John Anderson’s latest CD Easy Money marks his first studio collaboration with Big & Rich’s John Rich, who produced the album and co-wrote two of the songs. In these excerpts from an interview for a forthcoming CMT Studio 330 Sessions performance, Anderson talks about his latest music and how his 1981 hit, “Chicken Truck,” led to a friendship with Rich.
CMT: You co-wrote the songs “Weeds” from the new CD and your classic “Swingin” with your late friend, Lionel Delmore. Why was he such a key figure for you?
Anderson: Lionel Delmore was one of the most important people to me ever in my career as far as advising me and staying on me about writing songs. When I was a younger man, of course, we had a lot of other things to go do besides sit down and write. Lionel kept saying, “Man, you need to sit down and write. You’re a good writer, and you need to develop that. … One day your songwriting might pull you out of a hole if you ever happen to get there.” Well, indeed, I got there, a couple times. And I’ll say this: God bless ol’ Lionel. He was right. My songwriting pulled me out of the hole just about every time. And it looks it might pull me out of the hole again.
What was going on when you and Lionel co wrote “Swingin'”?
Actually, we both had decided to quit our day jobs. He said “You know, either we’re gonna be songwriters or we’re gonna go ahead with these jobs we’ve got.” I was working in a little store, and Lionel was making keys for a living. We both decided to quit our jobs the same day and start writing songs together.
And, of course, Lionel comes from a wonderful music background, the Delmore Brothers. They’re [Country Music] Hall of Famers and well should be. His father was Alton Delmore, one of the most prolific and one of the greatest songwriters I’ve ever come across, and I think he passed a lot of that down to Lionel. And, in turn, Lionel passed a lot of that to me. I know that I probably wouldn’t be half the writer I am had it not been for Lionel just being so insistent with me.
Tell me about writing “Weeds.” That has got to be the most unique song title I’ve run across in a long time.
Well, I originally had the idea for “Weeds” several years back. It seemed it just needed readdressing, and Lionel and I got together on the song and, of course, it’s a mournful thing. “I hope things aren’t like this tomorrow” is a big part of what it’s saying. It’s about this old boy drowning in his sorrow, no doubt. … There is this one line at the end of the song, and it’s one of the strongest lines, really, that I probably ever wrote. It’s “I don’t wanna hear how your times are hard/I got to pull the weeds in my own back yard.” Well, there’s been a few times for me that it’s been just that way. And I tell you what, anybody that hadn’t done it, if you just sit down and start pulling weeds for about eight hours, it’s a pretty big job.
Is that “Chicken Truck” story true about how you first met John Rich?
Indeed, the “Chicken Truck” story is true with Brother John Rich. We worked a show together. He was a member of Lonestar back in about ’95. A knock came on the door and a young man said, “I’d like to meet John Anderson and get a picture with him.” He said “I’m John Rich with Lonestar.”
Well, my fiddle player and bandleader, Joe Spivey, opened the door and said, “Well, are you a fan?”
He said ’Well, sure I am.”
Joe said, “Well, sing me a song.” I guess he was just trying to give him a hard time, being in fun, I’m sure. But, anyway, John broke into “Chicken Truck,” and after he sang about half of it, I overheard and said, “Tell him that’s good enough. Send him on in.” And little did I know that this man would become, 10 years later, one of the greatest songwriters and entertainers, as well as record producers. I must give him full credit on this record for production. He did a great job.
How did that all come about? I know you have produced quite a bit yourself. How did you decide to have John Rich do it?
I had co-produced or produced every one since the second one, and I think we’re on 27 or 28. So, as I got in the studio with John, I saw his energy and the things that were happening and the things he was telling the players. Indeed, at first we were going to co-produce the album. But after an hour of me being in the studio, just paying attention and looking, I thought this might be a great opportunity to just let this young man rock with it and I’ll just worry about the singing and we’ll try and make this a good record. And indeed he did a great job.
Well the album’s got a really kind of loose and easy feel to it, which I like.
Well, thank you. John and I really started working pretty much with the loose and easy feel. I mean, this whole album came about just by us writing songs together and, sooner or later, we knew that we would have to go into the studio and put our songs down. Actually, this album kind of stemmed from that. We go in the studio and, like I say, things seemed to be kind of magic at the time. You could feel it with the engineers and the players in the room. It felt great. That’s how this album, Easy Money, was born.
John has also said that you “are this generation’s George Jones.” How did you react when you heard that?
Well, what a wonderful compliment, and I am very flattered. I’ve always said those are real, real hard shoes to fill. I don’t know if I’m as tough as George Jones is. Or some of our other buddies, Merle, Willie, Ray Price. Man, I found those guys are tough. I don’t know if I’m that tough. I guess in 20 more years we’ll find out.