The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree in the Akins family. Thomas Rhett is following in the footsteps of his hitmaking singer/songwriter father, Rhett Akins, and now the two are dominating the charts together.
Released this week by Valory Music, Rhett’s debut album, “It Goes Likes This,” bows at No. 2 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart and No. 6 on the Billboard 200 with sales of 36,000, according to Nielsen SoundScan. The album is boosted by its smash title track/third single, which was penned by Akins, Ben Hayslip and Jimmy Robbins. After logging three straight weeks at No. 1, the song dips to No. 3 on Country Airplay this week.
Rhett attributes the success of the single to its “brilliant simplicity. It’s one of those tunes when you hear the chorus you immediately know how it goes. It’s a simple love song, and everybody likes a simple love song.”
The single makes the 23-year-old the first solo artist to top the Country Airplay chart after a parent previously reigned as a soloist — Akins hit No. 1 with “Don’t Get Me Started” the week of Aug. 3, 1996. These days Akins is one of Nashville’s most successful songwriters, with credits that include Blake Shelton’s “Honey Bee,” Chris Young’s “I Can Take It From There” and Justin Moore’s “Point at You.” Like his father, Rhett has also established himself as a hit songwriter, penning Florida Georgia Line’s “Round Here,” Jason Aldean’s “1994” and Lee Brice’s “Parking Lot Party.”
“A major attribute that’s working for Thomas is the number of songs he’s written and/or performed that have taken off in a relatively short time,” says Scott Borchetta, president/CEO of Big Machine Label Group, parent of Valory Music. “He’s at the forefront of where country music is in real time.”
J.R. Schumann, PD at WWKA Orlando, Fla. — which has played “It Goes Like This” 600 times, according to Nielsen BDS — agrees. “As a songwriter, he’s found that vein that country music is living in right now. It sounds good on the radio. You sing along almost right away. He knows what it takes to have a hit on the radio — it’s not anything new to that family.”
When Ben Vaughn, former head of EMI Music Publishing Nashville, signed Rhett in 2010, Akins recalls telling his son, “I don’t want to write a bunch of songs with you because people won’t realize that you’re the one writing the song. They’ll think you just sat in the room and your dad wrote everything for you.
“I didn’t want that to happen,” Akins says. “It was the best thing for him to not be under my shadow. He went out there and just killed it. Within six months Jason Aldean had recorded a song that he wrote and the next thing you know, he had Florida Georgia Line, Joe Nichols and Luke Bryan. My name is not on any of them. The best thing that I did for him was stay out of the way.”
According to Kelly Rich, Big Machine senior VP of sales, marketing and interactive, the label has been setting up Rhett’s debut album since it signed him in 2011, first introducing him to fans with a self-titled digital EP, which features songs that ended up on the full-length. Rhett made his midday and late-night debuts last month on “The Queen Latifah Show” and “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno,” respectively, and during street week he performed in several key markets, including Atlanta, Chicago and Minneapolis, with FYE on site at each venue selling the album.
“We also have a promotion running with Checkd.in where fans can connect with Thomas, win tickets to his show, interact with the release and ultimately link to purchase the album,” Rich says, noting that there were ad buys on radio, online and print as well.
During November and December, Rhett will headline the 11-date Taste of Country Christmas tour, which he opened two years ago for Brantley Gilbert. And the push for new single “Get Me Some of That” is just starting.
“It still blows my mind,” Rhett says of his success. “I feel like it was just yesterday I didn’t have a record deal or a song on radio. I was playing acoustic shows, opening for Brantley Gilbert, and now to be here with a full band and a No. 1 song and a bus, I just feel very blessed.”