sammy kershaw christmas cdThe Nashville Bridge caught up with Sammy Kershaw just as he was getting ready to do some Holiday gigs up north on the Roots & Boots Tour with Aaron Tippin and Joe Diffie.  Sammy has just released a new Christmas collection, A Sammy Klaus Christmas in time to celebrate the season. The Roots & Boots Tour has been celebrating real country music all year long.

Brad Hardisty / The Nashville Bridge: It looks like you are heading up to some cold country.

Sammy Kershaw: I hit North Dakota first and then South Dakota second and come on back, then I’m back in Louisiana.

TNB: Okay, is the South Dakota show just your band or is it Roots & Boots?

SK: No, this is Roots & Boots this weekend.

TNB: Where are you at this morning?

SK: I’m here in Nashville; got in last night, just gettin’ on the bus.

TNB: Are you living here in Nashville now?

SK: No, I live in Lafayette, Louisiana, but, the band and the bus are here in Nashville. I fly into meet them every week.

TNB: I was listenin’ to A Sammy Klaus Christmas, but, let’s talk about the Roots & Boots tour that has turned into a long time successful thing.

sammy kershaw roots and boots 01SK: Yeah man, It is really starting to catch on now. We started at the Isle of Capri Casino on December 17th, 2011 in Lula, Mississippi and it’s just started to kick in now. Of course Joe, Aaron and I recorded some music and we are sending a single to radio the first part of the year and I’m hoping this thing goes through 2014.

TNB: I read back in June that you were going to record going forward.  So, you have a single coming out. That’s fantastic.

SK: Yes. So we’re going to try to get the video shot in the month of December before we get to busy into the Christmas holidays. We will have the video out the middle of January and of course the single following that.

TNB: Is it too early to announce a song title?

SK: Well, yeah maybe just a little bit.

TNB: Okay, we will hold on that but get people excited. Are you working with Butch Carr?

SK: Oh, yeah man. I love Butch. Butch is doing the mixing for me.

TNB: Great!  Are you producing the single?

SK: Yes.

TNB: Looking at the tour, it’s kind of like the country “Rat Pack” it’s growing in popularity.

SK: I tell you what I think. People are really liking it; because, I think a lot of people are missing country music nowadays. I’m not being ugly when I say that. I’m just being honest. I think a lot of people are missing country music and then you have three guys, you got me and Diffie and Aaron Tippin we are all on the stage at the same time and it’s an unplugged show. I think between us you have 85 hit records so we get to each pick six or seven of the biggest hits that we’ve had in our career to do. Aaron sings one then Joe sings one then I’ll sing one then it goes back to Aaron. We do that all night long. What started out to be, was supposed to be a 75-80 minute show is now turned into a two to two and a half hour show. We get to tell stories behind the songs. We pick on each other all night so the chemistry is really good. The folks are really liking the stripped down music. Like I said, I think they are really missing country music. We are having big crowds at these shows man. I’m talking about young folk too, the younger folks in their early twenties, and singing every song.

TNB: I agree with that situation with Country Music. You have what you would call traditional or classic country artists out of Texas and stuff like that, but, then you  got a big influence, people call it the “Fleetwood Mac” influence or “AC/DC” or whatever but it’s kind of changing what you are hearing on the radio. How do you feel about that? Do you think classic or traditional country will come back?

sammy kershaw 01SK: I think so. I have been saying it for a long time and it hasn’t happened yet, but, I’m kind of starting to think that it is fixin’ to happen soon. You know, I used to blame radio, but, I can’t blame radio, radio only plays what the record label will send ‘em. You know, look, I have said this for a long time; Country Music is the only genre that hates itself. It wants to be everything else but Country music.  I don’t understand that. I just don’t get it. We only have a handful of artists anymore that sell platinum albums. They are selling platinum singles or gold singles… selling 500,000 singles or a million single downloads, but, you know what? There’s only a handful of people now who are actually selling a platinum album; 500,000 or a million albums. Not just a single. So, now the record labels make a million selling single out to be this great thing. Well, let’s go back to the eighties and nineties when people were selling a million albums. That’s a great thing, when a guy was able to step up and able to sell a million albums. But, you know, a lot of us are forgotten about now, man. I think we put out some good music and I hate when I hear a few people say,” Well, you all had your time man.” I don’t agree with that; that we had our time. I think the time has changed on us. I think the labels have you know, they (the fans) ask, “Why did you leave country music?” That’s a question that’s asked of me all the time, “Why did you get out of country music?” Well, I didn’t get out of Country music. You know, I didn’t leave Country Music, country music left me. We’re still singing good old country songs and still recording good old country songs, me and Diffie and John Michael Montgomery and Tracy Lawrence and Aaron Tippin. I could go on and on. We’re still recording great country music. It’s just not getting heard anymore. Everything now sounds the same to me.

