Sammy Kershaw sounded downright giddy on the phone last week and there was a reason: After a pretty tough decade of personal and career disappointments, the 1990s country artist is experiencing something of a career comeback.
“This year is golly, man, it’s the biggest year I’ve had in a dozen years,” he said, then ticked off a string of sold-out shows with his 1990s throwback tour “Roots & Boots ’90s Electric Throwdown.” The tour, with Kershaw, Aaron Tippin and Collin Raye, pulls into the AVA at Casino del Sol on Thursday, June 28.
“I think people miss country music, and the ’90s was a really good time for country music,” he said.
“Roots & Boots” turns the clock back to the 1990s when Kershaw, Tippin and Raye were making names for themselves alongside a veritable who’s who of country artists: Joe Diffie, Randy Travis, John Michael Montgomery, Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson and George Strait among them.
“A lot of folks picked up on country music back then,” said Kershaw, listing George Jones, Merle Haggard, Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynn and Waylon Jennings among the artists who inspired the ’90s country music class.
About six years ago, coming out of a string of professional and personal disappointments that gobbled up his early 2000s, Kershaw had an epiphany of sorts.
He phoned up buddies Tippin and Diffie and proposed they do some acoustic shows: three stools on stage, no band, just the trio singing a few of their big hits and telling stories about the songs and their music.
The plan was not exactly embraced by Nashville, Kershaw said.
“That ain’t going to work,” he said they told him. “‘What do you mean it ain’t going to work?’” he shot back. “If you think this ain’t going to work, just hide and watch me then.”
Those early acoustic “Roots & Boots” shows were big hits.
“We started selling out shows and stuff like that,” said Louisiana native Kershaw, 60. “It worked. We started getting a lot more shows. I was able to start paying my bills a little quicker.”
Last year, with Raye taking Diffie’s spot, the trio added a full band to the lineup, pulling players from all three artists.
Kershaw credits the tour’s success to the music and fans’ nostalgia to hear fiddles and steel guitar and songs that tell stories of ordinary people.
“I’ve been doing this since I was 12 years old — 48 years — and I’ve seen it change over the years. But it always comes back to what basic country music is: fiddles, steel, just good ole story songs,” he said. “We had so many great songs that tell a great story. Whether it was happy or sad, it always told a story of common folks.”
Between the three of them, Kershaw said he and Tippin and Raye have 100 charted singles. Each will sing five or six of their songs during the 90-minute show.
“We don’t have smoke and mirrors. We are about the music, and the band is hot,” he said. “There’s a lot of good chemistry and electricity going on on stage. ... We’re having a ball.”