If ever an artist fit the term “working class hero,” it would be Aaron Tippin with little or no contest. Since his 1990 debut, “You’ve Got to Stand for Something,” Tippin has extolled the virtues of the everyday laborer with such hits as “I Got It Honest,” “Working Man’s Ph. D” and “Where the Stars and the Stripes and the Eagle Fly.” He also has the blue collar cred to back it up. Tippin and wife Thea live on a sprawling farm in a small Tennessee town, miles away from the ever-growing hustle of Nashville and big-city life. No gated community or trendy suburb for him.
On this day in early February, Tippin arrives at Country Radio Seminar dressed in jeans and sporting a new look: a full beard that may either stay or go, depending on any future whim (and perhaps, he grins, a hint from Thea). He has a new product to talk about, “Kiss This” Sweet Cherry Wine, his latest collaboration with Stonehaus Winery. The name was inspired by his 2000 No. 1 single, “Kiss This,” which he wrote with Thea and songwriter Phillip Douglas. Like a number of artists, Tippin has realized the advantages of partnering with a company to reinforce your branding identity.
“That’s been a lot of fun,” Tippin declares. “Our first one with the company was the Country Jam Blackberry wine and that worked out so well that they wanted to do another one. This cherry one has turned out to be great. It’s smooth and kind of sweet.” Tippin was totally hands-on during the process, from selecting the type of wine all the way to the racking and blending.
The partnership with Tennessee-based Stonehaus has been “really good for us,” Tippin adds. “It is one more way of interacting with your fans. Folks see you from a different angle.” These days, Tippin notes after a pause, “it isn’t just the music for an artist. You have to find other ways to keep your name out there.”
Tippin, who turns 60 in July, is very much out there when it comes to the touring trail. Though he doesn’t conduct backbreaking tours anymore, he still burns up the road with his solo dates and as part of the Roots & Boots tour with Sammy Kershaw and Collin Raye. “We started Roots & Boots as an acoustic thing,” Tippin says. “It did so well that we decided to try it with a full band and people are just going crazy over it.”
The Roots & Boots format contains enough classic hits and new music to please any country fan. The three artists are backed by one band, eliminating set changes and making for a free-flowing show. “We all come out and do a song,” Tippin says. “Sammy will do about five or six songs and then I’ll come out and do about five. Then, I introduce Collin and he’ll do his set. We come back out together and do some of our classics. It’s a great show. Fans feel like they really get their money’s worth.” Tippin augments those shows with his own tour dates and continues to perform special concerts for the military at bases all across the U.S.
Tippin’s most recent album came with 2015’s “Aaron Tippin 25,” marking his 25th anniversary in country music. At the moment, no new projects are on the board, though he is batting around a couple of ideas. “We have talked about doing a gospel album,” Tippin says. “I have never done a gospel album before. I’m kind of from the bluegrass world but I have never had a bluegrass album.” Nothing set in stone yet, however. “I want to make sure I do something I’m excited about before I commit to anything,” Tippin says.
For certain, though, the writing bug has begun to resurface. “I really want to get that going again,” Tippin says with some emphasis. “I would like to start writing more with some of the Music Row guys. Trouble is, I have been on the road so much, when I get home I kind of want to be there and not be coming into Nashville.”
He’ll admit that the songs being hatched on today’s Music Row hardly fit his style. “Musically and lyrically, they’re very different,” he says. “But these songwriters are obviously having some success. I’m not passing judgment on whether the songs are good or bad. I’m just saying they’re different. It’s not what I grew up with.” At that, he lets go a brief laugh, recalling when he made his debut. “There were probably some people going, ‘Who’s this new guy I can hardly understand?’ when I first came out,” Tippin reflects. “So, it’s all relative. You can’t get too hung up on it.”
That salient point was driven home to him years ago. Tippin remembers a night early in his career when he found himself in the company of Leroy Van Dyke and other country legends. From their conversation, he received a valuable slice of advice.
“We were at Fan Fair and a bunch of the old guys were sitting around and I was proud to be there with them,” Tippin recalls, smiling. “I thought I would impress them with how much I knew about country music. I started going on about how these guys today are just too pop and they’re not country. Well, Leroy leaned back and said, ‘You know, I’ve been in country music 40 years and I’ve seen the pendulum swing many times in this business. The pendulum will swing back your way.’ Then, he told me that what I needed to do was relax and not worry about it so much. That is still the best advice I ever got.”
When he’s at the homestead, Tippin and Thea handle all the necessary farm chores. Tippin, who’s a commercial pilot and certified airframe mechanic, also works on small planes in his shop on the property. He has passed on his love of aircraft to son Ted, who recently received his airplane mechanic certification. His other son Thomas looks to follow in dad’s footsteps and become a musician.
“We try and stay active,” Tippin concludes. “Last year was the busiest one I’ve had in ten years. I still have my band and we still go out and do a lot of shows. So, I can’t complain.”