JAM Magazine Main Features

Sammy Kershaw

Cruising Up The Country Charts

Hot country newcomer Sammy Kershaw may be cruising "Cadillac Style" these days, but it wasn't so long ago that the 34-year old songster forgot what making music was all about.

"I just forgot about why I was in the [music] business - because I love the music so much," conceded Kershaw, regarding his pre-country fame lifestyle. "I was drinkin', doin' drugs, you know, and things like that.

"It got bad for a while and put a strain on my (current) marriage, and I wasn't having fun anymore, so I figured it was time for me to get out of [music] for a while and be good and remember why I got into the music business at 12 years old to start off with," said the Cajun crooner. "And when I did that, I knew I wasn't quite ready to get back in the business yet."

During his two-years hiatus from the performance circuit, Kershaw - a distant cousin to Cajun performer Doug Kershaw ­got his home life and priorities in order, leaving his music far behind. "I hadn't picked up a guitar, hadn't sung a note in two years and wasn't going to until things were right," he added, "(and) until I could do it the right way."

Luckily for Kershaw and the country music community at large, though, the Kaplan, La., native got it right. As proof, he's now touring in support of his debut album for Mercury/PolyGram titled Don't Go Near The Water and his newly released third single, "Yard Sale," a tear-jerker of a tune about a couple selling their possessions as a result of their divorce.

Local concertgoers will get a chance to see Kershaw in his best element, the live arena, come July 11 when he performs beginning at 10:30 p.m. at Billy Bob's Texas, 2520 Rodeo Plaza, in the Fort Worth Stockyards.

As for the formula to his newfound fame, Kershaw's philosophy for success, simply put, is to not have one. Or so it seems.

"I don't worry about life at all, you know," deadpanned the singer, his green eyes shielded by dark sunglasses in the dim interior of his tour bus. "Why should you?... I don't think about a whole lot of things, you know. I just go for it. I mean, what are you gonna get out of life if you don't go for it? You may miss something. Go!"

"I mean, you only live once; when you're dead, you're gone" he added, "You gotta make life fun, man, ... and if you're not having fun doing what you do, find something else to do. If you can't have fun, stay home. It's simple. And I'm having fun."

Indeed, the Kaplan, La., native - a sometime stand-up comedian, an almost pro baseball player and a reportedly excellent Cajun chef - is no stranger to fun. And much of his said fun came about during the singer's 21 years in the music business, which began when Kershaw was 12 and working for an accomplished local musician, J. B. Berry, on the Louisiana club circuit.

"It was a great experience," remarked Kershaw of the eight years he spent as Berry's protege. "We got to open shows for almost all of the major Nashville stars, so I heard them all sing. I was singing songs by everybody - George Jones, B. J. Thomas, Charlie Rich, Ray Charles - and later the Allman Brothers.

"I'd say George Jones was my biggest influence. I first met him when I was just a boy, and years later we became friends and hung out quite a bit together. I even sang duets with Louie Morgan (then a member of Jones's band) a time or two when George didn't show."

These days, however, Kershaw is being compared to Jones, country's favorite "Possum," thanks to his vocal stylings. But the former is quick to point out that he ain't copying nobody, not even his idol.

"I look at it as a compliment," he said of the critics' comparison, "(but) I'm not trying to be George Jones. This is natural harmonics. You can tell by the way I sound. You can tell by the way I talk; it's natural. There ain't nothing I can do about that.

"All my life I've tried to sound different when I go into the studio to cut (record) something, but when I'd hear it back, it sounded fake to me. So now, when I open my mouth, it's me. It's coming from the heart; it's that simple."

Granted Kershaw's "natural harmonics" have served him well thus far. His debut single and video, "Cadillac Style," cruised into the nation's top five on the country charts, and his second track, "Don't Go Near The Water," hit No. 3 in Billboard.

As for his latest chart success in a genre that's more competi­tive than ever, Kershaw shrugs, saying, "If it happens it happens, if it don't happen, I can still go back to Louisiana and swing that hammer.

"I'm one of the best finish carpenters you'll ever find in your life, so it doesn't matter to me either way," he countered, maw of factly. "I mean, I love what I'm doing. I'm glad the people have given me my lifeling dream. I'm doing what ! really love to do and having fun at it, but I think if the people decided that I'm not what they want as far as for music, I can go home and have fun building houses again. You can't let things control you that much in life."

With his shades still in place and a James Dean T-shirt on his back, one readily gets the impression that little, if anything, controls Kershaw, a self-described "live-wire" of a guy who, on this day, admitted to having busted two Gibson guitars - not to mention one near-demolition during a recent Baton Rouge concert - in his zeal to entertain the masses.

"I have fun, man," he exclaimed, regarding his frenzied live shows. "I don't (break the guitars) on purpose, ...All I want to do is come in here and have fun with those people, 'cause I know what it's like to work hard all week for that dollar. And for them to come in here and spend that dollar at that door to come see us 'cause they like what we're doing, then that makes it all worth­while. Those people are more important than anybody."