Sammy Kershaw, third cousin of legendary Cajun fiddler Doug Kershaw, was born Samuel Paul Kershaw on Feb. 24, 1958 in Kaplan, Lousania, the heart of Cajun country. He lost his father when he was eleven; the same year his grandfather gifted him with his first guitar. The death of his father forced the beginnings of his professional career, as his family desperately needed supplemental income. By age 12 Kershaw was working with local bandleader J.P. Perry, and he toured the southern club and honky-tonk circuit with Perry throughout his teenage years.
By 1985 Kershaw had moved to Oklahoma to sing in local bands, and was already on his second marriage. A stint with the touring club band Blackwater lead to a dependency on alcohol and drugs. By 1988 he quit the business to save his marriage and took a job working full-time as the supervisor of store remodeling at a local Wal-Mart.
His songwriter friend Barry Jackson convinced Kershaw to submit a demo tape to Mercury Records in 1990, and he landed a record deal after one showcase performance. He released his platinum selling debut Don’t Go Near The Water in 1991, and had a #3 hit with his debut single “Cadillac Style.” The critics highly praised his 1993 sophomore album Haunted Heart and radio rewarded him by making lead single “She Don’t Know She’s Beautiful” his first and only number one hit. Kershaw was also winning praise vocally, often being compared to George Jones.
Even though his honky-tonk style was enduring to fans Kershaw took more liberties going forward, releasing material more geared toward radio airplay. The results paid off and his next effort, Feelin’ Good Train yielded two smash hits – “National Woman’s Working Holiday” and a cover of “Third Rate Romance,” originally recorded by The Amazing Rhythm Aces. His star had started to fade by 1996, although his Politics, Religion, and Her album garnered two top ten hits (“Meant To Be” and “Vidalia”). Kershaw would have his final hit single the following summer when “Love Of My Life” hit #2.
By the late 90s, Kershaw’s second marriage was falling apart as he began a romantic relationship with fellow 90s hit maker Lorrie Morgan. The couple dueted on the top 20 “Maybe Not Tonight” and eventually married in 2001. That same year they released I Finally Found Someone a duets album that spun the minor hit “She Drinks Tequila.” The dismal record sales led to his release from Mercury Records.
Kershaw released I Want My Money Back in 2003 via Audium Entertainment, Honky Tonk Boots via Category 5 records in 2006, and Better Than I Used To Be via Big Hit Records in 2010. While none of these records brought him any hit singles, the title track to his 2010 album was a #6 hit for Tim McGraw earlier this year. He was also inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2008 and the Louisiana Songwriters Association Hall of Fame in 2010.
In addition to his musical career, Kershaw has been heavily focused on politics over the past six years, announcing his run for lieutenant governor of Louisiana in 2007. He would end up gaining only 30% of the vote. He ran for a second time in 2010, but fell to a distant third in the race despite carrying 31 of the 64 parishes – more than any other candidate.
Kershaw was also the spokesperson for protectourcoastline.org, a non-profit dedicated to providing relief to the shrimpers and fisherman affected by 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. He’s also become quite the savvy Facebook user, regularly posting pictures and status updates to his fan page.
He returned his focus to his music career late last month with the release of A Sammy Klaus Christmas, his second holiday collection (following 1994’s Christmas Time’s A-Comin’) and first release on the MRI label.
We’ll be taking a look back at his discography for the next month.