Before he had his "Working Man's Ph.D." or even a record
deal, Blue Ridge native Aaron Tippin had a hero. His name is Mickey
Fowler, and for years, say those who know him, he was the Upstate's
resident country "outlaw," a physically imposing master singer of "hard
country" songs by the likes of Waylon Jennings and Hank Williams Jr.
"Mickey Fowler to me is the greatest unsung country singer ever,"
Tippin gushed during an interview from his residence outside Nashville.
During the early 1980s, Tippin spent time in Upstate honky-tonks
learning all he could from Fowler, who still lives in Greenville.
Tippin, like his dad before him, was working as a pilot, flying area
corporate executives on business trips. In his free time, Tippin left the
company of the suits and headed to local bars, where his outlaw mentor
Fowler was often joined by some of the area's best pickers, including Toy
Caldwell of the Marshall Tucker Band.
Tippin played, too.
Greenville-based steel guitarist Mike Bagwell, who remains friends with
Tippin's longtime steel player Larry Nally, shared the stage with Tippin
" 'Tip' -- that's what everybody called him," Bagwell recalled.
Bagwell remembers Tippin as "a hell of an entertainer" who had trouble
attracting crowds among an Upstate public then overexposed to Top 40 rock
and slick sounds of the "Urban Cowboy" era.
Like his hero Fowler, Tippin, now short-haired and relatively
clean-cut, was one who favored the outlaw image and sound, Bagwell said.
"He wore a dirty cowboy hat and had long hair played banjo back then."
Making it in the music business, of course, is about more than talent;
ambition, attention to detail and luck -- and sometimes comprise -- must
be part of the mix.
Whatever the reasons, Fowler never hit it big.
He says it started with the collapse of his marriage: "With that, I
kind of ran out of excuses not to go for it."
So, Tippin moved to Nashville, where his traditionalist leanings were
up against the more commercially viable country-pop sounds of the day. It
took four years of recording demo tapes and earning cuts as a songwriter
before he netted a record deal with RCA.
Seven albums and three No. 1 hits later, including "Kiss This," from
his latest release, "People Like Us," Tippin says he's learned that making
records is "a teamwork deal" with producers and executives whose job is
consider the marketability, not the integrity, of the music.
"When you're young and stupid and your record's not selling, you think
it's everybody else's fault," Tippin said. "But I've learned it's a team
effort to get the machine going in the right direction."
The RCA machine, however, ultimately tried to get Tippin going in a
direction he didn't want to go -- away from his honky-tonk roots.
So he found a home for his harder edge sounds on Lyric Street Records.
Which is not to say that Lyric Street or Tippin are primed to lead an
outlaw Renaissance: label-mates include SHeDAISY, an all-girl "hot
country" group that has more in common with the Spice Girls than Loretta
Lynn. But Tippin's albums maintain a grit and grind not often heard these
days in the country mainstream.
In Tippin's view, his recent work is some of his best: "This one feels
especially good. It's my new favorite album."
Saturday, he heads home to Upstate South Carolina for a concert at the
Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium. Though he's been to Greenville plenty of
times, this will be Tippin's first concert at Spartanburg Memorial
Auditorium, said general manager Steve Jones.
"It's going to be like a family reunion. He's got a lot of family
coming," Jones said.
Opening the show will be country-rocker Clay Davidson.
If Tippin, 42, remarried and father of three, by now represents the old
guard of the hard-country sound, Davidson may be the most promising
Like the more established Montgomery Gentry, Davidson is part of the
bluesy southern rock thread -- think Hank Jr. and Charlie Daniels -- that
has run through country music since the 1970s.
The 29-year-old Saltville, Va., native whose career was given a boost
by a 1995 performance on "The Charlie Daniels Talent Round-Up," names
Stevie Ray Vaughan, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Spartanburg's Marshall Tucker Band
Late Lynyrd Skynyrd front man Ronnie Van Zandt, in particular, is his
"It's just about real everyday life," Davidson said. "I like songs you
can walk through as you hear them."
Davidson co-wrote most of the tunes on his debut album,
"Unconditional," which contains plenty of Skynyrd-style grooves (the
prettified title track is an exception).
For all his Southern Rock influences, Davidson was exposed to a healthy
measure of country greats as a kid.
"I had an uncle who was a Merle Haggard and Don Williams fanatic," he
recalled. "I was raised up on Merle and Don and Bocephus and Waylon."
Free time in Davidson's home was spent with friends and relatives
picking guitar and singing. Davidson was given his first guitar at age 5
and "was addicted to it from the start."
Music is the only full-time job Davidson's ever had, and it's been a
Commercially, his career is just beginning to hit its stride.
But more than that, Davidson talks about success as measured by
experiences -- from playing on a Grand Ole Opry show in its old home, the
Ryman Auditorium, to jamming onstage with the current version of the
Marshall Tucker Band.
For Davidson, a trip to Spartanburg is a glimpse into the history of
For Tippin, who expects to be up all night signing autographs and
hanging out with old pals, it'll just be a trip back home and a reunion
with his musical roots.
"You've Got To Stand For Something," 1990, Gold
"Read Between The Lines," 1992, Platinum
"Call of the Wild,"
"Lookin' Back At Myself," 1994, Gold
"Greatest Hits," 1997, Gold
"What This Country Needs," 1998
"People Like Us," 2000
Top 10 singles
"There Ain't Nothing Wrong With The Radio"
"I Wouldn't Have It Any Other Way"
How did Aaron Tippin develop his great vocal
He began singing as a child while bailing hay, running combines and
plowing the back 40. In order to hear himself over the diesel engine of
the tractor, he had to develop some pretty strong vocal cords.
Where did Tippin grow up?
His hometown is Blue Ridge, but he went to high school in Greer. He
played football and ran track.
Was a career as a singer always in Tippin's future?
He used to work with his dad at the airport so he learned how to fly
and work on planes.
Bet you didn't know this:
Tippin was a multi-engine instrument commercial pilot and flew as a
freelance and corporate pilot in route to becoming a major airline pilot.
When did Tippin leave planes for Nashville?
Aaron moved to Nashville in 1986, started songwriting pretty heavy and
began his quest for a record deal. In 1990, he signed with RCA Records and
went on to release one platinum and four gold albums. In 1998, he signed
with Disney's Lyric Street Records. His first album on Lyric Street, was
titled "What This Country Needs."
DeKalb County, Tennessee, in a log home on 300 acres of prime hunting
and farming land
Wife Thea (married July 15, 1995), daughter Charla (born October 23,
1977, son Teddy (born December 14, 1997)
Weight lifting/body building, deer and turkey hunting
Farm hand, factory worker, airplane pilot, heavy equipment operator,
welder, truck driver, songwriter
Baker Maultsby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 582-4511,