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Saturday, Jan 04, 2003

Posted on Fri, Nov. 01, 2002

Eagle soars for this 'muscular redneck'
Staff Writer

Aaron Tippin's second coming in the country music industry comes courtesy of Sept. 11.

And for that he feels just a bit guilty.

Only a bit, though, because he tried to record his hit song, "Where the Stars and Stripes and the Eagle Fly," for 2000's "People Like Us" album. He just couldn't convince his label to let him record it until after the nation's terrorist attacks.

His name meant gold and platinum album sales throughout the early '90s, but the public's interest seemed to wane until recently. Regardless, he's spent the intervening years writing and seeking out what he thinks are hot tunes -- "There are so many great songs lying in the graveyard," he says -- and raising his two boys with his wife.

And, of course, keeping up with the workout regimen. His buff bod landed him on the cover of "Playgirl." Now 44, he's been bodybuilding since he was 25. "I was just a redneck-hillbilly-drunk before then. Now I'm a redneck-hillbilly-drunk with arms an inch bigger."

Now, 10 years after his first No. 1 song ("There Ain't Nothing Wrong with the Radio"), he comes to town for a concert Saturday at the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts.

The South Carolina farm boy talked to the Ledger-Enquirer about patriotism, "Playgirl" and piloting planes.

Why didn't you record 'Where the Stars and Stripes and the Eagle Fly' for an earlier album?

Your partners have got say-so, too, and they just didn't think it was the thing to do, for whatever reason. But it not going on the earlier album was really a blessing. I think it means more when we can take this song and say all the proceeds went to the Red Cross.

The rest of the album is much more lighthearted. Is that intentional?

Nah, we just try and hunt great songs. I look for a variety of things. You look at "Love Like There's No Tomorrow." That was written after 9/11. And so was "Five Gallon Tear." That song's uplifting -- if you like beer.

What song are you proudest of, over the course of all your albums?

Shoot, man. I think "Stars and Stripes," and not because it's my song. It'll be the impact of a lifetime. This is the biggest event of our lives. It's too bad an event like that had to occur for that song to be so powerful. It's too bad we can't be proud to be an American all the time. When I got back from my trip to Saudi Arabia, I just thought, damn, I'm glad to get back to this country.

What was your visit like?

I was there 10 days. They'll whop the pee out of you if you do something unauthorized to the Muslim religion.... You know, we've got our problems, but we're still the greatest country in the world.

On a lighter note, you're probably tired of talking about posing for "Playgirl." But seriously, how does your agent approach you with that offer?

Well, they called and said, "Aaron, all the female country fans voted, and you're the one they most wanted to be on 'Playgirl.' " Yeah, right. That's the same thing they told David Kersh and everyone else that's on there. They really think people are stupid, I guess.... But I think people might have felt ripped off, 'cause the only thing naked is my dog.

It paid well, I guess?

It pays nothing. Maybe they pay those guys that get naked.... Or maybe they did pay me a little. But I make more with a guitar.

So how'd you tell your wife, Thea?

She was part of the ones saying, "Yeah, let's do it."

What are your guilty pleasures at home -- Adam Sandler movies? Video games?

My big weakness is old restaurants back home (in northern South Carolina). There's Pete's, The Clock, Little Rebel, they're all different Greek families. It's Greek fast food, bad-(bleep) cheeseburgers, and hot dogs, and steak fingers.

You used to fly planes. So is it tougher to get work as a pilot or as a country musician these days?

(Laughs.) Right now I'd say it's tougher to get work as a pilot.... You know, in the airplane business, it's very scientific. If you don't put the wheels down, you're going to land belly-up. That's a guarantee. When I got in the music business, everything became so personal. If someone thinks you talk funny, they won't play your record.... That's been the biggest struggle for this old redneck. The first thing I remember the radio guys didn't like about me was I wore sleeveless shirts on-stage. I mean, what does that have to do with pride, sex and joy?

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