I have been blessed to write contributions/reviews/interviews/opinion pieces for several country music and roots-oriented websites and publications over the years including Saving Country Music, Nashville Scene, Country California, Country Weekly, American Noise, The 9513 and Engine 145. As a regular contributor to the last two in that list, I did close to a 100 interviews with different artists- and since both of those great sites have come down, I will reprint some of those interviews here to give them a home in perpetuity. This interview was originally published in April 2010 on The 9513.
But the second of those two decades wasn’t as successful. Since the end of 2001, only three Kershaw singles have charted on the radio. His marriage to Morgan was a tumultuous one and finally ended in divorce in 2007. He went through three different labels- two of them closing their doors while he was on the roster. A former employee was arrested for making threats against his family. A restaurant called HotChickens.com started with Morgan closed resulting in both Morgan and Kershaw to seek bankruptcy protection. Finally, a run for Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana in late 2007 was met with defeat despite the fact that he gained 30% of the vote.
Kershaw is intent on making the third decade of his recording career different from the last, however. With a renewed passion for performing and recording, a new single called “Better Than I Used To Be”, and an upcoming album with the same name, Kershaw is intent on fresh new beginnings. He’s even seriously reconsidering another run for office- hopeful that his passion for his home state of Louisiana will translate to publicity and tourism.
Sammy Kershaw was kind enough to take a break from the road and talk about his Louisiana roots, his new projects and future political ambitions.
KEN MORTON, JR.: Your father passed away tragically at the age of eleven and you played roadhouses and bars as a teenager to help pay family bills. Was music a passion, a necessity or perhaps a little bit of both back in the day?
SAMMY KERSHAW: Music is a passion. Always has been. It wasn’t a necessity. Music was passion and still is. It’s been something I’ve always wanted to do since I can remember. I was four or five years old and singing with George Jones and Conway and those folks when my parents would play those old 45’s. I was singing right along with them.
KMJ: Did you even know back then that you were going to make music as a career?
SK: I knew that’s what I wanted to do. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind. There never was a doubt in my mind.
KMJ: The 1990’s were a huge success for you with a bunch of top-tens, three platinum albums and three gold albums. What was that time like for you?
SK: It was fast. (Laughing) Much too fast. But I enjoyed it. I did. It was a good time in my life. Of course there were some bad times in there even when it was really good in the 90’s. I made some bad choices. I made some good ones too, but I made some bad choices. Some people like to look at the bad choices more than they like to look at the good ones, you know? Sometimes that’s a little hard to overcome. But you just have to keep on digging. Eventually I’ll get there and overcome it. Like the new song says, “I’m not perfect yet, but I’m better than I used to be.”
KMJ: That leads me well into my next question. You’re back in the studio with an upcoming new album called Better Than I Used To Be. First of all, explain the importance of that title.
SK: The album is finished. And to be honest, I had gotten to a point about three years ago where I started thinking that people really didn’t want to hear or listen to my music anymore. Or radio might not play me anymore. I think a lot of singers go through that sometimes. And I went through it. I wasn’t interested in making new music. I kept on touring with the guys, of course. We kept on the road working and stuff. But, like I said, I wasn’t interested in making new music. One day I was sitting on the bus one Saturday morning feeling sorry for myself like we sometimes do from time to time and this old song came on the radio by Johnny Paycheck called “Old Violin.” That’s exactly how I was feeling at the time. I was an old violin to be put away never to be played again. Then it got to the last line of the song, “We’ll give our all to music and we’ll give our live.” That line right then right there changed my whole life and my whole way of thinking about things. I said to myself that maybe people won’t want to listen to me anymore and maybe radio won’t play my stuff anymore, but I have to do some new music for me. It took me back to when I was twelve years old in a country bar singing my very first country song. That’s where it took me to. Right away, I called up my producer Buddy and we began looking for new material. I also knew that I had to find the right song. Two or three months later, I opened up my email and somebody- and to this day I don’t know who- had emailed this song to me. I opened it up and listened to it 30 or 40 times that morning and cried like a sissy every time I heard it. I said, “That’s the song for me, right there.” I knew right then it would be the title track to the album and I also knew it would be the first single. And that’s where we’re at.
KMJ: Beyond that first single, what else can we look forward to hearing on the album?
SK: I have a duet with Jamey Johnson on it. On every album, I go back and rerecord a song that was a hit 20 or 30 years ago. I do that on every album. And I got lucky with one called “Third Rate Romance.” It ended up being a big ole hit record for me. So I was thinking of what song to do and I was sitting in a Lowe’s parking lot one morning picking up some wood. I was listening to satellite radio and a song from 1973 came on. And no one had ever rerecorded it before. So I decided on the song and then thought to myself that I have to make this a duet song. So I called Buddy and asked if he would do a duet with me. I told him the song. It’s “Cover of the Rolling Stone” by Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show. Jamey said he’d love to do it and he showed up one afternoon and we did it in one take. It was the last track to the album.
