90’s Country Artist Has No Regrets, Makes Tour Stop At Coastal Carolina Fair
Jeff Walker, Entertainment Writer
While other male artists such as Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, Vince Gill and Brooks & Dunn, were busy grabbing all the attention during country music’s second generation in the 1990’s, Sammy Kershaw was happily flying under the radar while amassing 25 Top 40 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs charts, including ‘She Don’t Know She’s Beautiful’ and ‘Love of My Life’ which became chart toppers.
According to the Louisiana native it never bothered him. “It’s kind of a label thing. In the very beginning the label was behind me, pushing me and saying let’s go. Then Billy Ray Cyrus came along and they jumped on him. Then Shania Twain came along and they jumped on her, especially on her second album. Then Toby Keith was the next big thing. I don’t blame Mercury Records, they look at it from a business side. I have no regrets. I really thank Mercury because they were responsible for my career.”
What many would consider a healthy career actually took Kershaw almost two decades to jump start. “I began playing in honky-tonks and roadhouses when I was around 12 or 13. I know that sounds crazy but I did, and I loved it.” Kershaw got his first guitar at age 11. “I just took to it, and it’s been a part of me now for over 50 years.”
Just in his teens he would end up opening for heavy hitters such as George Jones and Merle Haggard. At age 30 he almost gave up on his dream taking a day job, until a demo tape of his found its way to Mercury. “So basically it took me 20 years to get a record deal.”
Alongside his two number ones came 11 Top Tens including recognizable hits like ‘Cadillac Style’, ‘Anywhere But Here’, ‘Queen of My Double-Wide Trailer’, “I Can’t Reach Her Anymore”, “National Working Woman’s Holiday”, ‘Vidalia’, and his cover of the Amazing Rhythm Aces 1975 hit ‘Third Rate Romance’, which peaked at number two for Kershaw. It’s safe to say for country music fans during the 90’s decade Kershaw easily provided the soundtrack to their lives. “From 1989 to 1999 I had a good run, and I’m thankful for that.”
Although he’s recorded several fan favorites, most of the songs came by way of outside writers. “I’ve always concentrated on guitar and singing. Early on I performed classic country and southern rock, mainly because I grew up during the 60’s and 70’s and that is what listened too. Thankfully the label and writers found songs that fit me.”
He adds, “If I had to rely on my songwriting ability I’m certain I wouldn’t be where I am today. I’m lucky to write about two good songs in a years time. I’m actually intimidated by songwriters, especially those writers who have really big hits. I feel like if I’m in the same room with them writing, they’ll discover I have nothing to add. Thank God I’ve never put myself in that situation. I’m grateful for all the songs I’ve recorded, and to all the songwriters who have sent them my way.”
Aside from his family and his music, Kershaw does have other interests. He twice ran for Lt. Governor of his home state (2007 & 2010). “Let me be clear, I never imagined myself as a politician. I have no inklings to be a senator or even the governor. The Lt. Governor in Louisiana is basically a cheerleader for the state. Of course, I realize if something ever happened to the governor, the Lt. Governor steps in, but even then I’d hold the post only until they had a special election. Never wanted to be that guy, just thought I’d promote all that Louisiana has to offer, and believe me it does.”
Kershaw is among a few singers and musicians who have been nominated for a spoken word Grammy. His 1996 recording of of the audio book ‘The Legend of Hank Williams’ earned him a nod in 1997. “What can I say, I was beat out by Hillary Clinton (It Takes a Village). I guess if you’re going to lose, it might as well be to the president’s wife.”
While the 1990’s solidified his place in country music, the past 20 years haven’t been as generous. He continues to record and tour, but finding success on country radio has been few and far between. “We all have our time in the spotlight. I’ve been blessed. I had a really good decade run, so you will never hear me complain.”
One the bright spots for Kershaw in the 21st century has been the well received ‘Roots and Boots’ tour, which packages several country music veterans on tour. Over the past decade Kershaw has shared the stage with the likes of Aaron Tippin, Mark Chestnut, Tracy Lawrence, and Collin Raye among others. “The first tour was supposed to be just three months. Ten years later we’re still doing them.”
Kershaw is a little partial to his generation. “Artists from the 90’s have such a built in listener base. I think we put out some of the best music country music ever offered up.” Does he feel country music is in good shape today. “They tell me it is. There a lot of good artists today, and some that are getting back to basics, so that is good.”
He adds, “I know some say country music is too pop. The genre has to evolve. I feel certain guys like George Jones, Waylon Jennings, and Haggard probably thought we were changing the face of country music when we came along in the 90’s. We’re always trying to attract new listeners, and that is one of the best things about country music. I truly believe we have more in common with the fans than other music genres. I think fans can relate to the songs better.”
His latest full length album ‘Swamp Poppin’ came out in the fall of 2017 and pays tribute to his Louisiana roots, including old time rock, folk, bayou blues, and country with classic songs from yesteryear. Among the 12 tracks are ‘Blue Monday’ and ‘I’m A Fool to Care’ made famous by Fats Domino, and ‘Knock On Wood’ by the Mr. Eddie Floyd.
All told Kershaw has garnered six gold and three platinum albums, that have in excess of 5 million records and more than 70 million combined songs sold! “That’s actual units sold, not like the artists of today who might have over a million downloads of one particular song. Before the age of the internet we sold actual albums and CDs. Times have changed.”
Even if his latest songs don’t make it to traditional radio, Kershaw continues to record albums, releasing two singles last year ‘Evangeline’ and ‘My Friend Fred’ (written by Billy Lawson & Ed Hill) during the pandemic. The later received more attention due to it’s addiction content.
Kershaw was so moved by the track, he petitioned to record it. “When I first heard the track I cried. I said I have to do this, but it was promised to another big name artist. A little while later I heard it for a second time, and again I cried. Still it was slated for another artist, but I was persistent and knew that it might be held up for a long time. Finally I told my people I will cut this record right now, and they agreed. It’s very emotional, and one I’m very proud of this late in my career.”
At 63 years young what did Kershaw do with forced time off during the pandemic. “Well my wife and I had a new baby girl in September of 2019, so that’s been a busy time for us.” With daughter, Natelia Mae, Kershaw now has six children ranging from their mid 40’s to the recent two year old. “The upside for me with the pandemic is that I’ve got to spend more time with Natelia. When the others were young I wasn’t around as much, especially when my career was taking off. So, time to bond with her and my wife has been really nice.”
After more than a year off Kershaw hit the road back in March of this past year. “When you’re used to going out every year it felt strange being off, but now that I’m on tour again it feels great. I love performing and I get such a thrill playing in front of a live audience, so yes it’s great to be back out there.”
With a career that spans more than three decades in the limelight, Sammy Kershaw has built a solid following. He returns to the low country with his full band performing Saturday October 30th at the Coastal Carolina Fair. What can fans expect. “I perform the same songs that got me to the dance. I know they want to hear the hits, and I’ve never tired of playing them for the fans.”
He does however like to throw in a few surprises. “I usually add in two or three covers. Maybe a song from The Beatles, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and even Jim Croce. Songs I learned early on and that have special meaning to me. All in all it’s always a good show. The band and I love to play, and after having the forced time off, we’re making up for lost time and hopefully giving audiences everything they expect. Charleston has been good to me over the years, and I know they love country music down there.”
For a full line up of all the entertainers coming to the Coastal Carolina Fair visit https://www.coastalcarolinafair.org/p/events/2021-featured-entertainers
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