For Trace, this one is easy -- singing about soldiers

Each 4th of July, PBS offers great music and -- at times -- strong emotion. This year, some of that emotion comes from Trace Adkins, the towering country star with the chaotic-but-compelling life. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

Yes, Trace Adkins'
wild ride has had twists, turns and odd detours.

But occasionally,
it's had moments that seemed easy and obvious. One came when his
record producer handed him “Still a Soldier,” his latest single.

“He just knew he
was lobbing one over the plate for me,” said Adkins, who will sing
it Tuesday, during the “Capitol Fourth” concert on PBS. “He
knows how I feel about this.”

Adkins has long been
an admirer of soldiers, past and present. He's talked with veterans.
He's seen how the experience can stick with them, both for bad
(post-traumatic stress disorder) and good. “You know if the phone
rang and they got called back, they would do it – even if they're

And he can relate to
those vets. “I've visited them at Walter Reed (National Military
Medical Center); I'm able to lift my shirt up and show my scars.”

His biggest scar --
“from the neck to the navel” -- came when he said the wrong thing
to his second wife, when she was holding a gun. The bullet went
through his heart and both lungs.

Adkins hasn't been a
soldier, but he's been told by a doctor that he has PTSD. He's had
major injuries playing football, working oil rigs (one finger was
severed), driving a band's bus and more. “I've always tended to be
a little accident-prone,” he wrote in “A Personal Stand”
(Random House).

Adkins admitted in
that book, back in 2007, that he's been an alcoholic and into drugs
and depression; it wasn't until 2014 that he went into rehab.

Still, that
combative life is just one side of his ride. Adkins talks warmly
about small-town Louisiana life, about church and his years singing
bass in a gospel quartet. This 6-foot-6 roughneck has had lots of
feminine influences. “God is the ultimate practical joker .... He
saw fit to bless me with five daughters,” he wrote. Add in his
three wives and “I'm constantly surrounded at home by females.”

That brought one of
his hits: “My oldest daughter was going to get married,” Adkins
said. “I wanted something to sing at the wedding and Lee Miller
said he had this song.”

Miller and Ashley
Gorley had written “You're Gonna Miss This,” about savoring even
life's most chaotic moments. In 2008 it became Adkins' third song to
be No. 1 on country charts.

No, Adkins isn't yet
to the “miss this” phase, with plenty of kids (ages 12 to 32) and
grandkids nearby.

And life keeps
finding new twists. He's covered the full range -- reality shows,
game shows, award-show hosting – on TV. “It's something I really
had to force myself to do,” he said.

He even done
“Celebrity Apprentice” twice, being runner-up (to Piers Morgan)
the first time and winning the second. He may be able to tell us what
the real Donald Trump is like.

“He's the same,”
Adkins insisted. “The person that we see on the news is the same
(as in casual moments). There's that uber-confidence.”

Adkins started with
little confidence, surviving as a saloon singer. “I would get to a
place on a Tuesday night and there wouldn't be anyone there.”

By comparison, there
will be swarms Tuesday, with an estimated 300,000 or more people on
the Capitol lawn. Adkins has done the Memorial Day concerts there –
“you feel the momentousness” -- but this will be his first Fourth
... and his chance to sing about people who are still soldiers.

-- “A Capitol
Fourth,” 8 and 9:30 p.m. Tuesday on most PBS stations

-- John Stamos hosts
and sits in with the Beach Boys. The Blues Brothers (Dan Aykroyd and
Jim Belushi) are joined by Sam Moore. Also, people from country
(Trace Adkins, Kellie Pickler), pop (Mark McGrath, Four Tops), gospel
(Yolanda Adams) and Broadway (Laura Osnes), plus Disney star Sofia
Carson, “Voice” winner Chris Blue, the National Orchestra and

-- Also at 8 p.m.
(rerunning at 10) is NBC's coverage of the Macy's fireworks in New
York. It has Kenny Chesney, Meghan Trainor, 5 Seconds of Summer and
the Radio City Rockettes.