News from the Tennessee Valley News

Ronnie Thomas

Hazel Green's Shane Adkins, 42, is a thumbpicker. He learned the skill from music pioneer Mose Rager at his grandparents' home in Kentucky.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Hazel Green's Shane Adkins, 42, is a thumbpicker. He learned the skill from music pioneer Mose Rager at his grandparents' home in Kentucky.

Thumbpickin' good
Hazel Green man to open for country music legend Loretta Lynn

Southerners know food that's finger lickin' good.

Shane Adkins of Hazel Green knows guitar that's thumbpickin' good.

And this thumbpicker will be the opening act Saturday at 8 p.m. for Loretta Lynn in the concert hall of the Von Braun Center at Huntsville.

They couldn't have picked a better one.

Adkins, 42, won the International Home of the Legends Thumbpicking Contest in Muhlenberg County, Ky., in August 2003. Two months later, he captured the fingerstyle guitar contest at the Old Time Fiddlers Convention in Athens.

While winning those titles were "fun and thrilling," his most exciting triumph came in 2005 in Winfield, Kan., where he won the International Fingerstyle Guitar Championship.

Adkins, who has a voice to match the strumming, plays regularly throughout the Southeast and promotes thumbpicking.

"I believe it is an American musical art form that should be shared and preserved," he said. "In thumbpicking, you use the thumb to play the bass and the rhythm while using the fingers to play the melody."

During a visit to his great-grandparents' home in Drakesboro, Ky., when he was 12, he met their neighbor, Mose Rager, a thumbpicking pioneer.

"He was a positive, upbeat kind of guy. He had played with Chet Atkins, Jerry Reed, Merle Travis, Doc Watson and others," Adkins said. "Merle brought thumbpicking to the international level, but Chet refined it. Mose and my dad, Ken Adkins, would pick out ragtime songs, and I watched and listened."

Learning piano, guitar picking

At 14, he took piano lessons from Catherine Smith, pianist at his home church, and enjoyed pumping out ragtime tunes. Later at a square dance at Hazel Green, he heard Maurice Ramsey of Huntsville, one of the area's best thumbpickers.

"I recognized it as the sound that Mose had. I told a buddy that was what I wanted to do, to be a thumbpicker in Mose's style," Adkins said.

He also learned guitar licks from other local musicians, including Charles Baites, a family friend. Adkins began playing at bluegrass

conventions accompanied by his mother, Leo, on harmonica.

"Mr. Baites gave me a 1948 J45 Gibson guitar and I developed even more thumbpicking techniques due to the guitar's great playability," he said.

Adkins bought an electric guitar and joined the Southern Edition Band. In 1984, he teamed with Doyle Bradley and the Country Sounds and played square dances for 14 years. Then he decided it was time to pick up the acoustic guitar again. He joined his mom and her husband, Bob Larkin, a concert violinist. The trio played at church functions, weddings and other social events.

While performing at a wedding reception, Adkins met five-time Tennessee fiddle champion Jim Wood. The banjo-picking Mike Snider invited them to the stage of the Grand Ole Opry at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.

One of the songs they did that night was Adkins' original thumbpicking song, "Beans and Taters," which he wrote about his grandmother Virginia Adkins. Wood suggested he cut a CD at his Pinewood Studio at Flat Creek, Tenn., near Shelbyville. The sessions, featuring just the two, resulted in "Stomping Ground," a compilation of original songs and thumbpicking tunes.

As the old Gibson began to play out, Adkins sold it to a collector. His favorite today is a dreadnought body style guitar, named for the shapes of old ships from the 1800s. Chris Bozung of Fairview, Tenn., hand crafted the guitar using ribbon stripe mahogany and red spruce.

Adkins said he isn't nervous about his time in the spotlight Saturday.

"It's another stage, more songs," he said. "I'm a huge fan of Loretta, but I've never met her. I'm looking forward to that."

He has a new CD called "Shane Adkins Traditional." He hopes to have copies in time for the concert.

Adkins and his wife, Lisa, have an 11-year-old son, Jim, who doesn't play guitar.

"He listens to me probably more than he wants to," Adkins said. "I'm going to try to make something out of him, but right now, he's all about football and video games.

"I might have been something if I hadn't fooled with that guitar all these years."

Save $84.50 a year off our newsstand price:
Subscribe today for only 38 cents a day!

Ronnie Thomas Ronnie Thomas
DAILY Staff Writer

Leave feedback
on this or

Email This Page