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Finding success outside the box

By: Jeff Dedekker
July 6, 2009

In 2006 Rodney Atkins struck gold with If You're Going Through Hell, a No. 1 album that spawned four No. 1 singles. For most country music fans, it appeared Atkins rocketed to superstar status overnight.
But the reality was that Atkins paid his dues -- he signed his first record contract in 1997 and it took almost 10 years of hard work before the native of Knoxville, Tenn., realized his dream of country success.
Atkins admits that even he was surprised that it took that long.
"Perception is everything," Atkins explained in a recent telephone interview from his home in Cumberland Gap, Tenn.

"I can remember watching TV one time when I was in high school and Randy Travis was on. He was talking about how from the time he moved to Nashville it took him 10 years to have his first hit. At the time I was thinking about making the move, should I or shouldn't I chase that crazy dream, and this crossed my mind later when I finally did make the move. I thought, 'That's not going to happen to me. It won't take me that long.'

"Yeah, it took longer."

Atkins, who turned 40 on March 28, signed with Curb Records in 1997 and although he released a single, "In A Heartbeat," his debut album was never released by the label. Honesty was released in 2003 with the title track peaking at No. 4 on the charts.

Then came If You're Going Through Hell, which was released in 2006. The title track was the first No. 1 single for Atkins and the three following singles -- "Watching You," "These Are My People" and "Cleaning This Gun (Come On In Boy)" -- also topped the charts.

The success of If You're Going Through Hell can be attributed to one vital decision made by Atkins.
"I quit trying to fit into the mould that had been established for other artists. It's 'You wear this, you look like this, you sing this,' " Atkins said.

"We just kind of came back to being myself and having the music match that."

Atkins also found that huge success brings huge expectations. He faced a great deal of pressure when he returned to the studio to record the followup to If You're Going Through Hell.
Matching or surpassing an album with four No. 1 hits is a difficult task and it took Atkins a while to find his way with the new album, It's America, which was released on March 31.

"Obviously, it had to be great songs," said Atkins. "It was hard for us to define what album we were trying to make, what the music was, what we were trying to say -- songs about real life. We wanted to steer away from songs that just blow by you. Songs can be hits, they can go to No. 1 and two weeks later you can't remember them or what they were.

"I want songs that are timeless, that will hopefully be around forever. I want songs that are about real life -- good, bad, funny, sad, whatever. Finally, when we got the album together, it made sense."
It appears Atkins made the right decisions with the new disc. The title track reached No. 1 on May 2 and the second single, "15 Minutes," has worked its way into the Top 20 and has the potential to break into the Top 10.