The more, the merrier! That’s my personal reaction each time there is news of another mainstream pop or country artist who dips a toe into the bluegrass realm. Some, like Merle Haggard, come to bluegrass as an artistic exercise late in their career, while others are returning to their roots with a grassy outing.
Such is the case with country hit maker Aaron Tippin, who is finishing up a bluegrass project now for a 2007 release on his label, Nippit Records. When I spoke with him about it earlier in the week, he was genuinely excited about the CD, both artistically and because he was eager to let his fans and the country music media know that he had been a bluegrass guy from way back.
Aaron said that he was a country music fan growing up in the South Carolina mountains, but once he was exposed to live bluegrass, he knew he had been bitten by the bug.
“I had a high school teacher who would take a bunch of us guys out to hear bluegrass, and I fell in love with the sound. I started learning to play banjo, and before long, we had put together a little band. We called ourselves The Dixie Ridge Runners. We weren’t great by any means – most of the time we were just plain bad – but we had a bunch of fun.”
All of the rhythm tracks are finished, and with only Aaron’s vocals left to be tracked. Pickers featured on the CD include Charlie Cushman on banjo, Ward Stout on fiddle, Danny Roberts on mandolin, Mike Bub on bass and Jeff White on guitar.
The as yet untitled project will include a few original songs, but it will mostly consist of bluegrass classics and songs that will be accessible for his manistream country fans.
“A lot of people who come to my shows may not be serious bluegrass fans, so we wanted to make sure to record songs that would be familiar to them. One that we had a lot of fun with was Petticoat Junction, the theme to the old TV show that Flatt & Scruggs recorded. We also cut a bluegrass version of Sonny & Cher’s, I Got You Babe, and I’m sure that bluegrass fans will recognize our cut on Brown Mountain Light, one of my favorite songs of all time.”
Tippin’s current album, Now & Then, is a departure in itself. It’s the first since he launched his own label, and it has more of a southern rock edge than his previous country projects, six of which went gold, with one platinum. Following this rockier release with a bluegrass CD shows that his newfound independence is something he takes seriously.
I joked with Aaron when he told me that he would be including songs from the bluegrass project in his stage show, suggesting that he might dust of the old banjo and strap it on once again on stage.
“I don’t think you’ll see that happen. I never got very far on banjo, and working in the studio with Charlie Cushman really made that plain to me. I just love bluegrass music, and am delighted to have a chance to be singing it again. I can’t wait to see what people think when the CD is released.”
He wasn’t sure when I asked if a video from the bluegrass project would be forthcoming, but he did say that they filmed a large portion of the recording sessions.
Aaron promised to keep us posted about the CD’s progress, and we’ll update when audio samples are available online.
Here’s a hearty “Welcome Back!” to Aaron Tippin from Bluegrass Today.