Sammy Kershaw Is Better Than He Used To Be

Ken Morton, Jr. | March 23rd, 2010

sammy-kershaw-interview

The last twenty years have been a tale of two decades for Sammy Kershaw. Quite literally growing up in the honkytonks of the south, Kershaw first landed on national radio stations in 1991 with “Cadillac Style.” Over the course of the next ten years, he would have three platinum albums, three gold albums, 25 Top 40 hits and, in 2001, a storybook wedding to fellow country music star Lorrie Morgan. Few artists had more success in the 90s than Sammy Kershaw.

But the second of those two decades wasn’t as successful. Since the end of 2001, only three Kershaw singles have charted. His marriage to Morgan was a tumultuous one which finally ended in divorce in 2007. He recorded for three different labels–two of which closed their doors while he was on the roster. A former employee was arrested for making threats against his family. A restaurant called HotChickens.com–started with Morgan–closed, resulting in both Morgan and Kershaw seeking bankruptcy protection. Finally, a run for Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana in late 2007 was met with defeat despite the fact that he gained 30% of the vote.

Kershaw is intent on making the third decade of his recording career different from the last, however. With a renewed passion for performing and recording, a new single called “Better Than I Used To Be,” and an upcoming album with the same name, Kershaw is intent on fresh new beginnings. He’s even seriously considering another run for office–hopeful that his passion for his home state of Louisiana will translate to publicity and tourism.

Kershaw was kind enough to take a break from the road and talk about his Louisiana roots, his new projects and future political ambitions.

sammy2KEN MORTON, JR.: Your father passed away tragically at the age of eleven, and you played roadhouses and bars as a teenager to help pay family bills. Was music a passion, a necessity, or perhaps a little bit of both back in the day?

SAMMY KERSHAW: Music is a passion. Always has been. It wasn’t a necessity. Music was a passion and still is. It’s been something I’ve always wanted to do since I can remember. I was four or five years old and singing with George Jones and Conway and those folks when my parents would play those old 45s. I was singing right along with them.

KMJ: Did you know back then that you were going to make music as a career?

SK: I knew that’s what I wanted to do. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind. There never was a doubt in my mind.

KMJ: The 1990s were a huge success for you, with a bunch of Top 10s, three platinum albums and three gold albums. What was that time like for you?

SK: It was fast. (Laughing) Much too fast. But I enjoyed it. I did. It was a good time in my life. Of course, there were some bad times in there even when it was really good in the 90s. I made some bad choices. I made some good ones too, but I made some bad choices. Some people like to look at the bad choices more than they like to look at the good ones, you know? Sometimes that’s a little hard to overcome.

But you just have to keep on digging. Eventually I’ll get there and overcome it. Like the new song says, “I’m not perfect yet, but I’m better than I used to be.”

KMJ: That leads into my next question. You’re back in the studio, with a new album called Better Than I Used To Be on the horizon. First of all, explain the importance of that title.

SK: The album is finished. And to be honest, I had gotten to a point about three years ago where I started thinking that people really didn’t want to hear or listen to my music anymore. Or radio might not play me anymore. I think a lot of singers go through that sometimes. And I went through it. I wasn’t interested in making new music. I kept on touring with the guys, of course. We kept on the road working and stuff. But, like I said, I wasn’t interested in making new music. One day I was sitting on the bus, one Saturday morning feeling sorry for myself like we sometimes do from time to time, and this old song came on the radio by Johnny Paycheck called “Old Violin.” That’s exactly how I was feeling at the time. I was an old violin to be put away never to be played again.

Then it got to the last line of the song, “We’ll give our all to music and we’ll give our life.” That line right then right there changed my whole life and my whole way of thinking about things. I said to myself that maybe people won’t want to listen to me anymore and maybe radio won’t play my stuff anymore, but I have to do some new music for me. It took me back to when I was 12 years old in a country bar singing my very first country song. That’s where it took me to. Right away, I called up my producer Buddy and we began looking for new material. I also knew that I had to find the right song. Two or three months later, I opened up my email and somebody–and to this day I don’t know who–had emailed this song to me. I opened it up and listened to it 30 or 40 times that morning and cried like a sissy every time I heard it. I said, “That’s the song for me, right there.” I knew right then it would be the title track to the album and I also knew it would be the first single. And that’s where we’re at.

KMJ: Beyond that first single, what else can we look forward to hearing on the album?

