20 years in, Atkins reaches 'Greatest Hits' milestone

A chuckle slips out when Rodney Atkins is reminded that he’s closing in on the 20-year mark of his career.

“It seems like it’s only been three or four years that I’ve been doing this. It’s crazy to think about it being almost 20 years,” he said.

But when you consider his career path — signing with Curb Records in Nashville in 1996 only to stall for six years right after his first single sputtered from the gate — it’s more like a dozen years.

They have been a dozen very successful years, punctuated by four No. 1 hits off his 2006 sophomore album “If You’re Going Through Hell” including two — “If You’re Going Through Hell (Before the Devil Even Knows)” and “Watching You” — that earned year-end No. 1 chart nods from Billboard in 2006 and 2007 respectively.

“Yeah it’s been 20 years but I feel like it’s been well-spent,” Atkins said from Nashville as he prepared to head out for a string of dates that brings him to Rialto Theatre on Sunday.

“I haven’t gone in and thrown out album after album after album. … It’s kind of at my pace, obviously. It takes me forever to say things. It takes me forever to get anything done. But patience is one thing that has always really worked for me.”

That patience paid off early this year with the release of his first “Greatest Hits” album.

“That was such a big thing this year, realizing that we’ve reached the 10 million sales mark,” he said. “I remember moving to Nashville (in the mid-1990s) and at that time Alan Jackson was releasing a greatest hits album. I hadn’t had a hit and I remember thinking that will be so cool having enough hits to have a greatest hits album.

“So it’s really amazing to have had that number of songs that reached the place that folks had heard it and they kind of give you a thumbs up that you’re doing OK,” Atkins said.

But the real milestone for Atkins is the impact his music has had on listeners.

“It’s really amazing to go and sing these songs to so many people. And the different stories that they tell you of how it relates to their lives,” he said, recalling parents telling him stories of their own young kids when he sings “Watching You” and fathers’ tales of their daughters’ first dates after he sings “Cleaning This Gun.”

“‘These Are My People’ has been a high school graduation song so many times,” he added. “Obviously ‘If You’re Going Through Hell’ has had so many different stories. … I’m just thrilled to have that many No. 1s and that many hit songs. It’s just a really great milestone to reach.”

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