By JOHN BENSON
OUNTRY singer Aaron Tippin has fond memories of Mahoning County.
"Ponderosa Park, those were great days for country music," said Tippin, calling from his home outside of Nashville. "Man, it was rocking in a country kind of way over there, I'm telling you."
A consummate businessman, Tippin can't help but slyly plug his single "Ready to Rock (In a Country Kind of Way)," which can be found on his new CD "Now & amp; Then." The album marks his debut release for his brand-new record label Nippit Records (that's Tippin spelled backward), in collaboration with Rust Nashville Records.
Considering he possesses a fiercely independent DIY spirit within his music, the notion of Tippin starting up his own label shouldn't come as much of a surprise. It was just a matter of time.
During the '90s, the South Carolina native was one of the more successful country artists with an enthusiastic honky-tonk style. Hit singles such as "Working Man's Ph.D.," "Kiss This," "You've Got to Stand for Something" and "There Ain't Nothing Wrong with the Radio" earned him one platinum and five gold records.
His last major hit came with 2002's "Stars and Stripes," which features the popular single "Where the Stars and Stripes and Eagles Fly." However, with his contract up, Tippin decided the time was right to go on his own.
His own style
"The past four or five years, I just got to thinking, I really wanted to get to making the country music that I thought fans wanted to hear out of Aaron Tippin," Tippin said. "And not that I'm putting anybody down in the business, because I have a lot of friends there [in Nashville] and I know every one of them that has been associated with my career has done nothing but try to help it, but so many times I think that they just don't have the same point of view that I have standing on that stage every night and singing to the audience."
He added, "Sometimes when it's music by committee, instead of 'here's a project and here's what I think we should do,' it really becomes watered down and muddied up."
With his new freedom, the artist set out to record an Aaron Tippin album for his fans. So not only does he rock a bit with the lead single but he also re-recorded a slew of his hits with different vocal arrangements. The most unique aspect to "Now & amp; Then" is its unplugged feel, with Tippin introducing every track on the disc.
"I can't imagine what they would have said to me if I went into the major labels and said, 'I have this idea, how about I talk in front of every song'?" Tippin said. "They'd go, 'Are you crazy?'"
Crazy or just really dedicated, Tippin has made a name for himself with his blue-collar persona and patriotic spirit, both of which appear to be earnest attributes that his fans have gravitated toward over the past decade or so.
Since 1990 when he traveled to Saudi Arabia with Bob Hope for a USO tour, Tippin has remained active entertaining troops overseas. He leaves again next month.
In the meantime, he's touring "Now & amp; Then" with an Oct. 26 show at the Chevrolet Centre in Youngstown. He promises it'll be just like the old days at Ponderosa Park.
"Hey, wear your seat belt," Tippin said. "This ain't stand-behind-a-microphone-and-sing country music. It's going to rock in a country kind of way, come on."