He may be 20 years into his career, but country star Trace Adkins is far from finished with country radio. And according to executives at his new record label home, BBR Music Group, radio isn't finished with him either.
Home to Jason Aldean and other stars, BBR Music Group will announce Monday that it has signed Adkins to a new deal with multiple album options, Billboard has learned exclusively. He's already at work in the studio with Nashville producer Mickey Jack Cones, tracking his first project for BBR (and 13th career album), and will have new music out later this year.
Adkins, who previously had a long stint on Capitol Record Nashville followed by several years on Show Dog Records, has notched 14 top 10 singles to date, including four No. 1 hits. But he's eager for more.
"I still think that I have something to offer," Adkins tells Billboard. "I'm 53 years old, but I'm a bad 'sumbitch. I still got everything that I need to do what I need to do. I've got all my faculties. All my physical attributes are still there. I can still sing. It's all good."
Adkins' brand recognition extends well beyond music, thanks to successful side careers as a film and television actor, voiceover artist, author and now host of a newly launched show on SiriusXM satellite radio. He memorably appeared on two seasons of NBC's The Celebrity Apprentice, coming in second in 2008 and returning to win in 2013.
And while he believes the diversity of his career has helped keep him relevant for two decades, Adkins says, "I'm always going to dance with the one that brought me. It's always going to be music," something he calls "that part of my life where I get to express myself the way I want to express myself, not through a script that somebody wrote. I need [music] to be able to say 'This is who I am and this is what I want to say.' These guys [at BBR Music Group] have given me an opportunity to continue to do that."
While he had discussions with other labels around town after leaving Show Dog, Adkins says BBR Music Group -- which has made stars of Aldean and Thompson Square and revived the careers of former Show Dog artists Joe Nichols and Randy Houser -- was the right fit.
"It's not that huge corporate conglomerate, that crazy thing that caters to what's happening in the pop culture world," he says. "There were some other people who had some ideas about what I should be doing … but these guys were just like 'just do what you do.'"
BBR Music Group president/CEO Benny Brown is a longtime fan of Adkins, and says that like Nichols and Houser, Adkins is primarily known as a great vocalist, something he says "is always tops with me." Brown also notes that Adkins is still an in-demand touring act. "But Trace and I both know that in order to keep that career going, you're going to have to have some radio hits," Brown says. "I really felt that with our team, as long as we can come up with the right music, and get radio's support on it, we're going to be able to have a few big hits on Trace going forward."
The company has already laid the groundwork in gauging radio's support. Jon Loba, executive vice president, says as they were in early discussions with Adkins, "I went out and talked to our partners in radio and other forms of exposure in the industry and almost to a man or woman they came back and said 'There's absolutely a place for Trace. He's not like anyone else out there. He just needs the music … he needs the strategy and he needs the commitment.' It was even more passionate and receptive than I expected [and] their passion for him got me even more excited about the possibilities."
While he's working steadily on the new album, Adkins still has a packed schedule. This month alone he'll spend four days shooing an episode on NBC's The Night Shift, pack in a handful of tour dates and then fly overseas for his eighth USO tour. In July he'll begin shooting a new film, Road Runner, which he describes as "an updated Smokey and the Bandit."
But the label hasn't put a timetable on getting it finished, and in fact Brown -- known for his ability to find hit songs -- is still sending new demos to Adkins, joking that he's supplying the singer with enough new tracks to listen to all the way to Afghanistan and back.
"We have enough stuff cut already that we could release the album today and it would be great," says Adkins, "but we're not going to settle for that." Brown agrees, saying he likes to make albums in which every track could be a potential single. Once a timetable is in place and a single chosen, Adkins will be assigned to a specific one of the label group's three imprints.
From there, Adkins is looking forward to being back on the radio later this year. "I feel like I can still be in the game," he says. "I can ring the bell another time or two.
"I'm just an old jock, and I approach this business the same way that I did the game," he continues. "I'm going to run down the field on the kickoff and I'm going to knock somebody's head off. When I can't do that anymore, I'll go home... But I still feel that I have something to contribute. I hope that radio gives me another shot."