In the 1990s you couldn’t turn on a country radio station and listen for an hour without hearing a song from a handful of artists. One of those lucky artists was Sammy Kershaw. Known to folks as one of the best country stylists with an uncanny ability to recall George Jones, Kershaw has released nine albums with three attaining Platinum status while three others, including The Hits: Chapter One attained Gold status. Eleven songs reached the Top 10 including “Queen of my Double Wide Trailer,” “National Working Woman’s Holiday,” “Cadillac Style,” “Haunted Heart” “Maybe Not Tonight,” and the chart topper “She Don’t Know She’s Beautiful.”
In this interview Sammy Kershaw discusses his career while also discussing his new single “Better Than I Used To Be” and his upcoming album of the same name. He’s also working on a few other projects and discusses them as well.
Matt Bjorke: So you’ve been recording hits since the early 1990s. So what’s it mean to you to still be able to have songs out on the radio?
Sammy Kershaw: Oh, good lord, man, it lets me continue to be able to do what I love to do so much. I haven’t had a hit in a long time, you know, but we’ve got this new single out, Better Than I Used To Be” and hopefully it will take off and grow some legs for us.
Matt: What have been some of the highlights of your career?
Sammy: I’ve gotten to record with George Jones, I’ve had a few platinum and gold albums and just a couple weeks ago I was inducted into the Louisiana State Hall of Fame. That was a big highlight right there. Awards and all of that stuff are really nice but when your home state recognizes you that way, that’s pretty damn cool and there are a lot of good people in there. I’ve had a lot of highlights…
Matt: How fun is it to you to be able to go out and perform all the hits for the fans?
Sammy: You know, a lot of times I go and listen to people and they throw a lot of other songs in their shows and it takes up all their time and they don’t do the hits. I throw some other songs into my sets but I make sure to do all the hit records because that’s what people come to see. That’s what I do plus I love the live shows, that is what I live for. I like to record the records, the videos and all of that stuff but when it comes down to it, the best part of this business is me performing live because (snaps his fingers) I get it back right there from the fans. That’s what we live for. I tour all year long; I don’t do six months on and six months off. I don’t do that. I tour right up ‘til a few days before Christmas and get back out there a couple of weeks into January and go back ‘til Christmas again.
Matt: So, in addition to being an artist you’ve worked on a cookbook. What kind of food will be found in the cook book?
Sammy: All Cajun food, from southwest Louisiana.
Matt: So it’s quite a bit of spicy food…
Sammy: Yeah that’s the thing about Cajun food. But when people think of Cajun, they often think hot but that’s a little bit of a misconception because Cajun food’s all about spice. But Yeah it’s a Cajun cookbook all along with an autobiography. So while they’re fixin’ Cajun etoufe, they can read a chapter of my life.
Matt: That’s a very good idea…
Sammy: Thank you! I was talking to a guy a while ago and he said “man, I’ve never heard of that, how’s that gonna work?” I said back “I don’t know, but we’ve gotta try it.” Some people may buy it just to read my story…
Matt: and vice-versa, some folks may want it for the recipes and they get the story or they love the story so much they cook the recipes.
Sammy: and Cajun food isn’t that hard to cook, it’s a real simple food.
Matt: You were recently in the film “Suicide Notes.” How much have you acted before?
Sammy: Well, I’ve acted a few times before this but they were small parts, and this is a small part but a friend who was in the Sopranos from New York called me up one day and said “Sammy, I’m going to do an independent film in Houston and there might be a small part for you in it.” And so I said, “well get it.” And a couple of hours later the director called and offered me the part and they asked me to write the song for the movie. Then I thought, “How in the hell do I write a song about suicide.” Then I read the script and found out it was a dark comedy and thought, I can do that, that’s a good way to go at this topic, where this guy tries and tries to commit suicide but try as he might, he can’t do it.
Matt: I read a book with a similar theme like that called “A Long Way Down.” It seems like dark comedy is the right way to approach that topic.
Sammy: It really is…
Matt, so your upcoming album, Better Than I Used To Be is produced by Buddy Cannon. What is it like to be working with the man who produced so many of your past hits?
Sammy: It’s great for me because Buddy is a song man. And I guess the biggest thing is that I read one time where a writer asked him who the top 3 singers in Nashville were, to him, and he said George Jones, Vern Gosdin and Sammy Kershaw. So it’s not hard to work with a guy that believes in you and for a guy to say something like that, he must believe in you that much and with him being a song man and a nice guy It wasn’t hard for me to call him up and ask him to produce the record.
Matt: And looking at the credits and seeing Hugh Prestwood, Billy Yates and so many great writers on there…
Sammy: There’s some big hitters on there…
Matt: including you…
Sammy: I’m not a great writer, myself and don’t write much but I get lucky sometimes.
Matt: What made “Better Than I Used To Be” the right song to introduce the project?
Sammy: Well, the last few years hadn’t been the best for me. Every day something bad would happen. The days it wasn’t bad, it was worse. So I had just gotten to the point where I thought people didn’t wanna hear me or my music anymore and radio wouldn’t play it anymore. And one Saturday mornin’ I am sitting there feeling sorry for myself, as we all do from time to time, I was sittin’ and listenin’ to the radio when an old Johnny Paycheck song came on. It is called “The Old Violin.” I always loved the song but I guess I never really listened to the lyrics but I listened to them that day. “Like an old violin soon to be put away and never played again,” and that’s how I was feelin’ but then the last line came on “We’ll give our all to music and we’ll give our life.” And that took me back to when iwas 12 years old singin’ my first country song in a barroom. I then thought, maybe people won’t wanna here or radio won’t play my music anymore but I have to make some more music for me. That’s when I called up Buddy. And two or three months later I received an email and I still don’t know who it is from but it was that song and I listened to it twenty or thirty times and cried like a baby every time I heard it. I knew right then it was gonna be the title cut of the album and be the first single. So that’s how we’re here.
Matt: What are you drawn to first, the lyric or the melody?
Sammy: Well it’s gotta be the lyric. I have to live it. If I haven’t lived it, I won’t cut it. I don’t care how much of a hit record it might be. I won’t cut it. We’ll send it to somebody else. I gotta sing what’s real. That’s been my equation for 40 years now.
Matt: And that’s probably why you’re still here while others have come an gone…
Sammy: Well, I don’t know but that’s my equation and it seemed to work pretty good for me for a while and I got into a slump for a while and got into some circumstances, things that happened, with nobody to blame for it but me. Hopefully I’m outta that now and I know I’m not perfect but I’m better than I used to be.
Matt: So you have “The Cover of The Rolling Stone” on this record and it features Jamey Johnson. Would you ever consider a full album like that?
Sammy: Yes, I would. And now I’ve actually got all the songs done and just need to get the girl singers on it. It’s a blues album that I wrote with a friend and I can’t wait to get it out and share it with everybody.
Matt: Yeah, and with the internet it allows you to be able to do these types of projects…
Sammy: Yeah, it’s opened it up quite a bit.
Matt: So what would you like to say to the fans that may be reconnecting with you or learning about you for the first time?
Sammy: Thank you for the life-long dream. I know, I know, I’m not a dummy, that there are a lot better singers out there than me and they will never get to live the life-long dream and I have, and the fans are what gave me that, so I thank them for giving me everything.