Tippin's A Real Piece Of Work

By:  Tony Sauro
The Record ~ 24 June 2002

The last time Aaron Tippin showed up at the San Joaquin Fair, he was seen branishing a toilet plunger during his "Tool Box" phase.  This time this patriot and self-styled "hardest-working man in country music" assembled a bicycle and donated it to Toys for Tots during the first of two shows at the fair Saturday night.

A near-capacity crowd esitmated at 4,600 was digging every minute of it as Tippin -- the 44-year-old Greenville, SC, native who's turned his "hillbilly redneck" roots into a successful 10-year, seven-album career -- broke out the wrench and screwdriver during "Working Man's PhD," one of his proudly defiant blue-collar anthems."

Deftly building the bike as he sang ("There ain't no shame in a job well done"), Tippin told the enthusiastic and eagerly inter-active crowd he started this charitable tradition "four years and 400 bicycles ago.  I believe every child should get at least one toy for Christmas."

That kind of commitment and sincerity defines Tippin's music and attitude, assuring him a loyal and enthusiastic following and allowing him to do a little flag-waving without seeming totally hokey or jingoistic.

The tight, polished 60-minute show started with a recording of the "Pledge of Allegiance" -- he said his 4-year-old, Teddy, had recited it -- and Tippin opened with "You've Got to Stand for Something" ("or you'll fall for anything"), his 1990 hit that became a rallying cry during the Gulf War.

The crowd -- a full range of working folks -- clapped and sang along purposefully.

The intensity rose further when Tippin returned for an encore, broke out an electric guitar with an American flag design painted on it and solemnly sang, "Where the Stars and Stripes and the Eagle Fly," the No. 1 single he released following Sept. 11.

He has said he cowrote the song ("I pledge allegiance to this flag/And if that bothers you, well that's too bad") three years ago and donated its profits to the American Red Cross.

He then closed the show -- which includes eight separate songs and seven- and four-song medleys -- with a message for any future terrorists.

"We'd like the chance to spit right in their eye and say, "Kiss This," he said, before singing the playful and punny honky-tonker about a romantic kiss-off to close the show.

The now-graying Tippin, who deployed a tool box full of props when he visited the fair in 1995, played it comparatively straight this time.

Dressed in T-shirt, blue jeans and cowboy boots -- and singing into one of those Garth-like headsets -- the energetic and animated Tippin was backed by a polished six-man band nicley accented by twanging steel guitar and fiddle.

At one point, he plopped down into a wooden rocking chair while the band did a medley of rock 'n' roll songs about working.  His response?  A miniversion of Johnny Paycheck's "Take This Job and Shove It."

His most poignant songs champion hard work and true commitment (he introduced on fan from Delaware who was attending her "300th Aaron Tippin show").  "I've never had to hang my head in shame/For putting a price tag on my name," he proudly sang during "I Got It Honest," a Steve Earle-worthy rocker.

He introduced "People Like Us," a steel-sweetened rocker -- with its references to "second-hand boats" and "rusty old pickup trucks" -- as his "hillbilly redneck national anthem."

He crammed "every single Aaron Tippin song you ever heard on the radio" into a seven-song medley, with special emphasis on "I'm Leaving," a pretty, heartbroken ballad ("She said I'm leaving/And there's nothing you can do").

He preceded his final red-white-and-blue moments with "There Ain't Nothing Wrong With The Radio," a fiddle- and steel-accented country-rocker with down-home directness and simplicity:  there's nothing the matter with a beat-up old car as long as the radio works.

And plays some Aaron Tippin songs.