By Mike Stevens
Spring 2012 Salem Magazine
Thirteen years ago, Adam Rutledge was still celebrating the Salem High School basketball team's second state championship of the 90s. The memorable postseason run that began in the quarterfinals at the Bast Center that year and culminated at the Norfolk Scope with the Group AA state title is a lasting memory for both Rutledge and Spartan sports fans. Now, over a decade later, Adam is using some of the same lessons he learned on the hardwood to take the band that bears his name to brand new heights.
"When I was playing basketball, I was always taught to envision the whole game and play it out in your mind ahead of time, and now I try to do the same thing before I go on stage," he says. "There's no question, the two are very similar."
For the last three years, Adam has been the lead singing, Fender guitar playing front man for the hard driving local country group Rutledge, but in high school the lanky guard was an outside shooting machine for Coach Charlie Morgan.
"I've always taken pride in teaching kids more than basketball, and I think Adam was one of the kids who took those things to heart," says Morgan. "I remember Adam as being a very good team player who was unselfish and always looking to get better. He's a big reason we won that thing in 1999."
In the Spartans' three state tournament wins that year, Rutledge averaged just under 20 points a game, and in Salem's quarterfinal win over Grundy he drilled six three-pointers in the first half alone as he hung 26 on the Golden Wave.
"Coach Morgan taught all of us the importance of discipline," he says. "Because of him I'm a stickler for being on time and just doing things the right way. All the stuff I did for basketball I've tried to carry over to music as far as practicing hard and preparing yourself.
"A lot of the stuff he taught us didn't really sink in with me until I got older and honestly, back then I hated it and I thought he was crazy, but as I've gotten older I've come to realize that it was brilliant - I love that man."
Morgan, who is now the head coach at Kingsport, Tennessee's Dobyns Bennett High School, and Adam's dad, Roger, were high school teammates when the two played together at Andrew Lewis. He's not surprised that Adam has been able to translate his success from one performance area to another.
"I'm not surprised at all, but this goes back to his parents who gave him a great foundation before I ever got him," says Morgan. "Being in a band you have to be a team player and again, Adam was always that top team player for Salem."
Rutledge, who is now 30, recently gathered with the rest of his band mates just outside the Salem city limits to shoot something other than baskets - a brand new full length music video based on an original song penned by Adam called, "I Love My Life." The video has the potential to make him love his life even more and also elevate the band's profile from that of a regional hit to a known Nashville name.
"We're looking for management, an agent and eventually a record contract," he says. "If another big time artist wants to use the song we're fine with that too. We just want to get this thing in front of the right people, get some recognition and take the next step toward making this a legit career for us."
The video features scenes shot at a lake near Dixie Caverns, the Roanoke City Courthouse and in the mock courtroom at attorney Daniel L. Crandall's law office. However, the bulk of the video was taped at a picturesque red barn on Texas Hollow Road owned by Mark and Ponza Atkinson.
"My close friend and neighbor, Bill Humphrey, knew about this barn and recommended it to us, but we needed it on such short notice that I didn't think there was any way we could make this happen," says Susan Tate, Adam's mother-in-law.
But with less than a week's notice, the Atkinsons not only agreed to open up their property and their barn, but they also provided space inside their home for the make-up artists to do their jobs and they let the band and extras invade their bathroom space.
"I'll never forget when Mark told us anything he had was ours for the asking," says Tate. "They welcomed us with open arms and you would have thought we had hired Mark to work for us. They were incredible."
That video session alone took seven hours to complete by the time hair, make-up, wardrobe and the multiple takes were shot. Video producer Grant Plaskon oversaw the production and all of the cast members in the video were from the Roanoke Valley.
"When you're dealing with 25 extras, four locations and the challenge of conveying the message of the song in a few minutes, you only get out of it what you put into it," says Plaskon. "The pre-planning really made this a success as much as anything."
"The finished product blew my mind and I think it's ready for CMT or Great American Country right now," says Rutledge. "It's pretty humbling to me that all of these people came out and worked so hard to make this happen for us. Everything just fell right into place."
The complete video production time topped 100 hours from the start of the taping to end of the editing, which was handled by J. Rodney Billingsley.
"There's no doubt that people were surprised by the quality of the video," says Plaskon. "I don't think many of them thought a CMT quality video could be done in this area."
One of the cast members is Adam's wife, the former Kelly Tate. Like her husband, she graduated from both Salem high school and Roanoke College. Adam has a degree in business administration, but for most of his adult life he's majored in southern rock music with the bands Southbound and Crobar Cane. Three years ago, a booking agent and Adam's own mom both encouraged him to switch genres and give country music a shot. Now he's hoping that move will take him all the way to Music Row.
"More so than ever, I'm more comfortable singing country music," he says. "It suits my writing style better and I think this is the best avenue for the band to have a chance at doing something big, plus we all enjoy it."
The multi-generational group that includes Adam's dad and uncle has become a mainstay at Salem's annual Star-B-Q concerts opening for the likes of Nashville songwriter and recording artist John Rich. Having those types of contacts and now a state-of-the art, high definition music video can only help create awareness.
"To have this video shot here means a lot to me," he says. "The city has really been good to us, and it was nice for us to be able to give back to the area in this small way. I take great pride in being from Salem, and I love this place."
And Salem has always loved Adam's brand of string music - both on the court and in the barn.