TNB: I was going to say it seems like a lot of times outside of the United States, they expect to hear a lot of the artists that you are talking about. They don’t expect to hear what’s we are actually listening to here. They don’t consider it country.

SK: That’s right! Hey look man, when we go to Canada, we have some of the biggest crowds when we go to Canada because people love country music up there. People love country music here but that’s just not the way the record labels have drifted on radio. Like I said for a long time, I blame radio. Radio won’t play us anymore, and you know what man, I’ll apologize to radio right now, because, I finally realized that radio can only play what the record label send ‘em. I have a little old record label and I can guarantee you; I record country music. It takes a lot of money these days to get a hit record and that’s a fact. That’s one thing bad about me, I tell it like it is and there’s a lot of people that don’t like it but there is a lot of people that do like it. I’m not the only one who feels that way and knows what’s going on. It’s just, I’m just kind of an outspoken guy and I tell it like it is, but, the truth is the truth and the truth hurts sometimes. You know what? It’s still the truth. I don’t care how in the hell you say it.

TNB: I think you are right. That is why you have this thing called Americana.

sammy_kershaw_branson_2011SK: I see Country stations that are poppin’ up, but, you know what? They’re going to have to adjust that format just a little bit because; they’re going to end up like the classic rock stations. You are going to hear the same songs every day. But, in classic rock, if you go back to listen to classic rock, there’s tens of thousands of hits of classic rock songs so why should we have to hear the same thing every day?  It’s the same thing with our classic country stations. Why do I hear the same country songs every day when there are tens of thousands of country songs that were smashes?!

TNB: That’s why I like WSM, in a positive vein; they will play some deep cuts now and then. Kind of mix it up.

SK: Yes.

TNB: I wish there were more WSM’s across the country that broke new artists that were out of the mainstream but also played a lot of classic cuts. So they would say “Oh, I remember that song.” It’s like hasn’t been played like you said.

SK: Uh – huh

TNB: Let talk about A Sammy Claus Christmas; about picking the songs, I mean you already did the one Christmas album. Did you pick songs that brought childhood memories or something?

courtesy - Sammy Kershaw Entertainment

courtesy – Sammy Kershaw Entertainment

SK: It was just something I wanted to do. I wanted it to sound more like something like a children’s Christmas album that they could sing along with. I know that I hear a lot of Christmas classics that there is so much stuff added into them, you know, I know everybody wants to be different; put their own mark on a Christmas song, but, sometimes you know you want to hear the simple way it was done a hundred years ago. I wanted kids to be able to experience what a real Christmas is. You know it’s changed a lot from when I was a boy. Also, when the older people, like myself, and a little bit younger and a little bit older, when they listen to it, I wanted it to be able to take them back when they were little kids to their memories when they were children. We spent a whole month trying to guess what was wrapped underneath the tree. Nowadays, it’s mostly gift cards and money. There’s no thought in that…and I’m guilty of it too. I give all my children money for Christmas, but, I understand they have families now and they could use money more than anything else. Especially in these times, the way they are now in this economy. But, I would love to see Christmas come back. One of my biggest dreams in life is to be the real Santa Claus. I know it sounds stupid and people say it’s crazy but tell me what the hell you want. I really don’t give a shit.  I don’t man. I would love to be the real Santa Claus so kids could feel what Christmas really is. And of course you got to keep Christ in Christmas, that’s it for me man. Like I said, I don’t give a shit what they think. They can say “Oh he’s crazy. He wants to be Santa Claus, what an idiot.” Well, you can call me what the hell you want, you think I give a shit? Not me. I’m happy man. I’m happy thinkin’ that I’d love to be Santa Claus. At least I have some dreams, some people don’t.  That’s’ a hell of a life.

TNB: Well, I think A Sammy Klaus Christmas was a great title. I’ll tell you the cut I really love was “That Spirit of Christmas” it reminded me almost of a Muscle Shoals – Dan Penn kind of thing. I loved it.

