In 1980, Trace Adkins appeared on the cover of his gospel quintet's record in a bowl haircut and a powder-blue tuxedo with ruffles and a large bowtie. Even then, he embraced the ridiculous.
But that was nothing compared to the aughts, when modern country singers produced over-the-top silliness like "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy," "(I'd Like to Check You for) Ticks" and "I Play Chicken with the Train." Adkins' contributions to this arena included "Hot Mama," a song sexualizing the mundane life of a housewife; "I Got My Game On," appropriating hip-hop slang; and his biggest hit, "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk," which celebrates the glory of the human ass.
This is weird only because Adkins has a wealth of country credibility to sing about. As a young man, Adkins lost one of his fingers working on a Louisiana oil rig. He was shot in the heart and lungs by his second wife. He's been involved in barroom brawls, been issued DUIs, gotten mangled by tractor accidents, and yet his songs reflect none of this.
But Adkins always seems willing to admit that he's in on the joke. Sometimes this is as subtle as a half-smile or raised eyebrow; other times he admits it outright. In his autobiography, A Personal Stand: Observations and Opinions from a Freethinking Roughneck, he addresses the success of "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk":
It was number two the same week Carrie Underwood went number one with "Jesus, Take the Wheel." Right behind me, at number three, was Brad Paisley's "When I Get Where I'm Going," a song about heaven. So there I was, in a sticky position. I couldn't exactly root against the records ahead of or behind me. I couldn't pray to the man upstairs, asking, "Lord, could you please make my 'ass' record number one instead of the two 'Jesus' songs?" It would have been wrong. And that's probably why it didn't go number one. I had ass, they had Jesus, and Jesus won, which I guess is the way it ought to be.
Even when Adkins goes for poignant, there's still a little bit of preposterous. "You're Gonna Miss This" purveys life lessons from a plumber; "I Came Here to Live" details an in-person, post-car-wreck visit from Jesus Christ; and "Arlington," an otherwise serious song about the cost of war, involves corpses clicking their heels.
I saw Adkins in 2008, in Lake County. Onstage, he talked about life, love and country, and sang hits in his rich, deep baritone.
But then there was that other side. At the end, during "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk," Adkins motioned for the band to get quiet. "Lemme tell you," he said to the crowd, while the band played, "I didn't get in this business for the fame, or the money—I got in this business for one reason and one reason only . . ."
The music stopped. Adkins threw his arms open wide. "Ba-donk-adonk, motherfucker!"
And the crowd went nuts.
Trace Adkins plays Thursday, Aug. 11, at the Sonoma County Fair. 1350 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa. 7:30pm. $25-$40 plus fair admission. 707.545.4200.