SK: I have a duet with Jamey Johnson on it. On every album, I go back and re-record a song that was a hit 20 or 30 years ago. I do that on every album. And I got lucky with one called “Third Rate Romance.” It ended up being a big ole hit record for me. So I was thinking of what song to do and I was sitting in a Lowe’s parking lot one morning picking up some wood. I was listening to satellite radio and a song from 1973 came on. And no one had ever rerecorded it before. So I decided on the song and then thought to myself that I have to make this a duet song. So I called Jamey and asked if he would do a duet with me. I told him the song. It’s “Cover of the Rolling Stone” by Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show. Jamey said he’d love to do it and he showed up one afternoon and we did it in one take. It was the last track to the album.

KMJ: I’ll personally look forward to that one a lot.

SK: It turned out great. Jamey’s such a great vocalist.

KMJ: From a music styling standpoint, is it much of a departure from what we’ve heard from you in the past?

SK: No no no no. It’s just good ole country music. It reminds me a lot of my second album, called Haunted Heart, which came out in 1993. 1992 or 1993. That’s what it reminds me of and that’s always been my favorite album in my career.

KMJ: Will country radio give the new material an opportunity?

SK: Will they give it an opportunity? Man, I hope so. It seems like it wants to grow some legs right now at radio. We’re not getting any negatives on it, so that’s a good thing. For a long time, I would put a country song out there and they would say that it’s too country and they wouldn’t play it. That kind of hurt my feelings. I would be disappointed because country music is what I do. That’s what’s in my heart and soul. But we’re not getting any of that on this new country record. It feels good to me.

KMJ: Compared to what is being played on country radio, it’s very traditional. What are your thoughts of the current country music radio scene?

SK: Let me put it this way. You can’t knock success. There are a lot of people having a lot of success with the kind of music that they do. You can’t knock that. I can wish I was having that kind of success with my country records, But you can’t knock the success that they’re having. I can’t worry about what everybody else is doing. I have to worry about what Sam does. What I do. That’s what I need to focus on and worry about. That way I know that I’m not going to second-guess myself with material that I cut because radio might feel this way or that way. I can stay true to myself. It can really mess yourself up when you begin thinking that way. I’m choosing not to do what everybody else is doing. I’m not knocking anybody’s success but I’m going to keep doing what I do. Hopefully, somebody at radio will like it and say this is a good straight-ahead country record that everybody’s going to like. That’s all I can hope for.

KMJ: At this stage of your career, what kind of goals and objectives do you still have ahead of you?

SK: I’d still like to put out a lot of hit albums and hit records, of course. I would love to still get a GRAMMY for something, whether that be for songwriting or singing. I’m not much of a songwriter but every once in awhile I get lucky and write one in 10 or 15 minutes. If it goes any longer than that, I get rid of them. I never work on them again. I got a lot of things left in country music. Did you know I’ve never been on a major tour? I’ve never been on a major tour with another artist. Never. That’s another thing I’d like to do.

KMJ: Outside of music, any aspirations still for running for office again?

SK: Yes, I’m thinking of running at the end of this year for the position of Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana again. The election was for next year, but now that office has been vacated since Mitch Landrieu ran for and won the election for mayor of New Orleans. So now somebody’s going to be appointed until a special election this year. I got a lot of people calling me wanting me to get in because we did so well in 07. They would like me to get in that race again. I got a lot of people pulling for us. I’m really thinking hard about it. I really am.

KMJ: What’s the motivation behind wanting to run for Lieutenant Governor?

SK: I love Louisiana. I love the people. I love the cultures. And that’s what the Lieutenant Governor does. He goes out and promotes the state, the people, the cultures, tourism and all that stuff. And not just to the country, but to the world. In Louisiana, we’ve never had anybody that’s really concentrated on that job. Everybody that we’ve ever had in the office has had something else in mind. It’s just been just a position to sit in until a spot in the Governor’s Mansion opens up. That’s not what I’m all about. That’s not what I want. I don’t want to be the Governor. I want to be the Lieutenant Governor. We leave so much money on the table in the state of Louisiana because the people in that position don’t do the job. They don’t care about the job. I do. And somebody said the other day, “You’re going to be the second highest ranking official in Louisiana. What happens if something happened to the Governor? Will you be able to go in there and pick up where he takes off?” The thing about it is, I’ll hold the fort down for a little while until you folks can hold a special election. You can elect the guy you want as Governor. I can guarantee you though, my name won’t be on that ballot. The job I want is Lieutenant Governor. That’s the job I would be great at. I’ve been in the promotions business all my life.

