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What do you do if you're a singer and suddenly you can't sing? That's the dilemma David Kersh faced nearly three years ago.
In 1996 the Humble, Texas, native came out swinging with "Goodnight Sweetheart," a Top 10 hit. He seemed to be on
the fast track to stardom as he quickly followed with the Top 5s "Another You" and "If I Never Stop Loving You."
But as the decade came to a close, David found himself physically and mentally exhausted. And even worse -- the singer couldn't sing.
"I got off the road in October of '99 and felt like I had run myself into the ground," says David. "At first the problems were physical. I was having a hard time singing onstage. I was listening to recordings of my shows and hearing the problems I had trying to sing 'Goodnight Sweetheart.' I was also way off pitch in the intro to the song 'Day In, Day Out.' I thought, 'That's what I sound like? Oh God!' My confidence spiraled down quickly."
So David took it slow, taking a break from performing and resting his voice. But even when the voice came back, his confidence didn't.
"I really don't know what happened," he admits. "The rebuilding process has taken a long time. I'm just now getting to where I'm really comfortable in the studio again.
"I had a hard time singing in front of anybody because I had no confidence. I've dealt with that for a long time because people always told me I was fun to be around. So much of that was from knowing I could sing. When I lost what I defined myself with, suddenly it was like, 'Who am I really?' "
In late 1999, David went home to Texas to find out. "I was born and raised in the Baptist church," says David. "When I got on the road, I didn't step foot in church because I was working all the time. While I was on the road I found myself doing things that weren't me. So getting back into church and being around family was important.
"I also did a lot of songwriting," he adds. "For the first couple of years it was like a living nightmare. Every day I thought, 'What am I going to do?' I thought I was never going to be able to cut another record that I was happy with.
"I could make records when I got off the road, but I wasn't happy with the way I sounded. So I worried about that. And I worried about my fans forgetting who I am."
The worries were worth the truths that David discovered. "More than anything, I learned that you have to be honest with yourself and with every person in your life," he says. "This business lends itself to lying. The artist always has to be the good guy. You're never allowed to have a bad day. I didn't like the person I became. I lied because I was chicken to tell the truth in certain personal relationships -- whether it was with a female or if it was a business relationship.
"If I hated a song but my record label or my producer said, 'Oh man, that's a great song,' I lied to myself and said, 'OK, I'll do it.' In shows I would get talked out of doing certain songs. When I was on the road with Reba and Brooks & Dunn and Terri Clark, I had a rock medley that I loved doing, because rock is part of my background. The crowd loved it too, but band members and management people would mess with me. They'd say jokingly, 'We've got to hear "Sweet Home Alabama" one more time?' So I got talked out of doing it -- and lied to myself and said, 'It'll be fine.' "
But the lies are over for David, who recently returned to the studio to work on a new album.
"This record will be different from my first two because it's going to have a little more punch to it," he says, smiling. "I've got seven songs that I'm real happy with so far -- and I definitely want some of my co-written songs on my record, too. From now on, I'm going to be true to myself."
David hopes to release the new music by summer. He's thankful that after his prolonged absence from the spotlight, his fans are still there.
"I hear that they continue to request my stuff on the radio," he says, "and that's a wonderful thing. Fans are awesome."
He's also thankful to have finally found who he really is.
"Defining your whole self as 'the artist' is a big mistake," he says in hindsight. "I'm living proof."
-- Wendy Newcomer