KMJ: I’ll personally look forward to that one a lot.
SK: It turned out great. Jamey’s such a great vocalist.
KMJ: From a music styling standpoint, is it much of a departure from what we’ve heard from you in the past?
SK: No no no no. It’s just good ole country music. It reminds me a lot of my second album called Haunted Heart that came out in 1993. 1992 or 1993. That’s what it reminds me of and that’s always been my favorite album in my career.
KMJ: Will country radio give the new material an opportunity?
SK: Will they give it an opportunity? Man, I hope so. It seems like it wants to grow some legs right now at radio. We’re not getting any negatives on it, so that’s a good thing. For a long time, I would put a country song out there and they would say that it’s too country and they wouldn’t play it. That kind of hurt my feelings. I would be disappointed because country music is what I do. That’s what’s in my heart and soul. But we’re not getting any of that on this new country record. It feels good to me.
KMJ: Compared to what is being played on country radio, it’s very traditional. What are your thoughts of the current country music radio scene?
SK: Let me put it this way. You can’t knock success. There are a lot of people having a lot of success with the kind of music that they do. You can’t knock that. I can wish I was having that kind of success with my country records, But you can’t knock the success that they’re having. I can’t worry about what everybody else is doing. I have to worry about what Sam does. What I do. That’s what I need to focus on and worry about. That way I know that I’m not going to second-guess myself with material that I cut because radio might feel this way or that way. I can stay true to myself. It can really mess yourself up when you begin thinking that way. I’m choosing not to do what everybody else is doing. I’m not knocking anybody’s success but I’m going to keep doing what I do. Hopefully, somebody at radio will like it and say this is a good straight-ahead country record that everybody’s going to like. That’s all I can hope for.
KMJ: At this stage of your career, what kind of goals and objectives do you still have ahead of you?
SK: I’d still like to put out a lot of hit albums and hit records, of course. I would love to still get a GRAMMY for something, whether that be for songwriting or singing. I’m not much of a songwriter but every once in awhile I get lucky and write one in ten or fifteen minutes. If it goes any longer than that, I get rid of them. I never work on them again. I got a lot of things left in country music. Did you know I’ve never been on a major tour? I’ve never been on a major tour with another artist. Never. That’s another thing I’d like to do.
KMJ: Outside of music, any aspirations still for running for office again?
SK: Yes, I’m thinking of running at the end of this year for the position of Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana again. The election was for next year, but now that office has been vacated since Mitch Landrieu ran for and won the election for mayor of New Orleans. So now somebody’s going to be appointed until a special election this year. I got a lot of people calling me wanting me to get in because we did so well in 07. They would like me to get in that race again. I got a lot of people pulling for us. I’m really thinking hard about it. I really am.
KMJ: What’s the motivation behind wanting to run for Lieutenant Governor?
SK: I love Louisiana. I love the people. I love the cultures. And that’s what the Lieutenant Governor does. He goes out and promotes the state, the people, the cultures, tourism and all that stuff. And not just to the country, but to the world. In Louisiana, we’ve never had anybody that’s really concentrated on that job. Everybody that we’ve ever had in the office has had something else in mind. It’s just been just a position to sit in until a spot in the Governor’s mansion opens up. That’s not what I’m all about. That’s not what I want. I don’t want to be the Governor. I want to be the Lieutenant Governor. We leave so much money on the table in the state of Louisiana because the people in that position don’t do the job. They don’t care about the job. I do. And somebody said the other day, “You’re going to be the second highest ranking official in Louisiana. What happens if something happened to the Governor? Will you be able to go in there and pick up where he takes off?” The thing about it is, I’ll hold the fort down for a little while until you folks can hold a special election. You can elect the guy you want as Governor. I can guarantee you though, my name won’t be on that ballot. The job I want is Lieutenant Governor. That’s the job I would be great at. I’ve been in the promotions business all my life.
KMJ: Your passion shines through. I have one last question for you and this one’s meant pretty open-ended. What is country music to Sammy Kershaw?
SK: George Jones. Merle Haggard. Alan Jackson. I like this new kid Easton Corbin. What a great country song. That’s country music. Jamey Johnson. It’s those great vocalists that when they come on the radio, you know who is singing right away. You don’t have to stop and wonder. I like distinct vocals. I like people that sing with good country soul. That’s what country is to me. It’s about everyday life with everyday people in America. That’s what’s it about. You have to make them cry and you have to make them laugh. Sometimes you have to hit them in between. That’s what country music, the truth. I sing the truth.