Aaron Tippin is often found sitting in a truckstop, jawing with truckers over a cup of coffee. The country music singer is comfortable in that setting because before he made it big as a country music singer, he drove a truck. The performer says truckers recognize him more than anyone else.
“Once I was in back of the [Grand Ole] Opry, dressed up in my show clothes. I walked through the country music fans saying, ‘Excuse me.’ They didn’t know me,” Tippin says. “If I stop at a truckstop, go inside and walk though, someone comes up to me because they’ve recognized me. I’m more recognized in a truckstop in my T-shirt and blue jeans than anywhere else.”
Tippin was born in Pensacola, Fla., but at age 4 his family moved to South Carolina. He lived in a small town that had five churches, a school and a few small stores. “The town wasn’t big enough to have a name,” he says.
When Tippin was 22, a buddy of his was looking for someone to drive long-haul with him. Tippin got his commercial driver’s license and drove for Carolina Western and Cooper Motor Lines, hauling dry freight cross-country. After a few years, Tippin decided trucking wasn’t for him and stayed home to run a bulldozer.
He doesn’t have any trucking tales to share, but says his life on the road was no different than any other trucker’s. “I did the same thing every day that everyone else out there does,” he says. “I drove a truck and did it the best I could.”
Some of Tippin’s hits include, “Working Man’s Ph.D.,” “Got It Honest,” “You’ve Got to Stand for Something,” and “Toolbox.” Because of these hits, many fans consider Tippin a spokesman for the working man, and it’s a title he’s proud of.
“I think folks attached that phrase to me, and I like it,” he says.
These days, Tippin, his wife Thea and their children live on a 400-acre farm 65 miles east of Nashville, in Smithville, Tenn. On the Tippin farm, there is a 50×100-foot shop where he works on his bus and truck. There are also several barns, a house and a collection of old Mack trucks.
Tippin was a pilot before becoming a singer, and he has a hangar that holds several old airplanes. A Piper Cub, Cessna 195, Cessna 185, Cessna 150 and Piper Cherokee 140 are among the airplanes in his hangar. Tippin received his airplane mechanic’s license after passing a six-and-a-half-hour test that consisted of a three-hour written test, a practicum and an oral test. When he’s home, Tippin often works on his Mack trucks and airplanes himself.
“The Macks are running and the airplanes are flying,” he says. “Life is good.”
Tippin added two stories onto his house that holds a recording studio and a weight room with a view of the Tennessee mountains. He and his wife work out for the physical activity, and plan to continue their hobby.
Before making it as a country singer, Tippin hauled dry freight in South Carolina.
“I started doing it years ago and can’t seem to stop. I forgot to quit,” he says. “It’s a great stress reliever.”
While on the road, it’s not uncommon for Tippin to jump behind the wheel if needed. In the
early years of his career, he would load his records in his truck and deliver them personally to stores close to his hometown. The store owners loved it and so did his fans.
“We did anything to get the records out there,” Tippin says. “They thought it was real cute.”
He dreams up new projects to keep himself busy, whether it’s hauling topsoil for a new building or working on his planes and trucks. His farm seems untouched by the modern world, and often turkey, deer and quail visit him.
“I haven’t seen wild quail around here in years,” he says. “They’re almost extinct.
I saw one yesterday and thought it was wonderful. I hope to see more.”
Tippin’s career in music began as a hobby, to entertain himself, he says. He played bluegrass on the banjo. He quit his job as a corporate pilot and began playing in clubs. Tippin received a record deal after five years on the circuit, and although he had a slight lull in his career, his hits keep coming.
“Most performers start young and work most of their lives on their music,” he says. “Professionally, I’m a late bloomer. I didn’t start in music until I was 25 or so. I had no idea I’d do it for a living.”
Tippin has a 23-year-old daughter and two boys, one who is 3 years old and one who is 8 months old. His family means a great deal to him. He and his wife write songs together, and his Christmas album was released last month.
“I’m extra proud of the album,” Tippin says. “It’s unusual from most Christmas albums because there are usually old standards on Christmas albums. We wrote these songs ourselves.”
Of all his hits, his favorite song is one he wrote with his wife titled, “The Best Love We Ever Made.” “It’s really hard to say which song is my favorite because there is always another to come along that you like,” Tippin says. “That one is special because we wrote it together about our kids.”
Tippin occasionally still jumps behind the wheel of his Peterbilt when he needs to drive.
With his busy schedule it’s hard for Tippin to keep up with the trucking industry. When he has the opportunity, he drives the blue Peterbilt used by Tip Top Entertainment to haul his equipment, and tries to hone his skills behind the wheel.
“I’m always trying to remember how to be good at it,” he says. “Like remembering not to curb the tires or grind the gears and to watch out for the hills coming up.”
Although he doesn’t drive long-haul anymore, Tippin thinks he can still identify with truckers because he’s on the road too. He often sits and chats with truckers about their lives on the road, and says trucking isn’t the same as when he drove for a living.
“The fuel prices are driving them nuts, both the independent and company drivers,” he says. “I understand because we’re running up and down the highway too in my bus and truck. I get a good taste of what it’s about. On the CB the other day, a driver was off on the side of the road. People were passing him by and he said 15 years ago, five trucks would be lined up to help. Now they don’t stop. Times have changed.”
Tippin says truckers are important to the nation and play a vital role in our economy. He appreciates truckers for the job they do, and knows what it’s like to walk in their shoes.
“I’ve been one of them,” he says. “I feel when I walk into a truckstop and truckers talk to me, they’re talking to someone who understands what their job is like. I know this country won’t move without trucks to haul the freight.”