Bill Anderson’s not resting on his Country Music Hall of Fame laurels. Or his 46-year string of hit songs. Or his long-running show on XM Satellite Radio, Bill Anderson Visits With the Legends.
Fact is, he’s not resting at all. Besides carrying on with his usual music labors, which still include touring and frequent appearances on the Grand Ole Opry, he’s now busy promoting a new album, his first country collection in four years. Issued on TWI Records, it’s called The Way I Feel. (Anderson released a gospel album, Softly and Tenderly, last year.)
“Whisperin’ Bill,” as he’s called, co-wrote all 10 songs on the new album, pairing up with such estimable co-conspirators as Melba Montgomery, Buddy Cannon, Jon Randall, Irene Kelly, Tom Shapiro, Rob Crosby and Casey Beathard. The album includes “Whiskey Lullaby,” the big hit last year for Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss.
“Him and Me,” the first single, is a co-write with Tony Villanueva, former lead singer for the Derailers. It’s a song about a son and his truck-driving father.
“We both kind of had a concept of trying to write something all-American [and] family-oriented,” Anderson explains. “You take ideas like that, and you play ping-pong with them. Somehow, we just settled on this. The idea was not so much to write a trucking song — I mean, the word ‘truck’ is in the song only one time — the idea was really to write a song about a bonding situation between a father and a son.”
Given his shining reputation as a composer — with such standards in his catalog as “City Lights,” “Tip of My Fingers,” “Once a Day,” “Saginaw, Michigan” and “I May Never Get to Heaven” — Anderson could book writing appointments around the clock. But he’s learned to pace himself.
“I try not to write too much,” he says. “When I first started this co-writing thing, back in the mid-’90s, man, I went nuts. I thought, ‘Well, shoot, I want to write every day.’ I’d make appointments four or five days a week and then go work the road on the weekends and come back and jump back into it. All of a sudden, I realized that I was wearing myself out and that I wasn’t really being as productive as I would be if I didn’t try to do it so much. So I don’t work towards the quantity of it. I try to write as good a quality songs as I can, but how many I write really doesn’t matter. I write maybe two to three times a week. And there are some weeks where I don’t make any writing appointments at all.”
Anderson is one of the few songwriting legends who still mixes it up with writers half or a third his age — which is 67.
“I enjoy writing with the young writers,” he says. “There are some of them now that at 19 or 20 years of age [will] scare you to death. They just come into it with so much more background and so many more influences and so much more knowledge now than we did. The one thing I look for in trying to write with a co-writer is to find somebody who kind of comes at it from a different place than I do. … I want to try to write with someone who’s stronger melodically than I am because the lyrics is where my strength is, although I contribute to the melody.”
If Anderson knows an artist well, he says he’s not reluctant to pitch them one of his songs. “In fact, I pitched [Brad Paisley] a couple at the Opry the other night. He hates to see me comin’.” However, Anderson relies on his road manager, Lee Willard, and the songpluggers at his publishing company, Sony/ATV Tree, to do most of his pitching.
Of all the songs he’s written, Anderson says, his most profound and long-lasting one may well be “A Lot of Things Different,” which was a hit in 2002 for Kenny Chesney.
“I cannot tell you back at the peak of that song how many e-mails I’d get and comments at concerts from people that told me how deeply that song affected them and touched them,” he marvels. “[They'd say,] ‘Gee, it made me think back over my life. It made me realize I should have done this or I should have done that.’ Or, ‘It’s not too late now for me to do this or that.’ … And I’m going to tell you — and I’m not trying to promote the new record at all — I’m getting that deep, deep kind of emotional response to this ‘Him and Me’ song from the truckers. Whether it’s going to extend beyond the truckers, I have no idea.”
Like most other country writers, Anderson learned his songwriting chops listening to the radio.
“I was certainly influenced by the Hanks — Hank Williams, Hank Snow, Hank Thompson — those kind of people,” he recalls, “and by Roy Acuff and Ernest Tubb. Probably my next level of influence would be maybe a tie between gospel music and rhythm & blues music. I grew up in a little suburb of Atlanta called Decatur. And Decatur had a radio station that did what a lot of them did in those days — block programming. They called their format ‘the three R’s — race, rural and religion.’ They were playing music for the black community one part of the day, the rural, which, of course, was the country and the religious, which was the gospel. I’m talking about the southern quartet gospel stuff — Hovie Lister and the Statesmen, the Blackwood Brothers, people like that.”
Since he’s done a bit of everything else — from journalism to acting– CMT.com wondered if Anderson would be interested in writing a musical, as his friend Roger Miller did with Big River.
“I’m not sure Roger wanted to do it,” Anderson says with a chuckle. “I said to him, ‘Why did you do that?’ And he said, ‘They made me an offer I couldn’t understand.’ I think under the right conditions I could be [interested]. I’ve never had anybody approach me with anything like that, and I would certainly have to have a large amount of time in which to do it and a talented co-writer or co-writers.”
Anderson was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1975 and the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001.
Bill Anderson Visits With the Legends was one of the first country shows XM Satellite Radio programmed when it went on the air. Anderson estimates he’s done “about a hundred” shows so far. By now, he’s interviewed virtually every big name in the business, from Merle Haggard to Dolly Parton to Willie Nelson. Among his more recent interviews were Ronnie Milsap, Danny Davis, Boots Randolph and Joe Galante, head of the RCA Label Group. “We try to touch on a little bit of everything,” Anderson says.
Not surprisingly, Anderson has plenty of other projects in progress.
“I started a novel about five years ago,” he reports. “Every once in a while, I’ll sit down and write a chapter or a couple of chapters or a few lines, and then I get busy doing all this other stuff. I’ve been working on another version of [I Hope You're Living as High on the Hog As the Pig You Turned Out to Be] that I did [in 1993] with a lot more funny stories and crazy stuff from the music business. My idea is to weave it around a kind of updated autobiography. I did my autobiography [Whisperin' Bill: An Autobiography: A Life of Music, Love, Tragedy & Triumph in 1989], way too early looking back on it. I’ve had a whole career since then.”