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SAMMY KERSHAW : Country Crooner Hits It Big, By George

April 18, 1993|DENNIS HUNT

Just how far can you go as a George Jones clone?

Country singer Sammy Kershaw wasn't willing to find out--though it must have been tempting.

After all, the shower of acclaim for his first album, 1991's "Don't Go Near the Water," was based on his crooning in that classic, twangy Jones style about heartache and sorrow.

With sales of that career-launching album topping 800,000, Kershaw has carved a comfortable niche as a Jones-style sufferer. But though that style appeals to old-timers, it's not so popular among the contemporary country fans who dominate the market. With his new album, "Haunted Heart," Kershaw has his sights on the next commercial plateau.

"I wanted to do half the album for the younger folks," he says. "I can't afford to ignore them. But there still is some stuff on the new one that's similar to what's on the first one."

The difference, he says, is some material with a Southern-rock feel: "Listen to the sound of the Marshall Tucker Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allmans--stuff you hear on classic-rock stations--this is what's in contemporary country now. I didn't have much of that on the first one."

Kershaw was lucky that first album was ever recorded. A few years ago, he was remodeling kitchens, having bailed out of his sagging country career.

"I was tired of the business, tired of the bickering in the band. I had to get out and get a real job," he recalls.

That was quite a concession for Kershaw, 35, who had been in the business since he was 12. "You get to where chasing a dream is impractical," says the native of Kaplan, La., who has been married three times and has three children.

But a few years ago Kershaw resumed his career, hooking up with a manager and landing a deal with Mercury Records, which liked his Jones-style crooning.

"I've been hooked on George since I was a kid, when I'd sit in the living room listening to an old record of his," Kershaw says. "He could get at the sorrow that was way down deep inside. I wanted to be able to do something like that with a song. I can do it like that somewhat I guess--but I'm nowhere near George."

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