About seven years ago, Sammy Kershaw had a pretty good idea – gather a few country artists who were in peak form in the ‘90s and hit the road together. Some people he knew in Nashville were skeptical that an acoustic, in-the-round show would work. It wasn’t long before Kershaw proved them wrong.
“And we’re still working and now it’s getting better than ever,” says Kershaw, who’s teaming up with Collin Raye and Aaron Tippin on the latest trek of the Roots & Boots Tour. Its popularity even led the guys to add a band.
Just as friendly offstage, these three ‘90s stars caught up with CMT Hot 20 Countdown in Deadwood, South Dakota.
CMT: From your point of view, are you seeing a resurgence in ‘90s music and artists?
Raye: It’s huge.
Kershaw: We see it every night. It’s unbelievable.
AT: Man, kids down in the front row, 18 or 19 years old, singing every song. I’m going, “Who taught you that?”
CR: Just means their parents raised them right. They listened to the right stuff. I don’t think any of us expected that. We kinda figured our audience would grow old with us and I don’t think we ever anticipated their kids — and I don’t know why we didn’t, because the music we loved came out when we were just little kids and we loved it. So, you just never assume it’s gonna happen to you but it’s a beautiful thing right now.
Plus I think the ‘90s was such a big time in country music. Nobody had ever seen any number like that. We were just lucky to be around at that time and I think people are starting to miss it. The last couple years, we’ve noticed it a lot. There’s just a bigger demand for ‘90s country music because we all cut good songs. Sammy always says every singer you heard on the radio sounded different from everyone else. You knew immediately who it was and I think they are missing that.
AT: It was about great songs. You had to cut great songs.
CR: Or you didn’t get on the radio if you didn’t.
SK: Jones and Haggard and those guys passed that to us. They really did. When Jones came on the radio, you’d know who it was. When Tippin came on the radio, you’d know who it was. When Haggard came on, you knew who it was. To me that’s why country music was so great.
CMT: Time has changed that a lot. Do you miss those days or enjoy these days?
CR: For me I’d say these days. These days for sure.
AT: These days are five times better, are you kidding us? Three old coots get to hang out and play our biggest hits.
CR: At the time we were all on such a treadmill because when it’s happening at radio, everyone’s pushing and pushing you, and it’s all part of the deal. You never complain about it but it’s hard to stop and smell the roses and enjoy what’s happening because you’re on a constant deadline. … Now we have our work, we have our catalog, we can still make records, we can still cut stuff, but there’s no pressure to do whatever. We have a fan base. They are apparently not going anywhere.
SK: But it’s still growing.
CR: Still growing. And so I enjoy this a whole lot more and honestly speaking for myself I never thought — what is it, 28 years in? Something like that — that I’d still be getting to do this at the level that we are.
CMT: Do you appreciate it more now?
SK: Of course.
SK: When I signed my record deal I was hoping for a five-year career. I’m in 25 years now and it’s better than ever. I mean, look, I’m not selling records like I was in the early ‘90s…
CR: We sold enough. We sold enough.
SK: We sold enough to be able to continue to work 25 years later.
AT: And I think what we all three would agree on is now we’re totally in charge of our career. We are out here just like we think it ought to be done. Right or wrong or indifferent, and I think we all love that.
CR: We love that very much.
CMT: What would you say to people that feel bad you’re not on the radio anymore? How do you guys feel about your careers?
SK: Well, let me start by saying I’m glad you remember us! But man, you can’t knock success. A lot of boys and girls have a lot of success in what they’re doing. It’s just not for me. I’m a country singer and I’ll die a country singer. Don’t mean I don’t like different kind of music but I won’t change my style to try to get on radio again.
One of these days I still believe that radio is going to wake up one morning and say, “Hey, you know what? Collin or Tippin or myself — one of them boys had an album last year, and there’s an album cut on that I’d like to play this morning.” Bam! And it’s going to stick to the wall like it did back in ‘90 and ’91.
CR: You were talking about Jones and Haggard and Waylon, those guys. Of course they’re the best it’ll ever get, it’ll never get anywhere close. But they had a second and third [phase of their career] because what they did was so good. You thought, “Hey, these guys are still around, let’s keep them going.” And I’m not saying we’re those guys, but we’re the next generation.