Rhett Akins Interview


When we caught up with Rhett Akins in August 1995, he was one of the fastest rising and hottest performers in all of Country Music.

He had in fact just completed a rather extensive tour with Reba McEntire.

And, that’s where we begin.

Q – Rhett, is it a performer’s dream or a performer’s nightmare to open a show for someone like Reba?
A – Well, I guess it’s according to the performer. But, for me it’s a dream. Definitely not even close to a nightmare. The only nightmare I had about that tour was that I found out I was opening for Reba in November 1994. From November of 1994 to February 3 rd 1995, I was in a state of terror. (Laughs). I couldn’t believe that my very first major concert ever as a recording artist was gonna be opening for Reba McEntire in front of 10,000 people. I didn’t dread it. I just thought can I really do this? It’s like somebody dreaming of playing baseball their whole life and they get to the major leagues and they get up to bat and the first pitch comes from Nolen Ryan. (Laughs). It’s like I’m not so sure I can pull this thing off. That’s the only nightmare I had about it. Thank the Lord we made it through the first show in fine fashion and the crowd was very responsive.

Q – You were, at one point driving a truck and listening to the radio when you thought to yourself, “Music’s been in me my whole life and I just can’t sit here and sing to the radio anymore. I want to be in on it”. I’m sure a lot of people have had that same thought.
A – Yes, Sir.

Q – How did you make it happen?
A – The first thing you gotta have is a dream. The second thing you gotta do is get your butt out of the bed. If you sit around dreaming about it all the time that doesn’t do anything. You gotta have a plan. I got together with my family. That’s the biggest reason I made it, my parents, my wife, we all got together and had a big meeting. I said, ‘Look, I know this sounds crazy. I’m married. I got a baby. I got to work. I got to make a living. I want to be a country singer. That’s what I’ve always wanted. I’ve always played the guitar. I’ve always sung. I just don’t want to be sitting around when I’m 80 years old wondering if I could’ve made it’. My family said, ‘Let’s do it. We’re behind you’. The biggest thing is, we all got together and prayed about it. That’s the biggest reason that I’ve made it so far. Yes, you do have to have talent. You do have to get up and work and move to Nashville and write songs and sing all the time and do whatever you can that is humanly possible. But, I’ve always been brought up that if you pray and you have faith in the Lord that it’s gonna work out. My family prays for me even when I don’t. The Lord is watching out for me. I moved to Nashville. I set myself a goal. I was 23 when I moved there. I said if I don’t have a record deal by the time I’m 25, I’m moving back home. I’m gonna give it 2 years. My first single came out a month before I turned 25. I hit the streets everyday. If I didn’t have anything to do, if I didn’t have a meeting, I was still downtown in Music Row looking for something to do. I’ve also got a way where I can meet somebody and the next thing we’re best friends. So, I’d go to town and meet somebody and I wasn’t too shy to ask-----Is there any songs I can sing? Do you need a demo singer? How’d you like to write a song? Can I hang out with you in the studio? I just wanted to be around it, all the time. So, I made myself very accessible in town and got to know a bunch of songwriters, got to know a bunch of record producers, and label heads. Nashville is really a small community when you get down to the music industry. Everybody knows everybody. If you really persist, before long man, before long, you know everybody in town. So, I just made it a point that I was gonna be noticed and recognized. I write 5 days a week, sometimes 2-3 times a day with different people, just trying to do whatever I could. At the same time I said, ‘Lord, if you think this door needs to be opened for me, I’m gonna walk on through it. If not, I’m not gonna quit. I’m just gonna walk down the street and knock on the next door’. So, I just did everything I could and left the rest up to him and I believe that’s the reason I’ve been successful so far.

Q – Were you a session player and a staff writer in Nashville?
A – Yeah. I got a job writing songs for SONY-Tree Publishing Co. The other thing I’d do is, I’d sing songs once or twice a week for other songwriters. Mainly I was a staff songwriter, not a musician.

Q – Where did Decca see you?
A – I just finished a demo session. Every week all the songwriters got a pitch sheet that tells when people like John Anderson or Mark Chestnutt are cutting and they’re looking for songs. So, I looked on the sheet and it said Mark Chestnutt was looking for songs. I said, man, well, I got 3 or 4 songs I think will be cool for Mark Chestnutt. So, I sent ‘em over to his producer. He called me up and said, ‘Rhett, I played the songs for Chestnutt and he didn’t like ‘em and didn’t think they were for him. But man, I really liked them, and I liked your singing. I’d like to meet you’. So, I went over to meet him and the next thing you know, I got a record deal at Decca Records and he’s my producer.

Q – You were a high school quarterback. Did any of your team mates know of your love for music?
A – Yeah.

Q – Did anyone mock you out for that and think you were just a little bit strange?
A – Yeah. Especially my coach. (Laughs).

Q – How about your teammates? What did they do?
A – They thought it was cool. After practice we’d sit on the back of my truck, or in the weight room and I’d have my guitar and we’d be singing Hank Williams Jr. and George Strait and Lynyrd Skynyrd. They thought it was neat and I’d always say, ‘Y’all, one day I’m gonna be playing on a big stage’. It was kind of a joke. I believed it, but at the same time I didn’t believe it. I just liked to say it. I’d always say I’m gonna be an NFL quarterback and a singer at the same time. Everybody thought it was really good. Nobody really mocked me for playing guitar. They just never thought it’d go past sitting around with your buddies and playing.

Q – You actually won a football scholarship to the University of Georgia?
A – I walked on up there.

Q – What do you mean?
A – That means you don’t actually get a scholarship, but, you have a chance to try out for the team.

Q – After a year you left. Is that because you didn’t make the team?
A – No. I made it. It was just too overwhelming. Those boys were too big and too fast for me. It’s a big change moving from a small town to a school that had 35,000 students. I was in over my head. I just couldn’t see a future for a guy who was 5’ 10”, 170 pounds making it into Big Time football. So, I just went home and wrote. I was working for my daddy and driving a truck. At the same time I started writing songs and singing a little bit around my hometown and that’s when I really got interested and decided I was gonna go for it.

Q – When you were growing up, were you into Rock ‘n’ Roll as much as Country?
A – Yeah. Kiss. Van Halen. The Rolling Stones. Kiss was the very first influence. I was 7 or 8 when Kiss was huge. That’s all we thought about-----Kiss and Van Halen, and The Rolling Stones. At the same time I was into George Jones, Hank Williams Jr. and Hank Sr. and George Strait and Conway Twitty. We liked everything, man. One week we’d be going to see Van Halen and the next week we’d be at Hank Williams Jr. and Earl Thomas Conley concert. I like it all. If it’s good-----I like it. I don’t care what style it is. I talk country. I sing country. That’s just naturally what I am. That doesn’t mean I can’t like anything else.

© Gary James All Rights Reserved