A weak, sickly infant from an east Tennessee children's center was adopted but returned by two families who said the burden of caring for him was overwhelming. In time, he was taken home by Allan and Margaret Atkins, who mentored the frail boy in an outdoors lifestyle that included the quality time of father-son fishing trips.
Rodney Atkins grew healthy and matured into the platinum-selling country music artist who sings "The River Knows," a poignant story about fishing and a disabled veteran. Written by Sam and Ann Tate and Dave Berg, it's on Atkins' new album, "It's America" (Curb Records). Atkins is one of some 20 country stars playing the Jamboree in the Hills concert festival July 14-17 in Morristown, Ohio, 15 miles west of Wheeling, W.Va.
Fishing is a core element of the rural tradition, so it comes as no surprise that a lot of Southern and rural-based country artists are die-hard fishermen. The music industry is a tough grind that can consume much of a performer's time, but Atkins said he takes a rod and light tackle on tour in case he gets a chance to get on the water.
"I fished a lot with my dad and later with friends when I was a kid, going down to Powell River and Norris Lake" in east Tennessee, he said. "We started out using trot lines, putting your fishing line in a pack ... riding your bike to the [fishing hole]. You'd tie the line to your toe and lay back and catch a bunch of those little brown- and red-eye bass."