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This item appeared in The Times & Free Press on Friday, February 18, 2000.

Country Boys Aaron Tippin and Sammy Kershaw

Associate Features Editor

Is the honky-tonk missing from your country music?

Aaron Tippin and Sammy Kershaw, two artists who are as country as hayrides and square dances, may have just what you need. The two longtime friends and traditional country singers will perform together Sunday as part of the Country's Men of Steel Tour beginning at 7 p.m. at Memorial Auditorium.

"We're both country boys who like country music," Kershaw said in a telephone interview.

A performer for more than 30 years, Kershaw said it is getting harder and harder to be a fan of the type of music he likes. It also got a little tougher to make his music earlier last week as he split (amicably, he said) with Mercury Records, for which he had recorded since 1990.

"It's getting to be a tough business. You don't know what the style of music it is you're listening to. You don't know if it's country or pop.

"The target audience is not the same as it used to be. The core listeners have left because they have no place to hear pure country. Something's going to have to give soon or the format may split."

Kershaw has always done things his way, and he doesn't plan to change.

"I'm not looking to do crossover music. I try not to let it affect me. I just need to keep going in there and doing my thing.

"People say if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. (But) I'm a country artist, a blue-collar artist. That's what brought me to the dance, so I'm going to keep on dancing with it.

"It's still a lot of fun. We're still selling out 90 percent of the shows we do. Nobody can knock success."

Kershaw grew up in Louisiana and learned his music playing with such artists as Ray Price, Merle Haggard and George Jones. He battled alcohol and drug problems until 1988 when he quit cold turkey and dedicated his life to his family.

His big break came in 1990 when Mercury signed him to a contract. It was a successful partnership for a decade.

"Mercury and I had success for 10 years. It was just time to leave. It was a mutual agreement," he said. "We both set out and accomplished what we wanted to do.

Kershaw said he doesn't know what his next musical move will be, but he said he has interests outside the label and music. For now he's happy performing with his friend. Their pairing in concert is a good match.

Tippin has made a habit of producing gold records filled with honest lyrics and real music. He first started playing country music in the honky-tonks located near the South Carolina mountains he called home.

He moved to Nashville in 1986 and began winning weight-lifting competitions, as well as notice for his songwriting. He signed with RCA Records in 1990 and created a string of hits including "You've Got to Stand for Something," "There Ain't Nothing Wrong With the Radio," "My Blue Angel" and "Working Man's Ph.D."

"We're having fun together,' Kershaw said. 'We have the same interests and enjoy playing together."

If You Go

What: Aaron Tippin and Sammy Kershaw.
When: 7 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Memorial Auditorium, 399 McCallie Ave.
Tickets: $28.50, $24.50 and $19.50.
Phone: 757-5042.

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Feb 18, 2000

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