Quick Stats: Rodney Atkins, country music singer-songwriter
Daily Driver: 2018 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Z71 (Rodney’s rating: 10 on a scale of 1 to 10)
Other cars: See below
Favorite road trip: Nashville to east Tennessee
Car he learned to drive in: 1976 Scout and Massey Ferguson tractor
First car bought: 1982 Nissan pickup
Ever since his college days, country singer Rodney Atkins’ pickup trucks have been a key part of his songwriting process. Back then it was his white 1982 Nissan pickup. Today, he gets in his 2018 Chevy Silverado 1500 Z71 at 4:30 a.m. with his tracks.
He loves his Chevy. “Everything is where it needs to be, and it’s not too souped up,” Atkins tells MotorTrend. “The big thing is I trust the stereo, when I’m mixing the record. I don’t trust going in the studio and you get those hot speakers listening back to music. So when I’m in the process of mixing, I get in my truck early in the morning and I drive around back roads and listen to the mixes. I trust the speakers in this Chevy more than I do the big high-dollar studio, they’re called monitor speakers, in studios. I think most people listen to music in their vehicles.”
Atkins keeps his trucks until they reach 15,000 miles and hands them back to a local dealer he’s had an agreement with for years. Right now he’s at about 6,000 and has some more time to log before he lets this one go.
“So I get to drive it and they take it back and they turn around and sell it. I asked [the dealer], I wanted knobby tires and black wheels on it and that’s what this one has. It’s just simple, that’s my favorite thing about it. It’s not a complicate truck, just solid.”
READ MORE CELEBRITY DRIVES HERE:
1972 International Scout
Unlike his daily driver, this Scout is a keeper for the nostalgic place in Atkins’ life and career.
“The first vehicle I ever owned back in high school was a ’76 International Scout. I loved that car and wound up having to sell it, because when I went out to college I needed something I could drive,” he says. “It was three hours to school, so I had to sell it and I got just a little Nissan pickup.”
But then years later, when he was doing a video for a song that became his first number one single, “If You’re Going Through Hell,” Atkins showed up to shoot the video and there were three or four different vehicles, including a 1972 International Scout sitting there.
“I went, ‘Oh my God! I love that!’ I wound up driving it in the video, we had a scene where the car was supposed to break down,” he says. For the video of the next single, “Watching You,” they asked to use the same Scout.
When “Watching You” went to number one, the record label’s owner gave him the keys to the Scout at the party for him.
“We’ve used it in five or six videos. It’s rusted out in places, so a couple years ago I found another body for that Scout, so I’m in the process of restoring it. Right now, it’s out in the barn in pieces,” he says with a laugh. “I just love it, man, it’s just a big old out-in-the-woods Scout. It won’t go very fast, I love that about it. … It’s just four-speed, very simple. I love everything about it, you take the top completely off of it. It’s just a fun vehicle.”
Car learned to drive in
Atkins grew up around the Cumberland Gap area of Tennessee, where he learned to drive on an old Massey Ferguson tractor and a 1976 Scout, both taught by his dad.
“Where I grew up was pretty rural, and I was driving consistently when I was 14, 15. A lot of times it would be running errands or doing something, just on back roads,” he says.
He would often help out on his parents’ land. “We used that tractor for bush hogging, it’s like mowing, but really thick stuff, and make a little hay, so it was not a full-on working cattle farm, it was 10 or 15 acres that had to be maintained.”
The Scout started out as the vehicle that his dad got for himself and his mom refused to drive it. “It’s a clunky thing, it’s four-speed stick shift and it’s a challenge,” he says. “It’s real heavy, the challenge to pull out on any hill. That’s how I spent my teenage years.”
He’s had many fond memories in that Scout, since it was his high school car. “There was one time a buddy of mine, we went to the Powell River and we hit some mud and the thing slid off the side of the road down a 15-foot embankment partially in the river, and we put it in four-wheel drive and pulled it right out. Another time it went into the river and the water was coming in the window,” he says, laughing, “and it drove right through the thing, it went under water. It’s a tank, man, you couldn’t stop that thing.”
