May is shaping up to be a merry month indeed for the durable John Anderson.
On Friday (May 15), he’ll be partnered with longtime admirer Keith Urban on the CBS-TV special, ACM Presents: Superstar Duets, and on May 26, he’ll release Goldmine, his first new album in nearly six years.
The duet is sure to unleash a tidal wave of nostalgia as he and Urban rock the stage with “Swingin’,” Anderson’s chart-topper from 1983 and a CMA award-winner.
“Boy, what a great job he and his band did on it,” Anderson says of Urban’s input on the duet. “He took a guitar solo that was just incredible.”
The insanely catchy “Swingin’,” which Anderson penned with Lionel Delmore, was just one of a catalog of classics that led to the Florida native’s induction into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame last year.
Now 60, Anderon has lost none of that sharp-edged, curlicuing voice that powered such hits as “I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal,” “Would You Catch a Falling Star,” “Wild and Blue,” “Black Sheep,” “Straight Tequila Night” and the majestic “Seminole Wind.”
The 13 songs on Goldmine — 12 of which Anderson wrote or co-wrote — fall into this same all-force, no-frills territory. It’s the first album he’s released on his own label, Bayou Boys Music.
His co-writers on the project include such luminaries as Josh Turner, John Rich, Buddy Cannon and Jimmy Fortune. “I Work a Lot Better,” one of his two joint efforts with Turner on the album, has just gone out as the first single.
Anderson produced Goldmine with his long-time fiddler player, Joe Spivey, who’s also a member of the non-touring supergroup, the Time Jumpers.
“Joe’s probably one of the greatest musicians that ever came through town,” says Anderson, “and certainly one of the greatest I’ve ever had the chance to play with — for 28 years. In that time, I guess Joe’s learned about as much and contributed as much to my particular style of music as anybody.”
Most of the songs were already written by the time he decided to do the album, Anderson says.
“Actually, the songs started piling up,” he said. “I’m thinking I’ve got to do something. At first, I started out to do a solo album. It was just going to be me and a guitar.”
But he changed plans once he decided to start his own label.
“At that point,” he says, “I realized I had the chance to go into the studio and do whatever kind of album I wanted to do. Then I started thinking if we’re going to start this company, we need to do a full orchestrated album with brand new songs [other than those contemplated for the solo collection].”
In true Anderson fashion, Goldmine embraces the ephemeral and the eternal with equal zest. “Magic Mama” ( a Merle Haggard song) and “Louisiana Son of a Beast” are both goofy, good-natured romps.
“I Work a Lot Better” blossoms into a flirtatious frolic. “Holdin’ On” and “Song the Mountain Sings” are hard-shell traditional country offerings. Replete with fiddle and steel, the former laments hard times, while the latter rejoices in a sense of place.
“Back Home” and “I Will Cross O’er The River” are reflections on mortality, heightened in intensity by Anderson’s own brush with death from a heart attack in 2004. He was set to play a festival in Charleston, West Virginia, when the symptoms came.
“It was a routine day on the road,” he recalls. “We did the sound check, and I said I might go to my bus and rest a little while. About 4 o’clock that evening, I woke up with chest pains. Not long after that, I started to feel like there was an elephant sitting on my chest. I knew something was wrong.”
Fortunately, the head heart surgeon at the hospital Anderson was taken to was also a country music fan and has since become a close friend.
“He saved my life,” Anderson declares. “I don’t know what went on that afternoon, but I know I was about out of it — to the point of praying to the Lord to please save me.”
Blessed with a droll sense of humor about his career, he adds, “Due to not being hot at the time, nobody really knew about it.”
He was back on the road and working again within a month.
That humor emerges again in the cut-by-cut commentary Anderson provided for the Goldmine press kit. Remarking on “I Will Cross O’er The River,” which he wrote single-handedly about his hoped-for passage to an afterlife, he quipped, “Surely Vince Gill don’t have that funeral market all sewed up.”
Anderson says he took the song’s title from a quotation attributed to General Stonewall Jackson: “Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees.”
But there was no one incident inspired the song, he says. Rather, it’s more of a meditation on the stage of life he’s reached. He points out that he’s “the proud grandfather of three grandchildren” and has had to witness “a lot of my buddies who had to cross that river.” All these factors figured in.
“Nobody is here forever,” he muses.
But right now, John Anderson is doing just fine.