Tippin is an 'average country boy' coming home to his roots

Published on Thursday, April 19, 2012

Aaron Tippin produced his own records, under his NIPPIT label, as well as a pop/jazz album by his wife, Thea.

Aaron Tippin Photo for GreerToday.com

Aaron Tippin produced his own records, under his NIPPIT label, as well as a pop/jazz album by his wife, Thea. "When you hold the purse strings, you can do what you want," Tippin said. The family portrait: Aaron, Thea and sons, Ted and Tom.


There’s a divide in the Nashville country scene. On the one side are the Taylor Swifts of the world that for all their cuteness and accessibility appeal to a certain kind of modern crowd. On the other side are the New Traditionalists, the musicians that are trying to stay true to the roots of country.


But what is true country music? That’s a subjective question, and one that can only be answered by a voice of experience. One of those voices is Aaron Tippin, who is coming to the 29th Annual Village Hospital Greer Family Fest on Saturday, May 5.

Tippin is an “average country boy” that made it big, having started his country music career in the Upstate area and then moved to Nashville in 1986.

In the beginning, however, Tippin was born July 3, 1958, in Pensacola, Fla., but he grew up in Traveler’s Rest on a 110-acre farm. He attended Blue Ridge High School and sang in the youth choir at Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church where the ladies there told him he sure had “a loud voice!” His singing started, however, from cutting and bailing hay on the farm, where he had to compete with the thresher machine. “The rhythm of the engine was so loud,” Tippin remembered, “I had to sing over it, but also sang along with it.”

When he was 10 his brother died. “My brother used to pick some,” Tippin said, “and so my mom gave me his guitar.” Tippin fooled around with the guitar, learning how to play, and eventually learned the banjo and harmonica as well. His passion, however, is singing. “I don’t play the guitar much anymore,” he said. “I jump around on stage too much!” His first band that played shows was the Darby Hill Band, around 1980, and around that time he met Mickey Fowler.

Not much can be said about the original Greenville musical outlaw that hasn’t already. “I loved him so much. He was a major influence,” Tippin said, continuing a trend of praise he’s been consistent with over the years when it comes to Fowler.

“We hunted together, fished together every day, then slept three hours so we could play clubs.” Whereas Tippin went off to pursue his dreams, Fowler was notorious for sticking to the Upstate. The last time Tippin saw him in person was in 2002 when they worked on Fowler’s one solo album together. Fowler traveled to Tippin’s house outside Nashville with a who’s-who of local country stars, where Tippin recorded two songs with them. “Mickey kept saying he was going to travel up to Nashville every year ... but never did.” Fowler passed away in 2007.

If the New Traditionalist style is a backlash against the pop country sound that came out of Nashville in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, its direct influence is the Outlaw movement of the mid-‘70s. Scotty Hawkins, Fowler’s nephew who played drums for one track on his uncle’s album, names Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson as two icons that “wouldn’t play it safe and wouldn’t compromise.”

Hawkins, who has had a 22-year career in Nashville, including eight years with Reba McIntyre and three years on the road with Brooks and Dunn, compared his uncle to them, describing him as a magnetic presence that “never settled on music, and could play seven days a week and never play the same song twice.”

Tippin also talked about that word compromise. Both he and Hawkins described a Nashville that can turn a musician into something they are not in order to sell albums. They both agree that Fowler wouldn’t like anything on the radio today.

Tippin, who cites Hank Williams Jr. as an emblem of the roots he wants to hearken back to, says he arrived in a Nashville that was “very bubble gum sounding,” but credits Randy Travis with paving the way for the old style to have resurgence.

Now after 16 years with major labels Tippin has started his own company, NIPPIT Records, because “when you hold the purse strings, you can do what you want.” He’s produced his own records as well as a pop/jazz album by his wife, Thea. “I went to Nashville 22 years ago to have fun,” he said, “and now that’s what I’m doing.”

This independence allows for other pursuits. Since 2009 he’s had a website, “Aaron Tippin Nutrition” that offers supplements, weight loss seasonings, and advice to stay healthy and lose weight. He got interested in nutrition after his divorce from his first wife and move to Nashville. “After my honky tonk days,” he said, “I quit drinking like I used to and decided to get healthy.” That also meant cutting the “scrappy, scroggly beard” and hair he had, adopting a clean-cut look and the thick mustache that has become his signature.  

As a part of this everyman image, Tippin is defined by a working class ethic and patriotism (with such hits as “Workin' Man's Ph.D” and “You've Got to Stand for Something”). In the first Desert Storm he went to Iraq in Bob Hope’s USO tours, and has been back several times in the last 10 years specializing in “forts and combat zones where the troops usually don’t get entertainment.”

Tippin sees it as a privilege and honor to make sure the troops get recognized and feel loved. Back on the home front, in 2010 he and former Governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee teamed to produce an album “I Wanna Play!”, benefiting the National Association of Music Merchants Foundation’s Wanna Play Fund. In the wake of mounting budget cuts targeting sports, art, and music in the public school system, Tippin said, “it should be the responsibility of musicians to get instruments in the hands of children.”

As for why he’s performing at Greer Family Fest? “I’m not really playing for myself,” he said, emphasizing how good it will feel to be home and see all his old friends. “Greer decided to contact old Aaron, and I answered the call.” If being a New Traditionalist means not forgetting your roots, then Tippin is one in the truest sense.   

Businesses mentioned in this article.

Village at Pelham Hospital


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