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On the set of his new video with NASCAR's Dale Earnhardt Jr., Trace Adkins relfects on a topsy-turvy year as a dad, singing star, TV pitchman and softball coach!

"This is a wardrobe malfunction!" deadpans Trace Adkins with a grin on the set of his new video for "Rough & Ready." Indeed! Trace's black pants have ripped on the leg from too many washings, and coloring his skin with a black Sharpie marker didn't quite hide the rip from the cameras. Finally a costumer applies black tape before the next take to cover the bare flesh.

"This," Trace jokes, "is gonna make Joe Don's butt look tame!"

Of course, "Rough & Ready" isn't really as controversial as the Rascal Flatts video in which Joe Don Rooney briefly bared his behind, or the "wardrobe malfunction" that exposed a little too much of Janet Jackson at the Super Bowl.

But Trace is still having a rowdy good time here in tiny Piru, Calif., which feels very much like a small, Southern town. And a Southern icon - NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., whose name appears in the song's first verse - has even made it to the set for a short cameo.

"He and I just happened to be at the same spot a couple of weeks ago," explains Trace, "and I told him I was doing this video out here, and it just so happened he was coming out here to run a race. So I said, 'Hey, you oughta come be in the video.' "

"Rough & Ready" - or RUFF and REDY, as the temporary tattoos on Trace's knuckles read - is the second hit from his Comin' On Strong album, and the song fits him quite well. In the fast-paced tongue twister, Trace sings about blue jeans, chewing tobacco, beer, hot wings and a beautiful girl.

"When I first heard this song, I thought about my baby brother," notes Trace. "There are so many things in this song that just remind me of him so much, because he was the typical 'Bubba' from rural, redneck America. It's almost an anthem for me. I can identify with it."

As perfect as it is for him, though, Louisiana-bred Trace came very close to not recording it at all. It was a late addition to Comin' On Strong when he needed something to fill out the album.

"We were gonna cut one more song, and we had, like, four tunes to pick from," he recalls. "A lot of the other stuff that we had done was a little heavier and more serious, and so I said, 'Let's just do this one. Let's have some fun.' We turned the pickers loose and let 'em go, never thinking it would ever end up being a single."

A lot of things have happened to Trace lately that he never expected. He's coaching a celebrity softball team in the annual City of Hope charity game in Nashville, he's the announcer in the current ad campaign for the KFC fast-food chain, and he celebrated his 42nd birthday on a Hollywood television set this year, as the cast of the sitcom Yes, Dear surprised him with a round of "Happy Birthday."

"They shut down production and the whole cast and crew came out with this cake and sang to me!" recalls Trace, who played a criminal on an episode of the show, alongside Travis Tritt. "And Travis was leading the choir. It was awesome. I'll never forget that."

Nor will he forget the pressure he felt that week, making his prime-time network TV acting debut. He'd had a bit part a few years back in the shortlived TNN series 18 Wheels of Justice, but this was a larger role for a much larger audience.

"I have to admit I was nervous," he concedes. "I really was. I was totally out of my element. It's not something that I'm accustomed to doing and real comfortable with."

However, he came out of the experience with an urge to pursue more acting. "It's something that I would like to get better at, maybe become a little more comfortable with it," he says. "It's like singing - at first you're scared to death, then you eventually get to where the stage is one of the most safe, comfortable places that you have. It's my sanctuary. It's the only place where I call the shots."

He chuckles. "I'm married with four daughters, so I don't call the shots at the house!"

As rough and ready as he might be anywhere else, Trace is quite the softie at home. He's had numerous accidents - an oil rig incident left him with a permanently hooked pinkie on his left hand, and he had a hairline fracture in his sternum two years ago when he was pinned underneath a tractor.

But he deals with his own physical problems much more easily than with his daughters' mishaps.

"If I see my child fall on concrete or something and skin their knee, I swear it hurts me as bad as it does them," Trace says. "I just cringe, you know. I just shudder from my head to my toes when I see 'em fall."

Trace is entirely prepared for the possibility that he might fall on another front. He and Buddy Jewell have been tapped to coach the teams at the City of Hope's 14th annual Celebrity Softball Challenge at Nashville's Greer Stadium on June 10, in the midst of the city's CMA Music Festival/Fan Fair activities. Brad Paisley, Vince Gill, Mark Wills and Jimmy Wayne are among the many stars participating.

"I think I'm gonna be Walter Matthau in the Bad News Bears!" he laughs. "I know the game, but I don't know if that qualifies me to be a coach or not. I think the word 'coach' in this whole thing is used pretty loosely. I'm just a figurehead."

Trace was a little surprised to find out he was coaching - he'd agreed to appear, but didn't realize he was a coach until he read it in a newspaper story. Trace hasn't picked up a softball bat in years, though he used to play city-league ball regularly.

"They wanted me to play first base, 'cause I was long and tall and could reach out," he recalls. "And then when they recognized my shortcomings in the infield, they moved me to the outfield, and then I ended up playing catcher some. So I played all around. Never did pitch, though."

But Trace has become a pitchman in another arena: He signed on to do voiceovers for KFC, and he's also singing now in some of their commercials. It ends up providing a huge amount of exposure for a small amount of studio work.

"I usually go in the studio for anywhere from half an hour to two hours," he notes. "It just depends on how much new stuff they've got going, how many new specials they've got running."

This is all quite new to Trace. He's been hearing himself sing on the radio for eight years, and he's seen his face on country video channels for just as long. But hearing himself talk during the commercial breaks? He laughs. "I'm still really not used to that yet!"

Trace prefers KFC's extra-crispy recipe, though the demands of working in the spotlight require that he not eat fried chicken every day. He needs to stay fit and trim, though that doesn't mean he can't occasionally indulge.

"They have a lot of things that are low in fat," he insists. "But, you know, every now and then, a good Southern boy - don't care how health-conscious he is - you got to break down and eat some fried chicken! It's just something you gotta do!"

-- Story by Tom Roland

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