small Town USA,” the second single from his self-titled debut album in 2009.
“It was exciting because it was a song I had written about how I grew up, but I wasn’t sure there were enough people who think the way I do or grew up the way I did to have mass appeal,” he says. “Fortunately I was wrong. I moved to Nashville and wrote that song in 2003, so it was six years before it became a hit. I was struggling like every artist, and my first single didn’t do as good as we had hoped. Back in the day, if you had a couple of songs that came out that didn’t do very well, they would drop you. Fortunately it was a big record.”
In 2011, Moore returned with another No. 1 country hit, “If Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away,” and a second studio album, “Outlaws Like Me.” It reached No. 1 on the Billboard country charts, and also included the hit singles “Bait a Hook” and “Til My Last Day.”
The country star followed that with “Off the Beaten Path” in the fall of 2013, which produced two more hit songs, “Point at You” and “Lettin’ the Night Roll.”
Then two years ago, Moore teamed with Motley Crue singer Vince Neil on a cover of their hit “Home Sweet Home” for the album “Nashville Outlaws: A Tribute to Motley Crue.”
“It was probably the most random thing I’ve done,” he says. “But it was one of the most enjoyable things. My record label president put the album together and he asked me early on, ‘I know it’s crazy, but do you want to do a song with Motley Crue?’ I don’t know, let me think about it. I found a cassette tape of theirs, and I called back and said, ‘If I can do ‘Home Sweet Home,’ I’m in.’ It was really cool that Vince Neil and the whole crew were in the video.”
Last year, he recorded another cover, a new version of Louis Armstrong’s classic “What a Wonderful World,” for sporting goods company Cabela’s. Fans who pledged to get outdoors without technology on MyDisconnectDay.com received a free digital download.
“They put together the campaign, which I thought was a great idea,” he says. “Leave your phone at home and go spend some time outdoors with your family for a day. They wanted me to do the song for a commercial. It was a little outside the box for me but a lot of fun. It doesn’t matter if it’s country or whatever; a great song is a great song.”
David Bowie fans will get an opportunity to relive some of his golden hits when a bunch of Maui musicians appearing as the Glamtrons perform the tribute show “David Bowie 1969-1982” at Mulligans on the Blue on Saturday in Wailea.
The musicians include Satchel Gleason, Joette Burke, Scott Harding, Michael Burke, Dave Vickers, Rick Bodinus and Nils Rosenblad, with some special guests possible.
We can expect to hear some of Bowie’s greatest songs including “Changes,” “Ziggy Stardust,” “Suffragette City,” “Rebel Rebel,” “Let’s Dance” and “Heroes.”
“We did a Bowie tribute earlier at Fleetwood’s and we killed it,” says guitarist Rosenblad, who previously helped organize some Zeptember shows. “We’re all Bowie-heads. We’ve got a great band.”
* Doors will open at 7 p.m. Saturday with the show starting around 8. Tickets can be purchased for $10 in advance at Mulligans or for $15 at the door.
Maui Choral Arts will present “A Night at the Movies” concert this weekend at the MACC. Favorite selections from some of the great movie musicals, including “Les Miserables,” “Hairspray,” “Rent,” “Amistad” and “Funny Girl,” will be performed under the baton of artistic director Gary Leavitt, with pianist Lotus Dancer.
* Performances will be at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and at 3 p.m. Sunday in McCoy Studio Theater. Tickets are $30 for adults, $15 for students with ID and free and children 18 and younger (plus applicable fees) and are available at the box office, by calling 242-7469 or online at www.mauiarts.org.