Sammy Kershaw has battled drugs, alcohol, bankruptcy, politics and Lorrie Morgan.
Through it all, he never lost the one thing that mattered most: country music.
“You can’t look back,” Kershaw, 58, said Monday in a spirited and gritty performance during two shows at the Savannah Center. Kershaw and a tight, six piece band, including a steel guitar and fiddle, offered country roots music to go along with blues pop and a blend of Cajun sounds.
“For me, it’s always been about the song,” said Kershaw, who emerged as a commercial force during the so-called “new traditionalist” country music movement of the early 1990s.
“I started out when I was 12-years old, playing honky-tonks and beer joints,” Kershaw said. “I wanted to be like Merle Haggard and George Jones.”
Like Jones, Kershaw had a tumultuous private life with four marriages, including a highly-publicized and volatile relationship with Country Queen Lorrie Morgan. He filed for bankruptcy shortly after their divorce about a decade ago.
Kershaw once recorded a song with Jones, and also appeared on a George Jones tribute album.
“They asked me to sing this song for the tribute album” Kershaw said. Then he started the all-time classic, “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” Kershaw was singing in a painful, broken voice that brought back haunting memories of the man (Jones) called Possum.
“I met Jones when I was 14,” Kershaw said. “He was my idol.”
You can see a clip of Kershaw singing the George Jones’ classic at the Villages-News.com Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/TheVillagesNews/
Kershaw had a string of hits during his ‘90s’ heyday, including “She Don’t Know She’ Beautiful,” “Cadillac Style,” “Queen of My Double Wide Trailer,” “I Can’t Reach Her Anymore,” “Meant to Be,” and “Love of My Life.”
He still has that Louisiana-man, whiskey soaked voice and knows how to get down and get real. When Kershaw sang “Yard Sale,” you could feel his pain of a broken marriage and broken dreams with the lyrics:
“Oh, they’re sortin’ through / What’s left of you and me / Paying yard sale prices / For each golden memory.”
“It’s a sad song, but it’s a great country song,” Kershaw said.
There was more tear-in-my-beer emotion on “Haunted Heart,” with these lines: “my haunted heart can’t rest in peace / It’s buried with her memory / And it’s a living hell here after dark.”
But it wasn’t all sadness.
The pop sound of “She Don’t Know She’s Beautiful,” was bright and bouncy, while “Love of My Life,” set a soft and tender mood.
Kershaw, who twice unsuccessfully ran in the Republican primary for lieutenant governor of Louisiana, just released a blues album called “The Blues Got Me.” He sang the title track with raw energy.
“We’ve got a lot of musical influences in Louisiana,” Kershaw said. “This album is about the blues, but it has some Cajun, country and zydeco mixed in as well.”
Kershaw, who has said he has been sober for decades, seems to have come to terms with his past.
“He seemed very positive tonight,” said Amy J. Newman, who said it was her first time seeing Kershaw live. “To me, it seemed like he is high on life.”
The final number of the set appeared to suit Kershaw’s current emotional state. The band stopped playing and stepped away from their instruments.
Kershaw, wearing a black shirt and jeans, stood center stage. Then, without any musical accompaniment, he sang “What A Wonderful World,” and he included a Louis Armstrong imitation near the end of the song.
After the number was over, Kershaw smiled and waved to his fans. On this night, for Sammy Kershaw, there was no looking back.