SK: Thank you man.

TNB: Were you thinking a little bit like that when you were doing the arrangement or anything?

SK: No, I remember Ray Charles’ arrangement. It has a choir and everything else on it but I didn’t want it to be that complicated. I wanted it to be more of a stripped down version of that song and I didn’t want the harmonies exactly where they had ‘em. I didn’t want that big choir sound in it. So, I went through line by line when I had the background vocals to sing. I went line by line and sought out where I wanted to put a background vocal.

TNB: I was ready to see the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, like, David Hood on that cut, I was like, wow! This is cool. Obviously, everybody is talking about “Santa Claus is Back In Town.” You got that little Elvis and a little Delbert McClinton, tell me what you were thinking on that.

SK: Well, I’m a South Louisiana Boy, you know, we have all kinds of music there, you know, we have good country music and good southern rock and we have zydeco music, French music, swamp pop music we call it.  We got jazz, we got blues, and that’s kind of my deal anyway, all those different kinds of music, that’s how I came up with my sound to start with. Just has soulful stuff.

TNB: I’d almost say when I hear some of those cuts like you do. I think of that soul country back when Delbert McClinton was kind of that.  The Tanya Tucker thing you know. I could see that.

SK: Well, even George Jones is the King of Country Soul man. You know, and I will tell you Ronnie Van Zant, the late Ronnie Van Zant. He sang for Lynyrd Skynyrd, you know, and look man, to me he was a country soul singer in a rock and roll band.

TNB: You can start to talk about Eddie Hinton, Donnie Fritz, and some of those cats.

SK: Yeah man, I just like to feel what he’s feeling when he’s singing. I want to feel his art and his soul or her heart, her soul, you know. I want to feel that.

TNB: Are you going to do any of the Christmas songs live?

SK: I would think so. Yeah, I think I may do one this weekend. I don’t care what Joe or Aaron do, I may do one.

TNB: What one would you want to do?

SK: I’m going to talk to my band when we get on the road here and try to figure that one out, see what we can pull off acoustically.

TNB: As far as the album goes, you’ve got the distribution though Sony/RED. I guess you got it out there on Amazon and stuff.

SK: Yeah, Amazon and I Tunes, you can get it at I mean of course, everything is out there on the internet now. There are not very many record stores still in business anymore.

TNB: I know around here, there is Grimey’s.

SK: But, you can get hard copies from, like I said, Amazon and or you can just download it from I Tunes.

TNB: Before we go, what’s your kind of memories of Christmas, you talk about what Christmas used to be. Are there any specific memories you want to share?

SK: Yeah, like I said Christmas, I remember when we used to have to guess for two or three weeks what was wrapped under that tree. Of course, we would get out of school for two weeks at Christmas time. You had Christmas and of course, New Years follows. We had a whole week for thanksgiving the month before. And when Christmas rolled around we had two weeks to hang out with our friends and all that stuff and, you know, our Christmas’s in Louisiana weren’t like a lot of the rest of the country. I remember that they were foggy and pretty long and muggy. You know we would go outside and play and have a lot of fun, like, all night long.  We would, all the kids in the neighborhood would get together. We wouldn’t go in the house until it was 10:30. We would hang around outside. We wouldn’t get into trouble. We did a few things, you know, we had fun. I’ll put it that way, we just had fun. We didn’t hurt nobody.  But, nowadays, I don’t see kids play outside anymore. It’s a sad thing man…sad.

TNB: Did you have a musical family? Did you hang out and play music?

SK: No, I’m the only one that ended up doing music in my family. I don’t know why or how it happened that way, but, I’m the only one who ended up doing music.

TNB: What kind of food, Louisiana food, any difference down there during the holidays?

santa_cajunSK: A lot of gumbo’s of course. And of course we do Fried Turkeys. We invented fried turkey down there in Cajun country you know. And of course a lot of rice dressing and candied yams, all that kind of stuff. But, it was Cajun. A lot of flavor and spice, not necessarily hot, there’s a difference between hot and spice. Spicy is a lot of flavor. Hot is just burn your mouth.

TNB: Well, Happy Holidays, anything else you want to talk about real quick?

SK: I think we’re done.

TNB: Good luck with the rest of the year. You have dates going into the middle of summer. Good luck!

SK: You need to keep on rockin’!

– Brad Hardisty, Nashville, TN