Trace Adkins: Whiskey, Cigarettes, And Kale Country music star and actor Trace Adkins shares the chance encounter that launched his career and reveals how he maintains that iconic deep baritone voice.
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Trace Adkins: Whiskey, Cigarettes, And Kale

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Trace Adkins: Whiskey, Cigarettes, And Kale

Trace Adkins: Whiskey, Cigarettes, And Kale

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JONATHAN COULTON: This is ASK ME ANOTHER, NPR's hour of puzzles, word games and trivia coming to you from Nashville, Tenn. I'm Jonathan Coulton. Now here's your host, Ophira Eisenberg.

(APPLAUSE)

OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:

Thank you, Jonathan. Our first guest is a country music superstar and a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Please welcome Trace Adkins.

(APPLAUSE)

TRACE ADKINS: Hey.

EISENBERG: Trace, when you were a kid, your dad taught you how to play guitar. Is that right?

ADKINS: No. He bought a guitar for me.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

ADKINS: Well, Santa brought it when I was 10.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

ADKINS: And then my dad paid this guy to give me guitar lessons. My daddy couldn't play guitar. He didn't sing or anything. I'd never asked him why he did that either.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

ADKINS: All this is his fault, so...

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: But you did go to college to pursue music and football. And what happened with the football?

ADKINS: Yeah. Well, I tore my knee up. After I tore my knee up the second time, it was over - you know, had a really cool orthopedic surgeon that told me that my career was over, you know?

(LAUGHTER)

ADKINS: And that was not something that a 19-year-old kid wanted to hear.

EISENBERG: Sure.

ADKINS: He said, well, get away from the game while you can still walk, you know? So, yeah, I went to Louisiana Tech and studied petroleum engineering and was studying music on the side, too. And I enjoyed that.

EISENBERG: And then after college you are working on the oil rigs.

ADKINS: Yes.

EISENBERG: So around that time, you were playing, though - music - still.

ADKINS: Yeah, it was just my hobby, you know? And I'm one of those blessed people that, something that I love to do, now I get to make a living doing it. But it truly - I say this all the time, this is nothing but a hobby that got horribly out of control, you know? It's just...

(LAUGHTER)

ADKINS: That's all it is.

EISENBERG: But there was some intention behind it because you moved to Nashville in your 20s, and you moved to pursue music.

ADKINS: No, I moved to get away from my ex-wife.

(LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE)

ADKINS: I figured 500 miles would do the trick.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED AUDIENCE MEMBER: Not always.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: She finally found you.

ADKINS: How are you, honey?

(LAUGHTER)

ADKINS: It's been a long time, babe.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: And a producer by the name of Scott Hendricks found you. And he said that he signed you because you have the voice of a bass that cuts like a tenor.

ADKINS: That's what he said.

EISENBERG: What exactly does that mean?

ADKINS: I don't know. He met me at the baggage claim at the airport and...

(LAUGHTER)

ADKINS: It's true.

EISENBERG: Really?

ADKINS: Yeah. I was introduced to him at the baggage claim at the airport. And he was - just my speaking voice. He was like, can you sing? I was like, a little bit, you know? And I invited him to come out and hear me sing in a little club I was playing at, so - and I didn't expect him to come out, but he did. You know, he came out that weekend. And I did my - the first set, and I turned around and put my guitar down on the stand. I was going to take a break. And he walked up on stage and he said, I'll give you a record deal. I was like, OK.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Simple.

ADKINS: Yeah.

EISENBERG: So I guess your voice has pretty much always been like this if it was in your 20s?

ADKINS: No, that would have been weird, you know?

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Well, you know, as an adult.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: If you're talking to this guy in your 20s when you moved to Nashville and he comments on your voice, your voice is already - has this quality.

ADKINS: Yeah, I started singing bass in a gospel quartet when I was 17. Yeah.

EISENBERG: And what do you do to maintain it?

ADKINS: Whiskey and cigarettes.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: You don't do any...

ADKINS: No, that's how I got it.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Right.

ADKINS: I maintain it with kale.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Just put down the drink and get on stage. That's the warm-up.

ADKINS: Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Now, you were asked to be a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 2003. The Opry, of course, is a big deal in the country music world. It is the longest-running radio broadcast in U.S. history, dedicated to honoring country music and its history. You've performed there are a lot in your career, but your first appearance - that's a big deal. Did you rehearse like crazy?

ADKINS: No.

(LAUGHTER)

ADKINS: But, I mean, I was terrified when I went out on stage, even though I knew what I was - I felt comfortable about doing the songs I was doing. But, still, the first time you walk out on that stage, if you're human, you're petrified.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

ADKINS: You know? And I was, certainly. Yeah.

EISENBERG: And then when you return, you know, now that - when you go there, it's like a home, I'm sure.

ADKINS: Oh, yeah. Every Tuesday night, Friday night, Saturday night, it's a family reunion backstage. And that's the coolest part to me about the Opry is you've got these legends that have been doing this for decades. And then you've got the new people and then, you know, journeymen like myself somewhere in the middle there. And it's just - it's a beautiful experience. I love it. Every time - I've never had a bad experience at the Opry ever.

EISENBERG: Wow. That's pretty amazing.

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: At this point you've released 12 studio albums, six compilation albums, but you also act. You've been in "The Lincoln Lawyer," "Deepwater Horizon," "Hickok," to just name a few projects. And you're hosting a reality competition TV show called "The Ultimate Cowboy Showdown." That's going to premiere this fall. So what is your experience with cowboys?