KMJ: Your passion shines through. I have one last question for you and this one’s meant pretty open-ended. What is country music to Sammy Kershaw?

SK: George Jones. Merle Haggard. Alan Jackson. I like this new kid Easton Corbin. What a great country song. That’s country music. Jamey Johnson. It’s those great vocalists that when they come on the radio, you know who is singing right away. You don’t have to stop and wonder. I like distinct vocals. I like people that sing with good country soul. That’s what country is to me. It’s about everyday life with everyday people in America. That’s what’s it about. You have to make them cry and you have to make them laugh. Sometimes you have to hit them in between. That’s what country music, the truth. I sing the truth.

1 Ping

  1. [...] The unremarkable but energetic ‘That Train’, which he wrote alone, opens the album. In an interview with the 9513 earlier this year, Sammy admitted: “I’m not much of a songwriter but every once in awhile I [...]
  1. Thomas
    March 23, 2010 at 4:11 pm

    …it was about three weeks ago when a good friend’s dad joined our table before holly williams’ concert here in zurich, switzerland.
    he’s a country radio veteran here with a big love for traditional country. a few minutes into the conversation i told him that sammy kershaw was back with a fine new single. he just smiled at me and said: “son, you should listen a little more to our internet country station. i’ve been playing it over and over already for the last week or so.”

    just to illustrate, there are people, even in not so obvious places, looking forward to listening to new sammmy kershaw music again.

  2. Rick
    March 23, 2010 at 6:19 pm

    Thomas, its nice to know there is somewhere in this world where radio stations will still play Sammy’s new single (apart from WSM AM that is). Most of the programmers behind Top 40 AirHead Country Radio here in the States consider him about as relevant as a dinosaur these days.

  3. Mayor JoBob
    March 23, 2010 at 7:04 pm

    I Want my Money back was his best album in a long time. I’m looking forward to this one coming up. Go Sammy!

  4. Steve M.
    March 23, 2010 at 7:52 pm

    I have been pleasantly surprised that the Clear Channel programmed XM top 40 country station has been playing this regularly.

  5. Noeller
    March 23, 2010 at 8:33 pm

    Love his definition of what Country is. He clearly comes across as not being bitter toward those who are having success, but at the same time, makes it clear that he’s a traditionalist.

    Well done Sam – all the best with the new record!!

  6. luckyoldsun
    March 24, 2010 at 1:29 am

    Even in the ’90s, Kershaw never did quite as well at radio as was expected. He had only one No. 1 hit. The other singers of that type–Mark Chesnutt, Joe Diffie, Tracy Lawrence all had a bunch.

  7. lanibug
    March 24, 2010 at 7:33 am

    I have heard this several times on XM/Sirius – and I absolutely love it -

  8. Razor X
    March 24, 2010 at 10:30 am

    Any word on when the album will be released?

  9. Craig R.
    March 24, 2010 at 1:18 pm

    I was never a fan of Sammy Kershaw in the 90’s. But when I heard his new song over the weekend I purchased it from I-Tunes right away. It is exactly what country music should sound like. It is honest, hard, and real.I also liked that it wasn’t written to appeal to soccer moms, teenage girls, or fratboy cowboys. I hope the rest of his recording is on the same par. I am looking forward to listening to it.

  10. Cardsgal
    March 24, 2010 at 3:10 pm

    “KEN MORTON, JR.: Your father passed away tragically at the age of eleven…” If Sammy’s dad died at age 11, how old was he when he fathered Sammy – 10???

  11. Big Al
    April 19, 2010 at 6:23 pm

    CARDSGAL…Sammy’s father passed away tragically when Sammy was eleven…not his dad. Give Ken a break…he’s a busy man…u should have understood what he meant

  12. Kyle
    September 6, 2010 at 2:34 am

    I’ve already played out the opening single on my ipod, but I just stumbled across another duet with Jamey on the new album called “Takin The Long Way Home”. The lyrics aren’t quite as clever as “Too Cold At Home” (a similar themed song), but it’s really a beautiful record – great country production and vocal by Kershaw, and a real heartbreaker.

    It wouldn’t have a chance in hell on the radio, but I recommend the download if you miss that traditional, laid-back, honest sound.

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