Interview: On His New Album, Sammy Kershaw’s Got the Blues
When talking about his music philosophy, Sammy Kershaw always comes back to the same things: Don't mess with the classics. Let a song breathe. Wrap up a record while it's fresh.
Sometimes it's hard to tell if Kershaw is talking about recording or fine wine, but if we're using metaphors, in the case of Kershaw's latest project, The Blues Got Me, it's a vintage that's been bottled up for seven or eight years. Not that he's been working on the album for that long; actually, Kershaw recorded the disc years ago and hasn't touched it since.
"We didn't change anything," he tells The Boot. "We didn't change a thing. It's seven or eight years old. That's it, period. It's done."
Kershaw doesn't believe in nitpicking. He trusts what he captured with the original recording.
"I don't want to lose the feel," he explains. "And there's a certain feel when you first record a song, there's a certain feel you get in the studio from all the musicians. It's fresh and exciting, and I want to keep that fresh and exciting feel on that record. If we go in there and start nitpicking it every day -- look, I could have a guitar player do his ride 50 times in one day, but by the time it's over, you can't tell which one you like out of 50."
The way Kershaw approaches guitar solos -- and all aspects of recording -- is much more organic. He likes to let it ride.
"Nothing was planned," he says of recording The Blues Got Me. "All four of us were sitting in a room ... with a board and microphones, and that's it. There was no planning out rides, there was none of that. When I wanted somebody to ride, I'd just nod at them, and we'd take a ride ... there was no planning. We just sat and did it. It was very raw."
To hear Kershaw talk, it sometimes seems as though all of the choices on his album were a happy accident. Take, for example, his cover of Solomon Burke's "Honey, Where's the Money Gone": It just so happened that Kershaw heard Burke's recording of the tune on the drive into the studio one day ... and he decided to cut it.
"We Googled it and listened to it a couple of times, wrote the lyrics down, and cut it," Kershaw recalls. "It was something I lived before, and I just loved the song."
"A hit is always a hit," he reasons. "I've done a lot of cover tunes in my career, but I've never changed the song, because the song was a hit for a reason ... people liked it for a reason."
Kershaw also won't record a song, cover or otherwise, if he hasn't lived it.
"When you listen to my music, it's honest music," he notes. "I've lived everything I sing about. If I haven't lived it, I won't sing it."
Even though he only sings songs that he's lived, Kershaw is usually performing tunes written by someone else. But this album is different: He wrote or co-wrote seven of the songs on The Blue Got Me. That choice was "kind of unheard of for me," he admits, but -- another happy accident -- the songs "... just came to me, and so I put them on this album."
The Blues Got Me is a record that Kershaw has been wanting to record for nearly 35 years. But in many ways, "blues" is just the overarching genre umbrella; underneath that umbrella, Kenshaw says, is a lot of Louisiana-inspired music that's hard to classify.
"There is some blues traditional-sounding things on here, but there's also, like, Cajun-y-seasoned blues," he says. The album also has "one song in there that's got kind of a New Orleans shuffle ... it's just a zydeco-flavored blues song. It's just different types of music that we have in Louisiana, and I don't know ... where you would put the music except in blues."
Now that his blues album is finally out, does Kershaw feel the need to explore more genres? Not necessarily, the singer says -- not unless the spirit moves.
"Look, I just do what I feel. I just do what makes me happy," he muses. But along with traditional country music, Kershaw does have plans to record a gospel album and a swamp-pop album. He likes having special projects in the works.
"I love all kinds of music ... and when I'm not working on a country record, I don't want to be not making music just because I'm not ready to make another country record," he admits. "I've been doing this for 46 years, so special projects, to me, that's exactly what they are -- they're special projects."
As his career continues, Kershaw is adapting to the changes in the music industry. He says that "radio's not gonna play me again," but he's fine with that. For him, the name of the game is finding a way to stay relevant while staying honest. He has his own label now and will continue to cut country records and special projects alike. And he's thanking God for those years of making music.
"I'm gonna use that gift He gave me," Kershaw concludes. "I'm gonna use it all I can 'til I can't use it anymore."
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