Aaron Tippin acknowledges he feels incredibly lucky to have lasted 25 years in the country music world, one as prone to changing trends and shifting audience tastes as any in the pop sphere.
"When I started out, my first goal was just to get a song played on the radio," Tippin laughed during a recent interview. "I really didn't have any expectations. Certainly you have goals and dreams, but 25 years, no way. I was thinking maybe if I get lucky, I can get a couple of hits and that would be nice."
He's marking the occasion with the two-disc set Aaron Tippin 25, available only on his website. The 25 cuts blend classic Tippin numbers with new ones that include some definite surprises. He's also back on the road for various dates, including a stop at Nashville's Country Fan Jam and an Opry appearance June 30.
Tippin's been much more than just a country survivor. He's had nine Top 10 hits, but more importantly has become a consistent audience favorite able to remain a viable attraction even when he doesn't have songs in rotation on country radio. From the beginning, Tippin's sensibility was firmly rooted in a blue-collar ethos reflected in the material he penned as a songwriter.
He launched his writing career at RCA with songs cut by such artists as Mark Collie, Charley Pride and The Kingsmen. But he definitely wanted to perform, and recorded lots of demos for Acuff/Rose. His robust, booming voice caught the ear of the label's Mary Martin, who soon got things rolling. Eventually then label head Joe Galante met with Tippin, and he became part of what at the time (early '90s) was Nashville's hottest label.
His first single "You've Got To Stand For Something" earned Tippin a Top 10 record (peaked at No. 6), and established his signature sound. It is a sturdy, prominent style with an earnest delivery featured on tunes anything but escapist or esoteric. Such songs as “There Ain’t Nothin’ Wrong With The Radio,” “My Blue Angel,” and “Workin’ Man’s Ph.D” were about regular folks and basic concerns done with ample energy and emotion, but without excesses or flourishes.
Tippin quickly appealed to lovers of the straight-ahead traditional country sound, and he acknowledges that when the country audience's tastes or the industry's trends have veered from that, he wasn't always comfortable. He adds one thing he's learned along the way is patience.
"One thing that I'm doing now is when I see people who I once had disputes with or clashes, I go up to them now and try to apologize," Tippin says. "I wasn't always the most diplomatic guy. I know now that sometimes you've got to be willing to at least consider different ways of doing things. I'm still very passionate about my music, in fact I think I may be more passionate about it now than I've ever been. But now I realize that you can alienate people if you don't approach them the right way, or if you're always convinced you know everything."
Still, he's been able to handle the pendulum swings better than most. He had success after leaving RCA in the mid-'90s, especially his time at Lyric Street. His 1995 smash "That's As Close As I'll Get To Loving You," put him in a different category, showing he could also handle romantic testimonial material. As Lyric Street's top performer, he was pitched a lot of different numbers, and a song like "For You I Will" was another stylistic departure.
He's also displayed versatility over the last 15 years. He had a major hit in the patriotic vein, "Where The Stars and Stripes and Eagle Fly," and also a well regarded LP of truck-driving numbers, Overdrive, in 2009. This is a big year for Tippin in more ways than one. Besides the professional anniversary, Tippin and his wife Thea are celebrating 20 years of marriage. They have two teenage sons (Ted and Tom), plus a grown daughter (Charla) and a granddaughter.
He's very high on Aaron Tippin 25 and points to some tunes he feels will greatly surprise his fans. "I wanted to show on this one that I could do some things that folks really don't identify with me. There's a soul tune on there [Al Green's "Let's Stay Together," with his youngest son joining him]. It also has some favorites and some new songs. I think it's a great project, one that shows where I've been, and also where I'm going."
"I don't have any complaints about anything," Tippin concludes. "I think the music (country) is in great shape all around, and I also think that the traditional sound is starting to make a comeback. But there's room out here for everybody. I'm not railing on anyone or anything, just enjoying being back out here."