IF YOU GO
Foothills Fall Festival, featuring Aaron Tippin
WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Main stage, Greenbelt Park, adjacent to the Blount County Courthouse in downtown Maryville
HOW MUCH: $55 (for all three days)
By Steve Wildsmith
of The Daily Times Staff
Careful, ladies -- Aaron Tippin may be considered one of the better-looking country singers out there, but if you get the opportunity to give him a hug at this weekend's Foothills Fall Festival, go easy on the arms.
They're a little tender, thanks to a round of vaccinations Tippin received on Wednesday as part of the preparations for his upcoming USO tour to Afghanistan. Any bicep-squeezing may be discouraged.
"We went and got shots yesterday at Fort Campbell, so I had three shots in both arms,'' Tippin said Thursday. "We had shots for typhoid, polio, Hepatitis A and B; I don't know what all. Hey, soldiers have to go through it every day, and I think they were a lot nicer to us."
The upcoming Thanksgiving tour -- Tippin will be in Afghanistan Nov. 23 through Dec. 3 -- isn't the first time the singer has been overseas to entertain American forces. In 1990, before Operation Desert Storm commenced and tanks rolled into Kuwait and Iraq, Tippin traveled to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain with comedian Bob Hope.
But 1990's visit was to a country ruled by an American ally, to troops on secure bases. This time, Tippin will be in the war zone itself, visiting troops along front-lines positions in the ongoing police action against the deposed Taliban and the al Qaida terrorist group.
"Maybe it's because I've had some experience, but sending us out to the forward positions, that's going to be the basics of what we do," he said. "I think we get to spend the night on big bases, but during the day they'll pop us on a helicopter and send us out to front to entertain the guys who won't get to go to the show."
And like enduring the shots, Tippin said he has only to look to American forces on the ground in Afghanistan to find the courage to ignore the threat of bombs and bullets that fly frequently in the county's lawless wilderness.
"Sure, that's on our minds, because there's nothing they'd probably like better than to have our heads on a stick," he said. "But I have to go over there for 10 days, and the guys and gals I'm staring at have to stay until the rotten mess is done."
"I have to keep that in mind -- I'm doing a little something, but they're doing the real deal."
The real deal
When it comes to patriotic-oriented country, Tippin happens to be the real deal as well.
Raised on a farm in South Carolina, Tippin was influenced by Hank Thompson, Jimmie Rodgers and Lefty Frizzell, and he picked up his first guitar when he was 10. By the age of 20, he had his commercial pilot's license, and in 1986, he moved to Nashville, broke into the songwriting business and in 1990, landed his first recording contract.
His first single, "You've Got to Stand for Something," reached the Top 10 in 1991 and became an anthem for a nation embroiled in Desert Storm. From that time forward, Tippin has worn his patriotism, and displayed it on his records, proudly.
It's something he's grateful to have pointed out by fans who see beyond the current trend of patriotic country songs by such artists as Toby Keith and Alan Jackson.
"I wouldn't take nothing away from Toby or Alan or any of the gals and guys who show their patriotism, but I'm proud I've served this country before, and I'm not sure everybody knows, I have to say," he said. "I kind of wish everybody remembered that Aaron did this a long time ago, and that this ain't my first rodeo."
"But I'm glad to see them step up to the plate and do something like that. At least all this hoopla is generating something."
Tippin followed up that hit with 1992's "Read Between the Lines," which spawned his first No. 1 single, "There Ain't Nothing Wrong With the Radio," as well as the Top 5 hit "I Wouldn't Have It Any Other Way." His hard-edged twang would go on to spawn several more hits, including "Working Man's Ph.D.," "That's As Close As I'll Get To Loving You" and "Kiss This."
Over the course of the next several years, Tippin continued with his strong work ethic, releasing "Call of the Wild" in 1993, "Lookin' Back at Myself" in 1994, "Tool Box" in 1995, "What This Country Needs" in 1998 and "People Like Us" in 2000.
From the "People Like Us" sessions came a song that would re-ignite Tippin's career, and make long-time country fans remember his patriotic roots. The song was "Where The Stars And Stripes And The Eagle Fly," and after the tragedies of Sept. 11, 2001, Tippin and his label, Lyric Street Records, began looking for ways he could make a difference.
"They wanted to just recut 'You've Got to Stand For Something' and send the proceeds up there to New York and Washington, D.C., and at first I said, 'Sure, that's a great idea,'" Tippin said. "Meanwhile, as we started to get things lined up to do that, I remembered this song. I wanted it to be on the 'People' album, but it just didn't make the cut."
"That's not unusual, because I've recorded a lot of songs that don't make it on every album, but I really thought it was a great song. I just didn't realize the song had a greater purpose. I feel it's very God-sent."
The song, a soaring blend of drums, fiddle, Tippin's rock-solid tenor and a wistful, fast-paced acoustic guitar line, is the lead-off to Tippin's most recent record, "Stars and Stripes," released last month. All of the proceeds from the single go to the Red Cross.
Tippin's patriotic bent and work with the Red Cross lead to his upcoming Afghanistan gig, as well. Originally, he said, he was scheduled to go to Bosnia.
"I called and said, 'Hey who's going to Afghanistan?', and they said, 'Funny you should call, your name's on the list,'" he said. "So we're going. Right now, it's probably the most exciting thing, and certainly the most that's on my mind."
Of course, Tippin's also a little preoccupied with Sunday's performance at the Foothills Fall Festival, where he'll play the next-to-last show of the night -- right before country legend George Jones takes the stage.
"That's too groovy, man," Tippin said. "I've done shows with George before, and I go out and do cartwheels and stick my tongue out at people, and he comes out and says, 'All right, there's an idiot, now here's a country show.' And I get the best seat in the house, because when I'm through I get to go back and listen to him play."
Tippin lamented the fact that Jones, like himself, doesn't get as much airplay on country music radio these days, but where he used to complain loudly about the proliferation of pop-oriented country acts all over the dial, he's mellowed out quite a bit.
"Now we're having to sit in the backseat, so maybe I should just shut up and enjoy the ride."