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Q&A: Roots and Boots

Sammy Kershaw, Aaron Tippin and Collin Raye are proving their boots still have plenty of “sole” as they deliver the hits that bolstered ‘90s country music to the top of the charts.

G.K. Hizer
November 29, 2017

Country music has changed. Today, it’s a lot of pop and rock, disguised with a little southern drawl and wrapped as “bro-country.” Back in the early-‘90s, a parade of artists were moving country in a modern direction while still keeping it rooted in Nashville and Texas traditions.

Sammy Kershaw brought his own twist to country as his Louisiana roots merged with classic country. He met George Jones when he was just 14 and subsequently opened shows for Jones, Merle Haggard, and Ray Price while still in his teens. His 1993 single, “She Don’t Know She’s Beautiful,” was his sole No. 1 hit, but he landed 10 more songs in the top 10, including three singles that peaked at No. 2: “National Working Woman’s Holiday,” “Third Rate Romance” and “Love of My Life.”

Aaron Tippin was born in Florida, but grew up in South Carolina, and was a commercial pilot in his 20’s before moving to Nashville in 1986, where he eventually landed a staff writer gig for Acuff-Rose. His debut single, “You’ve Got to Stand for Something,” launched his performing career in 1991, hitting No. 6 on the country charts and becoming a popular anthem with soldiers fighting in the Gulf War at the time. Tippin has charted 34 of his 38 released singles on the country charts, including three No. 1 hits: “There Ain’t Nothin’ Wrong with the Radio,” “That’s as Close as I’ll Get to Loving You” and “Kiss This.” He may be most recognized, however, for his 2001 single, “Where the Stars and Stripes and the Eagles Fly,” which reached No. 2 on the charts following the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers in New York City.

Collin Raye originally was a member of the country act The Wrays, before launching his solo career with the album All I Can Be and the No. 1 single, “Love, Me.” He went on to chart 30 singles, including three more No. 1 hits: “In This Life,” “My Kind of Girl” and “I Can Still Feel You.” Together, the three artists will bring a parade of hits to classic and ‘90s country music fans at The Joint: Tulsa Dec. 28 with the "Roots and Boots" tour.

Q: If this is the "Roots and Boots" tour, who's the roots and who's the boots?

AT: You know, that’s a good question. I’m really not sure who came up with that, but I guess it’s a good name for a tour.

SK: Oh, that’s easy. We’re the boots. The roots are people like Merle Haggard, Conway Twitty, George Jones, Tammy [Wynette] and Loretta [Lynn] and Ray Price. They’re the roots of country music and we’re the boots — we’re carrying that tradition forward.

AT: I like that answer. Give me credit for saying that.

Q: Looking back at the roots of country music, it's clear that modern country music has changed, especially over the past 10 or 12 years. Where do you see yourselves fitting among that change and how has it affected you?

SK: I’ve been doing this, singing, since I was 12 years old — and I’m 48 now. When I came around in the ‘90s, the labels were still building careers and artists and they’re not doing that anymore, that I can see. You can’t knock success, it’s just that some of it’s not for me. I can’t say it’s right or wrong, but I can say that some of it, I don’t like. That doesn’t mean they won’t have success with it.

AT: I’ve got to agree. Obviously, things have changed a lot and it’s not the same country music that it used to be, but I try not to beat the new guys up too much. They’re doing what they’re doing and they’re having success with it, so clearly someone likes it. I’ve always been about a great story and the song. To me, that’s what makes it country music. Sometimes I call what I do “has-been” country, because things have changed so much. I think some of the greatest days in country music were the ‘90s. There weren’t six of us with hits, there were 30 of us — and we weren’t selling singles, we were selling albums.

SK: I’ve seen country go many different ways over the years, but it always comes back around. Sometimes it takes longer, but it always comes back. Over the last year, I’ve been busy. This year has been crazy. I’ve seen a lot of people showing up and buying merch and selling out shows. We were playing to a few hundred people a couple of years ago, and now we’re seeing younger fans as well and they’re singing every word. I truly believe that country music is making a comeback.

Q: You've both gone the independent route. How has that worked for you?

Several of Tippin's songs, such as "Workin' Man's Ph.D" and "You've Got to Stand for Something" are mid-tempo anthems that address the working class, and are often patriotic in nature.
Several of Tippin's songs, such as "Workin' Man's Ph.D" and "You've Got to Stand for Something" are mid-tempo anthems that address the working class, and are often patriotic in nature.

SK: I enjoy it a lot. It’s always more fun when you can do what you want to do. I was lucky because Mercury Records never told me what to do or what to record, but having my own label, I can do special projects.

AT: I kind of got my belly full with the major labels. So many times the label and artist disagree on what’s best for a career, and I think that’s usually why they part ways. I felt like I was constantly pulled in different directions. I tried to comply, by I never really felt like we were going in the same direction. After I went independent, it was a real blessing. It made it enjoyable again. When you’ve got a record executive over your shoulder wanting hits, the band doesn’t get to just cut loose and have fun. You end up chasing songs and doing what the label wants — and then, if it doesn’t work, it’s still your fault.

Q: Aaron, one of your biggest hits was "Where the Stars and Stripes and the Eagles Fly," which came out around the time of 9/11. Considering the current political climate and the recent shooting tragedies, do you find it odd that the song is still so poignant, or do you even think about that?

AT: Most people don’t know it, but that song was written about two years prior, then released after 9/11. I guess what I can say about the song is this: there were a lot of songs being released after 9/11, and I think the big difference is most of those other songs were more about being sucker punched and reacting. I wanted to say something more about who we were as a nation. I’d written that song and the label turned it down two years before. I never pushed the issue; I just put it aside. After 9/11 happened, I remembered I had that song put away and they wanted to do a benefit single, so I got to record it and all the proceeds went to charity for the victims’ families. I wanted to deliver a song of encouragement and hope, as opposed to what a lot of other people were doing.

Q: You are both veterans of the road and the industry. What keeps you going after so long?

AT: I was going to try retiring and staying home to work on my planes, but the economy fell apart and I’ve got two boys coming up and college tuition to think about, so here I am. When I was with the majors, I always tried to be Elvis, just marking things off the list: a new record, a hit single, winning an award. I’m having more fun now than I did the first 15 years I was playing.

SK: I love what I do. That’s the whole point for me. That’s why I still make new records. A lot of people don’t know or realize it, but I still love it and I’m trying to stay relevant until country rolls back strong.

Roots and Boots: Aaron Tippin, Sammy Kershaw and Collin Raye
The Joint | Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa
777 W. Cherokee St. | Catoosa
Dec. 28: 8 p.m.
Must be 21 or older to attend