Sammy Kershaw: Looking Back… and Looking Forward

The singer continues to pack crowds with his classics, for which he is grateful – as well as to have risen to prominence at a classic point in the format.

Written by Chuck Dauphin
Sammy Kershaw: Looking Back… and Looking Forward
Photo courtesy Absolute Publicity

Twenty-five years ago this fall, Sammy Kershaw found himself moving up the charts for the first time with “Cadillac Style.” It was a song that would lead to well over a decade of hits that included “Don’t Go Near The Water” and “Love Of My Life.” The singer was far from a newcomer at that time, however. Kershaw tells Sounds Like Nashville that having been performing since his teenage years, he had a good feeling that success was on his way.

“I knew it was my time before the record was ever released. When I went to do my showcase, I knew it was my time to have hit records. I had been chasing that dream for twenty-one years, and then the dream found me one day. I just knew it was my time, deep down in my heart and soul,” he recalls.

Though he proudly sings that first hit every night, he wasn’t too keen on it back in 1991. “It actually wasn’t my favorite song. I really didn’t like the song that much. Buddy Cannon said ‘Try it. If it works, great. If not, we’ll move on to the next song.’ When we cut it, I remember listening to the playback, and saying ‘Yeah, man. That is me.’ Every record is a great feeling when it is going up the charts, but the first one is something you’ve worked for all your life. It was definitely something special.”

A project that is also special for the singer is his new Blues-tinged album, The Blues Got Me. It’s one that has been on his radar for a while. “I’ve been wanting to do the record for years. When I moved back to Louisiana, we just decided to do it – with two or three of my friends. We actually ended up doing it in about a week,” he said.

When asked about his fans’ reaction to the new sounds, he said “We’ve only been playing one song off the album, but we’ve been doing that one for a few years, and they love the song. We’re about to see, as we play more and more of the album, what they think – but so far, so good.”

Though he does step outside his normal parameters on the disc, Kershaw admits that fans won’t be thrown off-course too much. “It’s pretty much true to what I’ve always done. I call it a Blues album, and there are a few blues tunes on it, but it’s also got some Louisiana-mix type stuff on it that lends a Zydeco feel in some spots, and a few of the songs have a Cajun sound. There’s definitely a little Swamp-Pop to it. There’s just a lot of different kinds of music.”

Kershaw says there were several artists that influenced the sounds on The Blues Got Me, but two kept coming back to his radar. “I loved Otis Redding. Ronnie Van Zandt was another one. To me, he was just a country soul singer in a rock and roll band. If you don’t have any soul in the blues, you don’t really have anything – and that’s what I’m all about is music with soul in it. If you don’t have soul, it’s just music to me.”

Going back to the ‘beginnings’ of Kershaw’s career, what was the big difference of radio stardom? “It really wasn’t anything different, because I was used to twenty-one years of bars and nightclubs and things like that. The only thing that was different was that people were coming out to see me and hear my own stuff instead of everyone else’s. That was the difference – they were there to see me and to hear me do my own hits.”

The singer continues to pack crowds with his classics, for which he is grateful – as well as to have risen to prominence at a classic point in the format. “It was a great time to be in Country Music. I came out at a time when record labels were still building careers. The 90s were a great time to be a part of. I think a lot of that sound is coming back, and a lot of artists from that era are starting to work a lot more. It was one of those times in Country Music that people will never forget.”