Rodney Atkins says a good song can’t go in one ear and out the other. It’s got to stay with a person.

“The last thing you want to do is waste a listener’s time,” said Atkins, who will play a show Saturday in Lewiston with Kellie Pickler. “To write a good song, you’ve got to reflect on things you’ve been through, that others are going through, and you’ve got to feel the message of your song.”

Atkins has a lot to reflect on — maybe more than most country music stars. One reason is that his ride to stardom was anything but immediate.

He first signed a record deal in 1996, and worked as a songwriter around Nashville. But his debut album was shelved, and with two stepdaughters and a son to support, he spent about 10 years doing odd jobs to make ends meet while waiting for his music career to take off.

He did landscaping, mowed lawns, cut firewood — even repossessed cars.

“Mostly, you’d get out there and the car wouldn’t start, and you’d have jump-start it with little kids cheering you on,” said Atkins. “I knew I couldn’t keep doing that.”

Atkins was delivering firewood for extra cash around Nashville just before Christmas 2005. One of his customers was country megastar Alan Jackson. A few months later, Atkins’ second album, “If You’re Going Through Hell,” hit the charts with a bang, and the first two singles — the title track and “Watching You” — became No. 1 country hits.

Since then, Atkins hasn’t had to do odd jobs.

“I was delivering wood to Alan Jackson’s house before Christmas, and a few months later we were opening for Alan Jackson,” said Atkins, 42. “I’m fortunate that now I can play music to make my living.”

Atkins has also done a lot of charity work since becoming a star. This past weekend, he performed in Dallas to raise money to help send presents to soldiers overseas.

He often does work for adoption-related causes, specifically for the benefit of the Holston Methodist Home for Children in Greeneville, Tenn. That’s where he was living when his parents adopted him.

Atkins said his parents are a big reason he is who he is, and he values what they went through for his sake.

“From what I’ve been told, I was in foster care and had been adopted a couple times but returned,” he said. “I was born pretty sick, with a respiratory infection. The fact that I sing now is unexplainable, except for divine intervention.”

Like a lot of country musicians today, Atkins says his music is a blend of all the music he heard as a kid, from Alabama and Ray Charles and from Lynyrd Skynyrd to Def Leppard.

“I’ve heard Waylon Jennings talk about how country music used to be a lot more formatted, there was a box to fit into, but now we’ve come out of the box,” said Atkins. “Today, Lynyrd Skynyrd would be a country act.”

For his latest album, the No. 3 hit “Take a Back Road,” Atkins tried to do things a little differently, both in the production and in the writing. The song “He’s Mine,” for example, is about his 10-year-old son, and was specifically inspired by Atkins thinking about his son and his own teenage years. Atkins chose to give it a heavy guitar sound.

“That’s one of the edgier songs we’ve done, in terms of the approach to the guitar,” he said. “I think we blew out a couple of wah-wah pedals on that one.”

Atkins’ co-performer in the holiday-themed “Jingle Jam” concert Saturday will be Pickler, a finalist on “American Idol” in 2006.

Even though she didn’t win “Idol,” Pickler, now 25, has been a country star ever since. Her debut album, “Small Town Girl,” hit No. 1 on the country charts and yielded three hits — “Red High Heels,” I Wonder” and “Things That Never Cross a Man’s Mind.” Her self-titled follow-up album also hit No. 1 in 2008 and yielded four more hits.

This past year she’s been seen on TV, with a guest role on the CW series “90210” and on “A Michael Buble Christmas” on NBC. Her third album, tentatively titled “100 Proof,” is scheduled for a January release.

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

[email protected]


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