Akins wrote seven of 10 songs on his first CD "A Thousand Memories" and some of the tunes on "Somebody New," his second album. "What Livin's All About" is the title of his most recent release, and the album represents a turning point in his young career. He describes his third collection as a little more traditional country. He didn't write any of the album's 12 tracks, but they were carefully chosen. Akins said it's hard to decide what to cut. "I wish I only liked country music."
Doing about 150 shows a year has taken away from his songwriting time. "Until you're out here, you don't realize how much time you don't have," he said.
The biggest conflict in having a record deal is the pressure to get the next album out, Akins said. He went into the studio to make that third record and realized he needed some time to reflect on where he wanted to go. He slowed down the process because he wanted to make a better album, the best record he could make.
For Akins, the bottom line is singing a song and meaning it.
Although touring picks up during the busy summer months, the rest of the year Akins usually can be home in Nashville Sundays through Thursdays with his wife, Paige; 8-year-old son, Thomas Rhett Jr.; and 4-year-old daughter, Kasey Lee.
Akins took about five guitar lessons as a kid, learning chords A through G. His granddaddy played piano by ear, and he may have inherited some of that ability. Akins can't read music, but that hasn't gotten in his way.
His first public performance was singing at his brother-in-law's wedding rehearsal dinner in 1991.
"I hated it," he said.
This was different from singing for his buddies. But he got more used to it, performing in the local Holiday Inn lounge and at fraternity parties.
By about 1992, everybody was telling him he needed to go to Nashville, but he figured everybody says that in your hometown.
He received a lot of encouragement from his parents. They told him there were things they didn't do because they were afraid to and later regretted not doing them.
Akins is doing well in Nashville but still is close to the values of his family and his Georgia home. The photos on his latest album were taken there, and he's performed in almost every county in Georgia.
He's his own biggest critic.
"Beethoven could tell me I was awesome, and I wouldn't believe it," Akins said.
Balancing his "show biz" status with his down-to-earth nature is "kind of weird sometimes," Akins said.
He doesn't want to disappoint fans who expect a certain mystique, but he's not one to stay on the tour bus. He tends to get off at the truck stops, barefoot and with his baseball cap on backward. He likes to buy his own Fritos and Gatorade, he said.
Since April 1997, Akins has been a spokesman for Boys and Girls Clubs of America.
He was a member for about seven or eight years when he was a kid. He said he really had a great time and wanted to give something back to the organization. Akins visited about 30 clubs while touring the country last year. He takes his guitar, sings and plays a little basketball.
Akins doesn't preach to the kids, but he does share a lesson he learned in his youth: It doesn't matter if you're from a small town or a tough home situation, you can be what you want to be.
You also can see Akins, living proof of that lesson, on the Academy of Country Music awards show, Wednesday, April 22, from 8 to 11 p.m. on CBS.
He'll sing "Drivin' My Life Away," the first cut on the soundtrack for "Black Dog," a "truck-driving movie," starring Patrick Swayze, Randy Travis and Meat Loaf.
A Civil War hobbyist, Akins said he'd like to visit Antietam National Battlefield while he's in the area.
If you happen to be out there, don't look for a glitzy country music star. Look for the guy wearing a ball cap backward.
When: Saturday, April 18, 7 and 9:30 p.m.
Where: Apollo Civic Theatre
128 E. Martin St., Martinsburg, W.Va.
Tickets: $25, $20, $15 and $12.50, reserved
Information: Call JDA Productions Inc. at 301-714-0134 or 1-304-263-8590