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Sammy Kershaw admits greed, stays with country

By Tom Netherland, May 2003

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Such descriptions demand explanation. Several years ago while in search of crossover success, Kershaw lost track of the music that made him a name.

"When 'Love of My Life' was a big ol' hit record, about that time I saw a lot of artists' crossing over, having success with crossover records," Kershaw says. "I just knew that 'Love of My Life' was gonna cross over. When it didn't, that just blew my world up."

Therein lay the roots of Kershaw's subsequent sub-par albums.

"I've thought about it and there's only one thing that I can come up with: I got greedy," he says with a distinctive Southern deep drawl. "I was confused, and I got greedy, man, and I can't blame anybody but myself. I don't want to say anybody's greedy, but I got that way trying to reach a different audience. I got greedy, and it sure came and bit me on the ass."

Those records included such throwaway material as "Ouch" and "Louisiana Hot Sauce." The prior version of Sammy Kershaw, the one who hit big with "Cadillac Style" and "Yard Sale," could be counted on for meaty country music. Carnivores of straight country found much to munch on with his tunes.

Yet the Sammy Kershaw of the late '90s appeared to fall into step with a crowd of country singers who sold out and tried to go pop. Enticed with the sales promise of crossover success and subsequent large paydays, Kershaw certainly isn't the only singer to have become intoxicated by the lure of greenbacks.

"I didn't know what to record anymore," he says. "When you start hearing things like, 'We can't play that record, it's too country,' I just started to get confused. Before you know it, I'm tellin' myself I need to find a song like that song or a song like this song. Before you know it, I was all confused and didn't know what to do anymore. I was lost. I'm ashamed to say it, too."

Talk about telling it like it is. Kershaw is not one to curb his words or avoid responsibility.

"I'm not that way. I always say what I have to say. That's got me in a lot of trouble now and then, but that's just the way it is."

Kershaw's tell-it-like-it-is style in part helped translate talent and drive into a music career in the first place. Real country music does not tend to cater to or put forth waffle-waffle music. They want songs that hurt hard with heartaches aplenty, steel guitars so strong as to slice slabs of concrete.

Despite much notice to the effect, Kershaw was no match for the stone cold country of George Jones, but the former Wal-Mart remodeling supervisor wasn't exactly Bryan White wilted, either. He came to country just as country was about to blossom nationwide in a huge way. That helped - and came to hurt - Kershaw.

"I came on the scene back in a time when they were still building careers," Kershaw says. "I don't see much career-building anymore. I came in with some good people, too. Pam Tillis, Brooks & Dunn, Tracy Lawrence - there was a bunch of us. The class of '92 was a good class with good music, good country music, good singers. Good writers. I'm proud of the '92 class."

Since then, country gradually veered toward pop. As sales climbed, expectations soared. Turns out many were unrealistic expectations. Yet more than one country singer like Kershaw sort of lost their way while in search of that big crossover hit.

As time passed, traditional country music didn't seem to matter as much as gonzo sales.

"I don't know why it quit mattering," Kershaw says. "The more I listen to radio lately, the more I hear country music start to trickle back into the playlists. That's a good sign. That's a good thing for me anyway cause I'm country, man. I really messed up when I tried to be something else. So, I have to stay with country. That's Sammy Kershaw."

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