Where he drove the Scout was a predominantly hilly area. “It’s pretty much the Appalachian Mountains. My dad had the patience of Job to put up with me trying to learn, because it would do the boom boom boom! The herky jerky thing if you didn’t let the clutch off just right,” he says. “It was just hilarious, but he stuck with me.”
When he thinks about the Scout now, Atkins always thinks about how much fun it was. “In the summer we just had a big row bar behind the driver, there in the front seats. It had no top on it and I liked to hunt growing up, so we could go anywhere,” he recalls.
Atkins had a bird dog named Duke who would lead the way on hunts while he drove behind, through the woods and fields.
“He would point, he would just freeze, so I would get out of the Scout, walk up to where he was and once I got set, then he would jump real quick at where he knew the birds were,” he says. “It’s a beautiful thing, I cherish those days. I’ve got two sons and one new son coming [soon]. That’s something I plan on getting to experience with them, so that’s why I’m trying to get this the Scout fixed up now so I can take those guys out.”
First car bought
To get to college, Atkins bought himself a circa 1982 Nissan pickup. “The money came from hauling a whole lot of hay and mowing a whole lot of grass,” Atkins says, with a laugh. “I bought it from a used car dealer on the side of the road.”
This little white Nissan pickup truck became part of the inception of Atkin’s country music career. “I remember the AM radio in it and I bought an aftermarket stereo at Walmart. I used to listen to songs during that drive,” he says. “I was just starting to write songs, it had a cassette player in it, so I was always making little work tapes of new songs and I remember riding in that truck and I’d listen back to the songs I was writing.”
He says because of that process from back then, it’s still a big part of what he does now. “I listened to music like crazy in that thing, and I think it had a lot to do with my love of music,” he says. “I never thought about that, man, but the time I spent in that little Nissan pickup, I think I was really falling in love with songs and song writing. And that was where I did it.”
He made these tapes on a small recorder where he’d record songs as he wrote them.
“I would take that cassette of the guitar vocals and listen to it in my truck and I’d play it for friends and say, ‘What do you think? Is that any good?'” he says, with a laugh.
In college, Atkins delivered office furniture and supplies with the truck and have pallets in return. “I would load my truck full of those pallets, after I delivered stuff for them during the day, and on the weekends in college we’d go out and build bonfires, sit on the tailgate of that truck, and I’d just play my guitar with my friends and we’d just sing songs,” Atkins recalls. “I forgot about that.”
Favorite road trip
Atkins is constantly going places, but his favorite road trip takes him across Tennessee. “I live in Nashville, in middle Tennessee and where I grew up is in the mountains of east Tennessee. [I] love that drive of going back home, across the state of Tennessee and you have to get off the interstate, take 25E, and that ride has always been something that I loved,” he says.
While he loves the scenery, with the lakes and mountains, it’s also the thought of home that makes him appreciate this drive. “I love how it makes me feel, it always puts me in a state of mind that is just comfortable. My happy place,” he says, with a laugh. “It’s been a while since I’ve got to do it. It was really the days in college when I was going to school in middle Tennessee and all the times I would drive back home.”
Caught Up In the Country and tour
Atkins is currently on tour around the country, supporting his new album Caught Up In The Country. But he refers to an older song of his “Take A Back Road,” which is about driving.
“That song just says exactly why I love the drives we’re talking about, like being in that Scout,” he says. “It is just exactly what this conversation is about.”
Atkins says his new album is also great for driving. “I think it’s perfect for putting in your vehicle and rolling the windows down and cranking it up,” he says. “I always have that in my mind because I listen to the mixes in my truck, I’ll get up in the morning and roll the windows down and just ride around the back roads where I like listening to mixes and songs. Just wanted to be able to do that for other people to enjoy it that way.”
And the fact that he’s always up and driving around at 4:30 a.m. to work on his music in his truck is deliberate. “There’s not a lot of traffic, the sun is just about to come up, it’s just peaceful,” he says. “I’m a morning guy, I love that time of the day.”