After graduation, Adkins took a job working offshore on an oil rig. There, he met some guys in a regional country band. "I had been takin' just my guitar around to little jamborees and hayrides around home on the weekends, doing a couple of Haggard tunes or something, but I wanted to be in a band," Adkins told POLLSTAR. "So in '85, I got hooked up with those guys and we started touring Texas and New Mexico."
Adkins toured that region for nearly five years, until he got burned out and went back to work in the oil fields. One day, a man named John Milam, who had been his booking agent, phoned and asked if Adkins was still singing. Adkins told him no. Milam said, "You're going to have to look at yourself in the mirror when you get to be 50 years old and ask yourself the question, 'I wonder what would have happened if?'" That thought scared Adkins worse than selling his house and moving to Nashville, so he headed to Music City in 1992 and got a "little gig in a little bitty beer joint" called Tillie's and Lucy's.
At the time, Adkins was dating Rhonda Forlaw, who worked in the publicity department at Arista Records. One night, he went to pick her up at the airport. At the baggage claim, she introduced him to Scott Hendricks, president/CEO of Capitol Nashville. Forlaw, who became Mrs. Trace Adkins earlier this year, told the music exec that her beau was a singer. "That weekend, [Hendricks] came out and listened to the first set and soon as I was done, he just walked up on stage and said, 'I'll give you a record deal.' That was the first thing out of his mouth," Adkins said.
Was the country singer hesitant about signing the first deal offered? "Hell no!" He said Hendricks' reputation certainly preceded him. "I respected him before I'd even met him.... So if I had the opportunity to make records with Scott Hendricks, I was gonna. You'd had to shoot me to keep me from doing it."
With the record deal in place, the search for the rest of Adkins' business team commenced. He eventually signed with Borman Entertainment. When he talked with Gary Borman, things clicked. "I personally was almost in awe of him because of his professionalism and knowledge of the industry," Adkins said.
Adkins wasn't just impressed with Borman's accomplishments, however. "What I really liked about Gary Borman is that he didn't have that Reuben Kincaid attitude..... It wasn't that typical manager bullshit."
Adkins said Borman's number one priority is family. "And that's cool, man. This music stuff, it's great. And that's what we do for a living. It's very important, of course, but you've got to keep your priorities in line and being a father myself, it just really struck a chord with me.... But, he's a sharp cat, man. And he's very well connected and very much respected by everybody that I've met in the industry."
Adkins said his then-girlfriend was also key in making those early decisions. "One of the reasons that I think this has all fallen into place the way it has is because of Rhonda. I'm so fortunate to have her as my friend and advisor, and love of my life.... I would have been a fool not to have relied on her knowledge and experience.... And I still am quick to admit today that I don't make very many decisions without first talking to her about it."
There is one area where Adkins doesn't consult with his wife though -- booking gigs. "Well, she does have a lot of input -- but there are certain areas I don't even confer with her. One of the areas is how much I work because she doesn't particularly like how much I work. I work a lot," Adkins said. "She was just telling me on the phone ... 'Do you realize that since June, you've had one day off?' And I was like, 'So. It's that time of year. It's time to work.'" Adkins said when his booking agent, Rick Shipp at the William Morris Agency, calls and says, "Hey I've got this offer here on this date and it's do-able," Adkins responds, "Book it!"
Laughing, Adkins said he maintains that "work when you can" attitude because it keeps his band happy. "I just feel like, when the sun's shining on you man, you need to get out there and bust yer ass and work. In this industry, the sun shines on you for just a little while and then the clouds come. So, if you don't take advantage of it when it's good, what the hell did you get in it for?"