A Little Bit Country 

From "King of the Hill" to Strawberry Hill, country's No. 6 plays the State Fair.

"Buck Owens told me one time, 'Son, you're three minutes away from being a superstar.'" Adkins says. "What he meant was, you can look back at people's careers that just exploded and went to the upper echelon immediately, and it was because of one song." He continues, "I guess I've never had that one song that impacted people to the point that it was a runaway hit."

That's not to say he hasn't had a string of hits. From early No. 1s, such as 1996's "(This Ain't) No Thinkin' Thing" and "I Left Something Turned on at Home," to recent hits like "Songs About Me," Adkins consistently turns in stellar performances.

"I truly believe I could have been content working in the oil fields for the rest of my life if this [music career] hadn't happened for me," the 6-foot-6 former Louisiana oil-rig worker says by phone from his Nashville home. "But things have been great. This business is all about numbers.... At the CMA [Country Music Association] awards show this year, I didn't have any nominations. If you look at the five guys ahead of me, they've got better [sales] numbers. So I feel like I'm number six — but being number six out of however many guys there are in this business is pretty damn good."

As with many country singers, you can get to know Adkins through his songs. A line in "Songs About Me" talks about "country mixed with a little rock and a little blues," which he says describes his own sound. "I sing songs that I can relate to," he adds, "songs that describe who I am and how I feel."

His diverse audiences include teenagers, families and screaming women who've left husbands at home for a girls' night out.

"I see the conflict that happens in my audience because you've got people there who want to go like it's a rock show and people who want to sit and listen. The sitters get mad at the standers, and it goes on through the whole show until the very end — until the stand-up crowd kinda takes over," he says, laughing.

Adkins' personal life could be country-song fodder, peppered with numerous accidents — including being shot in the heart — and a past that includes overcoming problems with alcohol. On rare off days, he enjoys working on his 62-acre Tennessee farm. Happily married for eight years to his wife, Rhonda, and the father of five daughters, he's also a songwriter.

But he didn't write any songs on his latest CD, he says. "I told somebody the other day, career Trace killed the songwriting Trace. Some people scoff at that and say writing should be the most important thing you do. Well, it's not. I'm not gonna lie to you," he says. "I've got kids and property. I'm writing a couple of things, but I don't get up every morning and say, OK, what am I going to write about today?"

"This is a great job," he says, "and as long as I can sing songs that express my personal feelings, stuff that I can sing honestly and with conviction, I'll continue to do it." S

Trace Adkins appears with Diamond Rio at the State Fair's Classic Amphitheatre Sunday, Oct. 2, 7 p.m. Tickets, $10-$25 (plus fair admission), are available through Ticketmaster.

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