Sammy Kershaw remembers his first brush with stardom. The singer was a youngster when he was backstage at a show in Louisiana that he was opening for George Jones. Kershaw paints a vivid picture of the "Possum" walking in with a pair of baby blue cowboy boots that left an impression on the fourteen year old.
"I was amazed. I was just a little kid. But, I never forgot that. I always said that if ever I had a career in music with hit records, I would have my boots handmade – so if a kid came into the room, he would never forget whatever pair I had on. I never forgot his." For years, whenever Kershaw would be around Jones, his eyes would always head for the boots. "Of course, every time I'd meet up with him -- until I was a grown man, I'd look and see what kind of boots he had on."
Kershaw is excited about a pair of projects he has out right now. His current single, "The Route That I Took," is a tribute song to Jones's honky tonk life – though one that he had written in the past – long before the singer's death in April.
"It was something that I wrote a few years ago for George to record. He never got around to doing it, and the morning that he died, one of my engineers came into my studio. The song was not listed on the hard drive, so that evening we were listening, and he had his earphones on. All of a sudden, he looked at me with a weird look on his face, and he took them off and handed them to me. 'Listen to this,' he said, and I put them on. It was me doing the song with an acoustic guitar back in 2008. It was almost like I needed to put it out as a tribute. I did it for me...and for George. I miss him, and will always love him, and he'll always be my hero. I think the song was written in high honor."
The singer is equally excited about "All In The Same Boat," a new album teaming him with "Roots & Boots" touring partners Aaron Tippin and Joe Diffie. He tells Billboard with the success the tour has been, it made sense to record an album together.
"Since we were going to be touring together for a while, it just kind of made sense for us to do a CD together for the folks who came to the shows. Why not make the most of it, and do a little music together amongst friends? We have a lot of fun, and enjoy working together," he says, adding that more dates lay on the horizon. "We hope it continues on into 2014."
Kershaw says the tour has brought them closer as artists – and as friends. "The three of us together could not have been a better equation. We have ended up being really, really good friends. We were friends in the beginning, but the more we got to know each other – we had already admired each others' work, but we became so much better friends as a result of the tour. It would be hard to separate us from being friends. I know they would say the same thing."
Kershaw updates his 1994 chart-topper "She Don't Know She's Beautiful" for the album, and also turns in a cover of Stephen Bishop's 1977 hit "On And On." Tippin re-records "Kiss This" and offers a powerful tribute to his father, "He Believed," and Diffie highlights include a take on Neil Young's "Heart Of Gold" and the stone country "I'm Hangin' On." Kershaw states that one aspect of his career where he lags behind his counterparts is songwriting.
"I don't consider myself a writer," he admits. Every once in a while, I might write one, but I never really thought I was that good at it. I don't mind writing. I wish I did more of it in my career. I try to do more now, and it may come naturally to me one day, but it does not right now. I've always depended upon the songwriters for my songs. I've always said 'I just hope the songwriters never stop singing, and now they are, so I better start, because they're holding on to theirs, and having hits with them themselves," he says with a wink.