Many musicians might be satisfied to have had Tim Atwood’s career and call it a day. He played keyboards in the house band of the Grand Ole Opry for more than three decades, backing the thousands of stars who played there from the late 1970s onward, logging more than 8,000 shows. From the aging stars who started it all to the artists of the new millennium, Atwood literally supported them all until 2014 when he left the Opry.
“I worked on the Grand Ole Opry for 38 years in the house band, playing behind anybody who came on,” he said. “It afforded me the opportunity to play with Garth Brooks, Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift, Michael McDonald, Keb’ Mo’, just all kinds of people that I would never have had the opportunity to. I left there in 2014 to pursue a solo career. I had sat back and watched everybody from the back for so long that I decided I wanted to get out in the spotlight, that somebody could look at the back of me for a while.”
Atwood has been recording and touring on his own since then, and just released his fourth album, Who I Am. The album features originals by Atwood as well as by John Hiatt and Mac McAnally, and the Delbert McClinton/Gary Nicholson/Benmont Tench co-write “Monkey Around.”
“This is my fourth album, and to me, it’s the best thing I’ve ever done,” Atwood said. “I wanted to record songs that I like, that make me feel good, and if something happens to hit, I wouldn’t have any trouble singing that song 20 years from now. These songs are pretty much my heart, I’ve collected them over the years, just songs that I liked, songs that I wanted to do. Like one by John Prine who recently passed away, we did a song of his called ‘Blue Umbrella.’ These are songs I’ve listened to for years, and I just love ‘em, and wouldn’t mind singing them for the rest of my life.”
After decades of enjoying the rare security of a daily music job in the same location, Atwood didn’t become a road warrior until later in life when he went out on his own, and he liked it. “I’m tired of being cooped up,” he said. “I’m so used to working the road and being gone all the time, we’re trying to do some more TV and some radio, trying to get things happening for 2021. We’ve got a few dates that are already booked.” He’s slated for a January appearance on TBN talk show Huckabee, where the show’s namesake host will probably play bass with him.
“I know that things will eventually break and I’ll get back on the road,” Atwood continued. “I like to get in front of people. We actually had the best year booked that we’ve ever had for 2020, and everything went away and I haven’t actually had a concert or show since March. Session work is down because they want everybody distanced. It’s just been a really slow time for me. Which has just given me more time to do a little writing, maybe get ready for another album because it usually takes me about a year, year and a half to get one together.”
The central Illinois’ native’s career took off as a result of being in the proverbial right place at the right time. “I moved to Nashville in 1976, and I’ve been working ever since I got here,” he said. “When I lived in Peoria I played in the clubs, and when I was 20 I was on my way to Florida and came through Nashville, and Faron Young had a club on 2nd Avenue called Faron Young’s Celebrity Ballroom. I sat in and played three or four songs, and Faron motioned for me to come over. He said, Son, do you live here? And I said No, sir. And he said, Well, you need to move here as quick as you can. Nashville doesn’t have enough piano players. So that’s how I got to Nashville. A big leap of faith. Two weeks later I was working with Mel Street, and later I started working in the house band on the Opry.”
Atwood is just waiting for the day when he can get back to the stage to promote his new album. “This has been the most fun I’ve had in my life, being able to go out and do shows and entertain. I just try to have fun, and make everybody else have fun. I’m happier than I’ve ever been.”