Aaron Tippin is clearly a man possessed, someone incapable of doing music -- or anything else -- halfway. He took up his pilot father's interest in flying, and at 15 he had his own license; at 20 he was licensed to fly commercial multi-engine aircraft. He took up weight training "just to trim down" and was soon winning body-building competitions. After leaving South Carolina, he worked the graveyard shift at a factory in Kentucky, drove to Nashville and back every day to write songs, and kept up his weight training all at the same time.
That intensity is all over his music. People familiar only with his top five smash "You've Got To Stand For Something" have seen just the tip of the iceberg. Tippin's songs, uptempo and ballad alike, sizzle with a brand of passion that has won him a gratifying mix of press accolades and fan response.
"I'm really proud of this new record," Aaron Tippin is saying, his thick South Carolina accent wrapping intensity around every syllable. "Take 'There Ain't Nothin' Wrong With The Radio,' which is the first single. That came out with such a bluesy feeling, just a howling feeling, man and that's the type of country music I like."
Words like bluesy and howling get stretched nearly to the breaking point as he speaks, and his voice dips and twists and climbs like a souped-up Ford on a mountain road.
"I'll tell you where I got this influence from," he continues, lest the listener think the punch and power behind his music came from listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd. "I am from that old world -- Hank Williams and Jimmie Rodgers. They're the guys that turn me on. If that ain't some of the most soulful, butt-kickingest, bottom-end music you ever heard in your life, you're deaf. And I want to have that same type of feeling in my music."
His second RCA album, Read Between The Lines, hones further the pure sound that made his first, You've Got To Stand For Something, so well-received. From the opening syllables of "The Sound Of Your Goodbye (Sticks And Stones)," it is clear we are dealing with unrepentent country, the kind of thing the Nashville Tennessean called "uncompromising, in-your-face hillbilly music...yowling, moaning-the-blues, dirt-floor, hard-core, by-god, Country with a capital 'C'." To hear his vocal cords skidding around the word "blue" in "Blue Angel" is to listen to rock-bottom backwards soul bubbling up from somewhere deep and primal.
It's something he knows works only when it's not planned. "A lot of people miss the point that Hank only yodeled in songs that deserved it, and they put them in the wrong place. If you don't feel where it goes, it sounds stupid."
His voice also brings a hard-won grit to the title track, painfully earned wisdom to "If I Had To Do It Over," buoyant self-esteem to "I Wouldn't Have It Any Other Wasy," and raucous yet wistful recollection in "I Miss Misbehavin'."
"This Heart," the album's truest love love song, with lines like, "This heart really don't belong to me...The man upstairs put it there 'cause he knows what to do/God put this heart in me for you," combines much of what fans and press alike have found appealing in Tippin -- heartfelt lyrics without artifice, driving, straight-ahead music, and raw yet tender vocals.
"I have a tough time expressing that emotion," Tippin says of the song, "so I just have to say it straight out like I did here. And I'm not alone. There's a zillion other cowboy country boy rednecks that would say it just like I would. You know: 'This heart -- it don't belong to me. I don't know what it's doing in here. It's yours. You're the one that's in charge of this thing.'  And I think people know I'm saying it honestly."
That honesty, that raw edge, has clicked with fans, and not just in the South.
"We were in Hershey, Pennsylvania, not long ago," he says, "and when we played 'She Made A Memory Out Of Me,' they went crazy. I don't know why that seemed so strange to me -- there are good old boys in the Bronx. It's what you are inside. And a great country song in Texas is a great country song in Pennsylvania."
Tippin's live show finds him utilizing every bit of his athletic energy, and displaying an openness that enhances his ability to strike responsive chords with his audiences. It's something he particularly likes.
"I enjoy entertaining people," he says. "The great part about being a singer is you get to bring out every kind of emotion. If you've got the right group of songs you can make 'em cry, you can make 'em smile, you can make 'em laugh, you can make 'em mad. And I love to see them go from one end of the spectrum to the other."
Tippin started paying guitar at ten, he played in local bluegrass and country bands, but was headed for a career as a pilot until the energy crunch of the 80's. Following a divorce, he moved to the Nashville area to write songs and try to break in as an artist. It was the songwriting that stuck first. He landed a job as a staff writer at Acuff-Rose, where he also sang on his own demos.
His first album produced the phenomenal "You've Got To Stand For Something." "A 15-year-old girl in Texas wrote to say how much the song helped her in dealing with peer pressure, and I got a letter about a guy who had been in a bad car wreck and didn't care if he lived or died until he saw the 'You've Got To Stand For Something' video. It seems to have meant a lot to so many people, and I'm proud of that. When you can really touch somebody's life in a song, that's a powerful thing."
The song helped the album to impressive sales figures for a debut effort, and helped Tippin establish himself as an entertainer to watch. Still, his rise through the crowded ranks of country singers has been steady and gradual, something he takes philosopically.
"Some guys have had much more immediate success, but I'm very satisfied with how this is going. I've put every rock on this mountain on my way toward the top, and it's like everything else I've done -- when I've had to struggle for it, I sure have loved it more." Tippin continues, "Weight lifting has always reassured me," he continues, "that the ability to endure is the element that is missing most in people's lives. There's a lot of great talent in Nashville that will never surface because the people don't have the endurance. That's not the way. You can't let the money and glory run you. You'd better have a solid purpose and stick it out."
For Tippin, the payoff in putting his all into his craft comes both in the creative process and in front of the people he sings for.
"When you're a writer, many times you have the honor of putting things into words that mean something to other people as well, but the top thrill has got to be walking out on that stage, singing a song and seeing them respond to it, and knowing you wrote it. I don't think it gets any better than that."