When he first hit the
scene 12 years ago, Aaron Tippin was known as one of the New
Traditionalists, guys who were bringing country back to its roots.
Of course, nobody knew then how rootsy it was going to get or how
divisive such rootsiness could be.
These days, country music is like a Junior High school dance:
purists and hipsters on one side of the gymnasium, the chosen people
and assorted opportunists on the other.
As a guy who has worked both sides of the room, Tippin is
alternately polite and pointed about all this.
He thinks some of the slicker forms of country may be on the way
"Pop has had its run," Tippin says. "And it's still going on, but
there's this other side of the coin. We're going back to the roots
and I think it's neat. If it wakes up one executive in Nashville
who's been so hellbent on making a buck that he's been driving
things in the wrong direction..."
Tippin trails off here. As a species, music executives seem slow
to wake up and quick to pretend they're asleep.
"It probably won't happen that way," he continues. "The biggest
record in country music ("O Brother Where Art Thou") is not being
played by country radio. And the sad thing is, they don't see any
shame in it."
Not that Tippin blames country radio.
"If there's anything I've learned, it's to not beat up on radio
too hard. The music business made that monster. If they don't like
"The first person who took a program director out for lunch for
free made a mistake, I guess."
Tippin, 44, laughs at his own candidness.
"I don't know why, but I'm in the mood for truth today."
Tippin will perform two shows at the Ramada Wagon Wheel Theatre
in Warsaw Saturday night.
If a someone wanted to hear expert testimony on the state of
country music, they could hardly find a witness more credible than
He grew up on the family farm in South Carolina, listening to
Jimmie Rodgers, Lefty Frizzell and - especially - Hank Williams.
For five years in the early nineties, Tippin made beautiful music
with RCA Records, until Tippin grew tired of the label's tactics and
the label turned its attentions to younger artists.
It hasn't been easy since, but Tippin has largely regained lost
commercial ground thanks to the modest but honorable Lyric Street
"They're very open minded to creativity," Tippin says of the
Lyric Street staff. "They're into the music, really into the music."
During the last year and a half, music fans stunned by the events
of 9/11 returned in droves to artists of Tippin's ilk: men known for
their patriotism, simple values, self-deprecating humor, southern
hospitality and unrehearsed accents.
Tippin scored a huge hit with the song "Where The Stars And
Stripes And The Eagle Fly."
It was actually written before 9-11, and had been rejected
numerous times by industry pros before it shot to number 2 on the
Billboard country chart.
Its success surprised everyone but Tippin.
"I'm the proverbial hair in the biscuit of country music," he
says. "I just won't go away."
Tippin and Lyric Street donated all the proceeds from the single
to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund.
Having a hit did not ease Tippin's reservations about touring.
The road had been lean for a while and Tippin didn't think the
nation's increased familiarity with its enemies would help matters
"I thought we were going to suffer because people would be scared
to go out to large gatherings. But nothing could scare those
And Tippen proved pretty steely himself, touring Afghanistan in
the midst of the Taliban's ouster and entertaining the troops.
With his concerts selling out again, Tippin is in a fine position
to reflect on everything he's seen and everywhere he's been.
He says he still peers at songs for glints of hit potential, a
practice he picked up at RCA and hasn't shaken.
"I still do that even though I once said to myself it was OK if I
never got back on the charts. I never seem to pick songs that work
that way. It's only when I let go and let the wheel spin that
He doesn't resent the major labels' obsession with younger
artists and revolving doors, because he sees it for what it is.
Far from trying to find the next Faith Hill, the labels are
actually trying to avoid creating superstars, Tippin believes.
"They don't want another Faith or Shania (Twain) or Alan
(Jackson) because they can't control them.
"Since Garth (Brooks), they don't want another superstar. They
can't stop it when it gets to that level."
Tippin says he's glad to have that part of his career behind him.
And while he is enjoying this unexpected surge in his commercial
fortunes, he says the two toddling sons he shares with wife and duet
partner Thea are the source of his truest joy these days.
He says he loves being a father to Teddy and Thomas at this
somewhat more seasoned stage of his life.
"It's delicious. It's wonderful. They're wide open. There's never
a dull moment. We just went sledding the other day and it was great.
"I get to relive my childhood which isn't much of a stretch
because I'm at the age when I'm going into my second childhood."
The interview concludes and Tippin seems surprised about the
looseness of his lips.
"This interview may be the end of me," he says, sounding not the
least bit upset about it. "Some mornings I wake up and I just have
"After talking with you" - Tippin takes on the tones of a
televangelist - "I feel I am healed!"
Who: Aaron Tippin
Where: Ramada Wagon Wheel Theatre, Warsaw
When: 7 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday
Admission: $38. Call (866) 823-2618.