ADKINS: I've fought a bunch of them.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: How recently?

ADKINS: Been beat up by some of them too, you know?

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: OK. So what are you going to say qualifies as the ultimate cowboy or cowgirl?

ADKINS: You know, I went through them. You know, you sucked at that.

(LAUGHTER)

ADKINS: And you - you know? You were pretty good. You get to stay. You go home.

EISENBERG: And what are the challenges like?

ADKINS: There was no rhyme or reason behind any of it.

(LAUGHTER)

ADKINS: I told them. I said, look. The very first day, I stood in front of the contestants. And I said, look. This is about the competitions and, you know, riding and roping and all these things that cowboys do. But if I don't like you, you're not going to stay long enough to soften up a chew of tobacco. So, you know, be nice to me or you're going to go home.

EISENBERG: All right. Trace, are you ready to play an ASK ME ANOTHER challenge?

ADKINS: I guess.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Yes, you are. Let's bring out your teammate. She's country music royalty and one of the most prolific singer-songwriters working today. Please welcome Carlene Carter.

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: Now, you two know each other, yes?

CARLENE CARTER: We just met.

EISENBERG: Oh, wow.

CARTER: But I know who he is.

ADKINS: Well, I've known who she is forever, so...

EISENBERG: Trace Adkins, you've been on the show "Pyramid," right? - the game show "Pyramid."

ADKINS: Yes.

EISENBERG: How'd you do?

ADKINS: It was horrible...

(LAUGHTER)

ADKINS: ...Because I put Donny Osmond in a headlock just saying hello, you know?

(LAUGHTER)

ADKINS: And I didn't know that he had had neck surgery like...

EISENBERG: Oh.

ADKINS: ...Like a week before.

(LAUGHTER)

ADKINS: I almost killed an Osmond.

(LAUGHTER)

ADKINS: And the best one.

CARTER: The best one, yeah.

EISENBERG: The best one.

(APPLAUSE, LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: So this game works kind of like that.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Except for here, there's nothing at stake. So you're going to work together. We gave Trace a list of some current Grand Ole Opry members. Trace, your goal is to give clues to Carlene to help her guess as many of them as possible. You can use the clues we wrote or make some up of your own. Carlene, you can guess as many times as you want. If you get it right, you will hear this sound.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

EISENBERG: And if you do well enough, Alison Krieger from St. Paul, Minn., will win an ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's Cube.

CARTER: Oh.

EISENBERG: OK. Ready. Set.

ADKINS: Yeah.

EISENBERG: Go.

ADKINS: "Friends in Low Places."

CARTER: Oh, Garth.

EISENBERG: Yeah, Garth Brooks.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

ADKINS: Oh, my goodness. Kelly Clarkson is her stepdaughter-in-law.

(LAUGHTER)

ADKINS: Her version of the song "Fancy."

CARTER: Oh, "Fancy." Reba?

ADKINS: She only has one name. Reba, yeah.

CARTER: Reba.

EISENBERG: Reba McEntire.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

ADKINS: He's a country artist now; used to be lead singer of Hootie and the Blowfish.

CARTER: Oh, I know him - Darius Rucker.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

ADKINS: She was kidnapped in an episode of "Dukes Of Hazzard."

CARTER: Blake Shelton.

(LAUGHTER)

ADKINS: That's our go-to.

EISENBERG: That's your go-to.

ADKINS: For - if she's stumped, we just go to Blake.

(LAUGHTER)

ADKINS: Hurricane Mills.

CARTER: Oh, Loretta.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

EISENBERG: Loretta Lynn.

CARTER: They're all one name.

ADKINS: Johnny Cash said that she was his favorite female vocalist. Bruce Springsteen called her a national treasure. She won her first Grammy in 1977.

CARTER: Uh-oh.

ADKINS: Her album - "Elite Hotel."

CARTER: Oh, Emmylou Harris. Oh.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

CARTER: See. Johnny said that about a lot of girls.

(LAUGHTER)

CARTER: You know, it happens.

(LAUGHTER)

ADKINS: Carlene Carter wrote easy from now on for her.

CARTER: I did.

ADKINS: Yep.

CARTER: I did.

ADKINS: I didn't want to give you that one.

CARTER: Oh, well, thank you. Yeah. I would have - might remembered that.

ADKINS: She won "American Idol."

CARTER: Carrie Underwood.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

ADKINS: Yep.

CARTER: Yep.

ADKINS: Mr. Nicole Kidman.

(LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE)

CARTER: The thunder down under - Keith Urban.

(CHIME, LAUGHTER)

ADKINS: "Ladies Love Country Boys."

CARTER: "Ladies Love Country Boys"?

ADKINS: "Badonkadonk."

CARTER: Would that be you, darling?

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

ADKINS: That's silly.

(LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: Trace Adkins, that's right.

(APPLAUSE)

CARTER: Thank you. We did good.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

CARTER: We're a good team.

ADKINS: We are.

EISENBERG: An amazing team; you did it. Congratulations, Trace and Carlene. You won an ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's cube for our listener Alison Krieger.

CARTER: Fabulous.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

CARTER: Yay.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Carlene Carter will be back later in the show. Trace is on the road all summer with his Don't Stop tour, 2019, and co-headlining several dates with Clint Black. Thank you so much. Let's hear it for Trace Adkins, everybody.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I LEFT SOMETHING TURNED ON AT HOME")

ADKINS: (Singing) I left something turned on at home.

EISENBERG: Want our next special guest to play for you? Follow ASK ME ANOTHER on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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