Country music singers, as the old song goes, have always been a real close family. So while Aaron Tippin, Sammy Kershaw and Collin Raye may not have a drop of blood between them they certainly go back a while.
In the 1990s, it was quite a task – and a disappointment – to flip on CMT and not catch something from Tippin, Kershaw or Raye, and anthems like ‘You’ve Got to Stand for Something’, slices of heartache like ‘Yard Sale’, or feel-good hits like ‘That’s My Story’.
“Aw, well shoot, man,” Tippin said with, one can only assume, his trademark moustache crinkled in a smile. “Those were great days in country music, We sold more records than anybody else had in history. We didn’t just sell singles, we were selling albums, y’know? Everybody was having platinum records. It was a great time, and I’m thankful to have been a part of that.”
The three will be taking stage at the Pictou County Wellness Centre this Friday in a tour dubbed “Boots & Roots”. Tippin said he isn’t quite sure how the name came about or who came up with it but said it amounts to the three guys you’re paying for playing all the songs you’d expect.
“It’s basically the three of us out there doing our hits from the ’90s,” Tippin said. “We have a couple players behind us, but all three of us are on stage at the same time. We just do a round robin of our hits, people appreciate that. Everybody just enjoys that because we have a good camaraderie, the three of us. We have a lot of fun, so it’s a good time, a really good time.”
Today it’s fair to call them legends of their genre, but of course there was a time before anyone knew that there ain’t nothin’ wrong with Tippin’s radio or heard about the queen of Kershaw’s double wide trailer, and when Raye was still known as Bubba Wray. Before the hits, Kershaw had a pre-fame stint as a supervisor at Wal-Mart, Raye had a first stab at success in a family band called The Wrays, while Tippin forged an interesting path of talent show hopeful, turned songwriter, turned recording artist.
“I went to Nashville to try and be a singer,” Tippin recalled, “but I couldn’t get arrested! I was on a show called ‘You Can Be a Star’. It was the old TNN network days and they had a little talent show. You’d be on it, and if you won the yearly – it worked up from a daily, to a weekly, a monthly, and a yearly, and if you passed all of those you got a record deal. Well I got beat out the first day.”
One of the judges, however – Jeannie C. Riley of ‘Harper Valley P.T.A’ fame – was impressed and told him he should set up in Nashville regardless of the show’s results.
“Well, I passed my little VHS tape around of me singing and nobody called me back,” Tippin said. “So I started writing songs and I really kind of fell I love with that. By the time I got my record deal I was 31 years old, which is an old guy in the music business. I thought it was over, I never expected to have a record deal. I was pleasantly surprised, I guess you’d say.”
Tippin’s distinctly twangy voice then, as today, sounded worlds apart from his peers, and he figures that’s exactly what the label liked about him.
“I think at that time everybody was trying to follow the Garth Brooks thing,” Tippin said. “RCA recognized that it was a different sound that I had, and unique. ‘Cos, you know a lot of that was kinda cookie cutter. Everybody either needed to sound like Clint or Garth. I was a little different. I think that was the same thing with Sammy, he sounded more like George, y’know? I think the record labels were trying to change course a little bit. I got lucky enough to get in on it.”
Uniquely, for a country artist, the overwhelming majority of Tippin’s catalogue is either self or co-written, but despite his credentials – he was a staff songwriter with Acuff-Rose Music – labels would still try to (gently) persuade him into doing outside material.
“You know, uh, there’s only one song that was a hit that I didn’t write,” Tippin said. “That’s just always a struggle. If you’re a songwriter, they have trouble believing in you. Although, we had a great run with my material… I don’t think they meant anything maliciously, they just thought, y’know, they had a better idea.”
Of course, one person famously had a “better idea” that he didn’t abide by, that being Simon Seville of Alvin and the Chipmunks. As documented on Chipmunks in Low Places (the group’s 1992 hit album (#6 in the US, #9 in Canada)), Tippin’s heated, mounting frustration is all too apparent as Simon insists on “fixing” the countrified grammar of ‘There Ain’t Nothin’ Wrong with the Radio’.
However, Aaron Tippin isn’t one to carry these kinds of grudges, so today when asked who is more fun to perform with – Alvin and the Chipmunks or Sammy Kershaw and Collin Raye – he’s hard pressed to make a decision.
“It’s about the same!” Tippin said with a Carolina-flavoured laugh. “But actually, me and the Chipmunks go back further than Sammy and Collin. I was watching them when I was kid!”
For additional show and ticket information contact the Wellness Centre Box Office.