You can bet that anything with Sammy Kershaw’s name on it is going to be as authentic as a spicy cajun dish whipped right up from the heart of the blistering bayou swampland. Whether it’s his unpeeled candidness about life as he knows it, or his live-and-learn approach to deep-rooted country music, Sammy testifies and sings the best way he knows how — honestly.
Hailing from Cajun country’s southern Louisiana, Sammy barreled onto the country music scene in 1991 with the raw and rambunctious “Cadillac Style.” Fans were blasted with both a firecracker radio hit and an introduction to one of the most genuine country singers that had literally come out of the woodwork in a long time. A string of radio hits and multi-platinum albums later, Sammy was destined to be a staple in country music.
With a six-pack of albums now under his belt, including Labor Of Love, perhaps his best work yet; Sammy’s singing with more grit-and-gut glory than ever. His recent hit, “Love Of My Life,” which unveiled a refreshingly different shade of the singer’s vocal talent than we’ve heard before, has him back with yet another bolt of excitement.
“Oh yeah, it feels like I’ve got a brand new career right now,” admits Sammy. “I’ve got a new producer, Keith Stegall, so it does feel like I’m starting all over again. The song, “Love Of My Life,” was a little different for me, and I think that played a big part in how it turned out. Nobody was expecting that out of me.
“With this whole album, we just kinda dropped the keys on all the songs and got into a different register to where I wasn’t really having to sing so high anymore,” he continues. “I think the quality of my voice comes out a little more. All that is Keith Stegall’s doings. I probably never would have done that if he hadn’t come forward to produce my album. But I don’t feel like I did a whole lot for this album myself. It was all Keith and Luke Lewis from Mercury Records. Those two guys just really helped me out a lot on this album. Luke let Keith and I just do what we wanted to do, and I listened to what Keith had to say and did what he wanted me to do. So I really can’t take all the credit.
“So it feels like ‘Cadillac Style’ all over again. It’s all really different, and it feels kinda weird, but that’s the only way I know how to describe it. It’s like the second leg of my career.”
Although Sammy’s career has been nothing short of successful — turning out critically praised projects like 1991’s Don’t Go Near The Water and 93’s Haunted Heart — the multi-platinum seller has, however, recently undergone what many artists refer to as a “slump” phase. While he’s continued to tour and work as hard as ever, his radio results, prior to “Love Of My Life,” haven’t seemed as gratifying as with previous hit streaks. Sammy knows, however, that it’s all a part of simply learning to “hang in there.”
“There was a while there that I was even wondering if I was going to have this career left,” he explains. “That happens, but you have to be able to hang in there and make the best of what the good Lord gives you. If you see an open hole of any kind, you need to jump through that hole and try to make a new deal. I realize that I did just get lucky, and so far, we’re just kinda hanging in there. That’s about all you can ask for these days. There’s so much going on and so many new artists. We just want to try to stay steady, hang in there and be consistent. I think if you can do that, well hell, you can have a career for as long as you want it.”
Sammy has wanted it for a long time. Having experienced somewhat of a devastating childhood, he learned early on that he could reach out to music for comfort. At age 11, he dealt with the pain of his father’s tragic death. He’s suffered the heartaches and emotional tugs of broken marriages, as well as emotional stints with drugs and alcohol. His deep affinity for music, however, began when his mother soothed him to sleep with the music of Hank Williams.
Confronting such devastation and developing independent survival techniques have become vital guidelines for the entertainer even today. In the midst of enormous career success, Sammy still prefers to do his own hard work, breaking a lot of sweat, and he regards the calluses on his hands as a result of a job well done.
“I’m not into all the limousines and all of that stuff,” he admits. “That’s just a waste of money to me. So I don’t ever want people to think I’m some kind of ‘uppity’ kind of guy, because I’m not. I’m like most everybody else. I’m just like anybody else. I’m probably a harder worker than a lot of people, and I’m talking about physical work. I work all the time — building barns or tearing them down, remodeling houses and building houses, welding or cutting out roads in the woods with a bulldozer. We have a horse farm here, too. I just do regular things. That’s what I’m into. I say what I want to say, and some people like that and some people don’t. I also do the things I want to do. Tomorrow I may not have the chance to tell someone how I really feel about something, because I may die today. I guess I just can’t sit still either. I always have to be doing something. To me, if I’m not doing anything, I’m wasting my time. But I just really love doing those kind of things. So why should I pay somebody to do the things that I love to do for myself, plus hold onto some money. I’m tight, man,” he laughs. “That’s just the way it is and that’s how I live my life — like I’ve got only one day to live. I’m not a believer in wasting time, because we really don’t have that much time. Time that you waste is time that you will never get back, no matter what you do.”
Like the commitment to his farm and his music, the hard work and time that Sammy has devoted to his music videos has hardly been a waste of time either. Being selected as the March CMT Showcase Artist carves yet another rewarding notch into his already long list of accomplishments. Sammy is the first to admit how important his videos have been to his career.
“Videos have really helped me out a lot,” he explains. “They gave me an overnight identity with ‘Cadillac Style.’ Of course, some of the records that I’ve had maybe didn’t get a whole lot of airplay in some markets, but in those markets, CMT was on their TVs and they got to see and hear the songs. That really helped us out. Sometimes you may not hear a record a lot on radio, but it can still be a big video hit. So somebody is still listening to it. But then there are times when a video is maybe not playing so much on TV but radio is just burning it up. So they kinda help each other out. I know that videos have really helped me out a lot.”
Sammy’s latest video for his new single, “Matches,” will hopefully serve as the same phenomenal force. If ever there was a hot video, it’s this one. The song and video unveils the tragic story of a desperate man who opts to set fire to the bar where he met the woman that later broke his heart. The video character decides that the only way to rid such painful memories is to get rid of the bar itself with, you guessed it, the very matches he got from the bar the night the couple met.
Sammy, however, is not at all the sole music-making lumberjack he often describes himself. The devoted husband and father is also one of the biggest NASCAR buffs around, and is as competitive as they come.
Sammy’s commitment to his farm extends to the outdoors. His persimmon tree is among those in the Famous & Historic Trees project.
“The new NASCAR race season just started this year and we have a new driver, Dale Shaw, so we’re anxious to see what happens, he explains with an explosion of excitement. “This is our fourth year going in as a Busch Grand National car owner. Hopefully this year, we’ll see better results than we have in the past. But it just gets better every year. But hopefully this year, we’ll finally get up there and have us a couple or three wins. So I’m really excited about this new season.
“I’m so competitive at everything I do,” he continues. “I don’t care if it’s just putting a piece of wood on the wall. I want it level. I want it to look the best that it can, so I’m going to nail it with just the right nail, and I want it to look better than the guy down the wall from me who’s putting his board up. I guess I’m a little harder on myself than anyone else, though. But I choose to beat myself up sometimes. I’m not complaining. I realize that I just set big goals and have big dreams. Who knows — one of these days I might fool around and catch them big dreams.”