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Rodney Atkins on going through hell and doin' it right: interview

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Rodney Atkins AP 2011

Country singer Rodney Atkins performs Friday at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in Sarasota. He's pictured here at the first annual American Giving Awards, Friday, Dec. 9, 2011, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

Rodney Atkins first heard his new single “Doin’ it Right” during some down time in Destin. Enjoying three days off between shows, the country singer lounged on the white beaches of Florida’s Emerald Coast and listened to a song sent to him by his trusty co-producer Ted Hewitt. The man has played a key role in helping shape numerous Atkins recordings including the bestselling 2011 album “Take a Back Road,” which includes the No. 1 single of the same name. Hewitt is careful not to hype the songs, at least not in this early stage of the creative process. The record producer wants a genuine reaction, so he doesn’t tell his star singer who writes the songs. In the case of “Doin’ it Right,” it’s Grammy-nominated songwriter Jay Knowles.

Atkins listened to “Doin’ it Right” on his cell phone, listened to a guy accompanying himself on acoustic guitar. The basic demo recording made an impact, which makes sense. It’s a song about perseverance; a subject Atkins has had success singing about before. It’s the kind of song Atkins sings with authority; sings with that all important believability.

Rodney Atkins AP 2012

Rodney Atkins performs at the 2012 CMA Music Festival on Saturday, June 9, 2012 in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo by Wade Payne/Invision/AP)

“It was just a simple work tape with guitar and vocal that just got to me,” Atkins says by phone. “I wanted to hear it again and again. It spoke to me and I just related to it. That’s my first criteria when I’m looking for songs: a powerful, simple message. I knew I wanted to record it and already had an idea for the production.”

The version of “Doin’ it Right” heard on country radio, a version similar to the one Atkins will perform Friday when he makes his debut at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in Sarasota, rings out like a Springsteenian anthem with a vocal containing just the right amount of manly gruff, restraint and a touch of vulnerability. It’s a song at odds with the popular country songs of the day; songs about partying and pretty girls and getting mud on the tires on your supersized pickup truck. But it’s songs of relative substance, regardless of trends, that Atkins’ fans have come to expect from him.

“I just played ‘Doin’ it Right’ at a show yesterday and people love it,” Atkins says. “I love singing a song and people get inside of it and this song, it is one people relate to, I can see it in the expressions on their faces. It reminds me of, well, I remember when ‘If You’re Going Through Hell’ came out and getting emails about the song touching peoples’ lives. All those messages mean the world to me.”

Rodney Atkins AP vertical

Singer Rodney Atkins arrives at the American Giving Awards in Los Angeles on Friday, Dec. 9, 2011. (AP Photo/Dan Steinberg)

“If You’re Going Through Hell” is the 2006 title track of Atkins’ second album, and one of the most memorable mainstream country songs of the past decade. Over a propulsive melody, Atkins sings a great metaphor about beating outside devils and inner demons. The song became his first No.1 and established Atkins as a star at a time when his record label didn’t exactly have the most faith in him.

“The label kind of put it to me that I could work on some new music but wasn’t really sure if I would have a new album or even a new single out,” Atkins recalls. “That’s when I knew it was time to decide what I moved to Nashville to do; what was going to separate me from any other cat?

“I don’t think of myself as a good singer,” Atkins continues with a laugh. “And God knows looks aren’t going to get me there. So I had to find songs that really connected to people and the songs I was drawn to weren’t the songs that were ‘I love you so much and the skies are blue,’ they were songs like ‘Going Through Hell.’"

“Going Through Hell,” which Atkins’ record label tried to re-title “Before the Devil Even Knows,” launched a string of No. 1 hits for the singer that includes “Watching You” (2007), “These Are My People” (2007), “Cleaning This Gun (Come On In Boy)” (2008), “It’s America” (2009) and “Take a Back Road” (2011). Each song means something to Atkins. More importantly, each song means something to the fans; the people who paid to see Atkins perform years ago at Joyland in Bradenton and other clubs across the country and who are now paying larger sums to see Atkins in far grander halls like the Van Wezel.

“The people are so loyal it’s unbelievable,” Atkins says. “I’m blown away by the impact they have on my life and how fortunate I am.”

RODNEY ATKINS
with Frankie Ballard and Rose Falcon
8 p.m. Friday, Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, 777 N Tamiami Trail, Sarasota; $30-$60; 953-3368; vanwezel.org.

RODNEY ATKINS
with Frankie Ballard and Rose Falcon
8 p.m. Friday, Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, 777 N Tamiami Trail, Sarasota; $30-$60; 953-3368; vanwezel.org.

Wade_Tatangelo_by_Mike_Lang_HT_06212013 Wade Tatangelo has been an entertainment reporter, columnist and reviewer for more than a decade at publications nationwide. He is a Hershey, Pa., native who grew up in Tampa and graduated from the University of South Florida. Wade joined the Herald-Tribune in 2013. He can be reached by email or call (941) 361-4955.
Last modified: November 4, 2013
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