Country music is famously open and inviting. Artists come in all ages, colors and sizes and someone’s Q rating plays less into a hit than most other genres. Song topics usually stick to common experiences or at least something we all can agree with. “Hillybilly Bone” wraps up this sentiment nicely.
It’s a novelty song, but one where the joke is on anyone who doesn’t want to get it. The lyrics are simple and straightforward, as well. Being a “hillbilly” is less about where you’re from, but more a state of being. One that anyone can obtain by just accepting and acquiescing to their own human nature. And isn’t it just more fun to give in and let go?
“Nah, you ain’t gotta be born out in the sticks / With an F-150 and a 30-06 / Or have a bubba in the family tree to get on down with me / All you need is an open mind / If it fires you up you gotta let it shine / When it feels so right that it cant be wrong.”
The song is a boot-stomping good time with only one condition: be yourself. As hokie and corny as that can come across, the interplay of class-clown Blake Shelton and serious ranch hand Trace Adkins make it work.
The song went to No. 1 on the country charts and broke the Top 40 on the Billboard pop charts. It also landed Shelton and Adkins an Academy of Country Music Award for Vocal Event of the Year.
But Shelton wasn’t always sold on the song. In fact, he almost passed on what became one of his biggest hits. Though, he admits now that he doesn’t like to perform it in concerts anymore.
How ‘Hillbilly Bone’ was written
Nashville mainstays Craig Wiseman and Luke Laird wrote “Hillbilly Bone” in less than two hours. The two were joking around pretending to rap when the opening line “I got a friend in New York City/ He’s never heard of Conway Twitty.” That sparked a furious writing session.
They cut a demo and sent it around. Shelton said he first heard it while driving in his car, but wasn’t sure it was for him. In fact, he hated it originally. But, on the second listen, the country music icon said he got it. Though, he didn’t think it was a “Blake Shelton song.”
“Mostly just because it sounds like a Trace Adkins song,” he told Yahoo. “When I heard it, I thought, why didn’t Trace get his hands on it first?”
Shelton came around on the song, but wanted Adkins to be a part of it. Adkins was immediately down to take part.
The song would go on to be an immediate hit. A decade later, though, Shelton said he doesn’t like singing it anymore. It feels odd now, he told People.
“I’m gonna say ‘Hillbilly Bone’ because it’s uncomfortable sometimes with kids at the concert,” he said. “You’re singing and you’re looking at a kid and you start talking about ‘Hillbilly Bone’… it’s uncomfortable.”
Blake Shelton Gets Drunk, ‘Flirty’ During Video Shoot
It’s odd that Shelton says he can’t deal with the song making him uncomfortable. In the iconic video for “Hillbilly Bone” Shelton said he went out of his way to make Adkins unhappy on the shoot.
The wine Shelton is drinking in the video isn’t a prop. It’s the real stuff. Shelton was very drunk after several hours of shooting, he said. But that liquid courage helped him nudge out a better performance from Adkins, he joked.
“I’ve known Trace for a long time. And here’s one thing I know about him: I know exactly what buttons to push with him to really get him mad at me,” Shelton told the Boot in 2010. “As the day went on on that shoot, there were some hot girls they brought in to be in the restaurant [scene]. And I started getting drunk. … So I started getting flirty with Trace, because he’s got the long, sexy hair. He started getting mad at me as I started to hug on him and kiss on his cheek in front of all these good-looking girls.”
The extra effort on Shelton’s part paid off. Adkins generally looks like he’s going to punch him in parts of the video.
“He [said], ‘I swear, you touch me one more time and I really will rip your head off.’ He was getting mad! If you watch the video and know that you can tell by the end. You can tell it was like, ‘Alright, Trace, well I guess we’ll see you la…,’ and he was gone,” Shelton told The Boot. “But it’s always been that way with he and I.”
That connection and different approach between the two is why the song works as well as it does.