Aaron Tippin: Still Truckin’

In the 1980s, it was not the most fashionable thing to be a country music artist. As a genre, country music was nowhere near the force to contend with as it is today. But at the end of the 1980s, the tide was turning.

George Strait, Dwight Yoakam and Randy Travis would usher in what is known as the ‘new traditionalist’ country movement, taking the sounds of traditional honky-tonk country music and adding production flourishes to help make the music more easily digestible for the masses.

A second wave of equally popular entertainers emerged a short time later, one that included Pensacola, Florida’s Aaron Tippin. Tippin’s 1991 debut effort, You’ve Got To Stand For Something, saw that record’s title track become a Top 10 hit. Subsequent Tippin efforts would be received equally well, including his newest release, In Overdrive, a salute to Jerry Reid who helped popularize ‘trucking music.’ Appropriately enough, Tippin took a unique approach when it came to the release and marketing of In Overdrive. Rather than go traditional routes of putting a record into music retailers throughout America, Tippin took his music to the home away from home of the very people he was paying tribute to: the truck stops of the United States. ‘With In Overdrive, we really wanted to turn heads away from where people might normally expect to get their country music and think outside of the Wal-Marts of the world,’ Tippin says while en route to a show in Montana. ‘Guys like myself, Sammy Kershaw, and Randy Travis want to reach those people in the places where they haven’t forgotten about more traditional country music. And what better place to do this than the truck stops of the United States? Artists have been making and releasing records in the same way for the past 50 years. In this day and age, being creative when it comes to your release is what really counts.’ Perhaps no one was more surprised with becoming a country music star than Tippin was himself. Though Aaron says that he was often surrounded by music when he was growing up, he had fully expected to follow in his father’s footsteps and join the aviation industry.

‘Growing up, my brother played electric guitar here and there and I sang in the church choir but I never really had any aspirations to make music full-time. My father was an airline pilot and I had fully intended to follow in his footsteps. I earned my pilot’s licence when I was 15 and by the time I was 20, I was flying professionally.

‘And then in the late 1970s, there was a big energy crisis and suddenly, I didn’t know whether I would be able to follow through on flying full-time. So then I turned back to music. I was running a bulldozer during my days and playing honky tonks at night,’ he says. At the age of 25, Tippin was working in a factory during the overnight hours and would commute to Nashville where he was honing his songwriting craft. He says that Nashville was equally terrifying and exciting.

He was determined to succeed as a songwriter but was never really sure as to whether or not he would be able to achieve his dream.

‘On the old TNN television network, they had a show called ‘You Could Be A Star’ and I made it on there. One of the judges said they thought I had a unique voice and so I went home, quit my job, turned around and went back to Nashville, with this VHS tape of me singing on the show. And for the next five years, I was writing songs but couldn’t get arrested otherwise,’ Tippin laughs.

‘What was nice though is that by the time I got my recording contract when I was 31 years old, I was fairly comfortable being a songwriter. It wasn’t that I had abandoned my hopes of singing but writing songs for others was enjoyable. I was in a position where I could do what I wanted to do and it was a great place to be.’ At the age of 54, Tippin is still going strong, playing approximately 60 shows each year. Though it is a far cry from the 225 shows annually he was playing in the early part of his career, he says that being able to pick and choose his performances are all a part of keeping a good balance of family and work.

‘I’ve got two boys and I always want to spend as much time with them as I can. When you’re young, you can get away with 200 shows a year because you’re young and full of energy. As you get older though, you simply begin to appreciate more things in life. You realize that things like family are what is really important at the end of the day.’

Article published in July 13, 2012 edition of the Times & Transcript