Bill Anderson’s exploits strictly as a vocalist or songwriter alone be enough to ensure his selection to the Country Music Hall of Fame, which makes the fact that he’s achieved legendary status in both areas even more noteworthy.
Yet Anderson, who will be honored Saturday at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in the latest edition of their Poets and Prophets: Legendary Country Songwriters series, admits that he’s still so busy that these types of events are really the only time he pauses to look back at his magnificent career.
“It really does seem like I just came to town yesterday,” Anderson said. “The years have just kind of gotten away, but when you’re really busy and active you don’t have time for looking back that much. But a program like the one Saturday is a good opportunity to consider just how fortunate and blessed I’ve been throughout my career.”
Museum Editor Michael Gray will conduct an in-depth, one-on-one interview with Anderson, while also including in the program recordings, photos and film clips.
Anderson will also perform briefly and immediately after the program will sign autographs in the Museum Store.
His unique breathy vocal style and earnest narrations, which earned him the nickname “Whispering Bill,” has been featured on seven number one country hits, among them “Mama Sang a Song,’ “Still,” “My Life (Throw It Away If I Want To)” and “World of Make Believe,” plus another 29 top 10 singles.
As a writer he’s penned spectacular fare for a host of performers from Ray Price, Connie Smith and Jim Reeves to current stars like Brad Paisley, George Strait and Kenny Chesney. He’s also been able to make the transition from the style and sound of earlier eras to the present.”
“I’m still doing a lot of the things that I did before in terms of writing,” Anderson explained. ‘It’s still a case of constantly thinking about hooks, song lines and titles, doing a lot of reading, always being conscious in conversations of where a word or a phrase might lead to a good song idea.”
Anderson said the one big difference between the songs in the Fifties and the ones today is that audiences like to have things presented in a more upbeat, positive fashion.
“I remember when you’d write a song and you would emphasize the down side — the crying in your beer — and there are still plenty of great songs being written like that today. But in general, I think you do have to kind of tailor the approach more in a positive direction, though again there are no hard and fast rules,” he said.
A journalism graduate of the University of Georgia as well as a former disc jockey and sports writer, Anderson’s first hit song “City Lights” was written while in college. It became a number one hit for Ray Price in 1958, and after that Anderson soon moved to Nashville and began his extraordinary career.
Throughout the remainder of the 1950s, as well as the ‘60s and into the ‘70s, Anderson was seldom off the charts as either a writer or performer. He also became a Grand Ole Opry member in 1961.
But then Anderson did something that would spell doom for almost anyone else. He took nearly 20 years off from songwriting to move into other areas of the entertainment industry.
“I had always wanted to try doing game shows, so I did that for a while. I was on daytime soaps and hosting programs and doing a lot of other things,” he said. “But I never completely abandoned music. I just wasn’t earning a living as a songwriter during that period.”
His other pursuits ranged from co-hosting the ABC program The Better Sex with Sarah Purcell and being sole host on TNN’s Fandango to being a three-year regular on ABC’s One Life To Live, co-producing another TNN show “You Can Be A Star” and appearing as a celebrity on “Match Game,” “Family Feud” and “Password Plus.”
But upon returning to songwriting in 1995 by co-writing “Which Bridge To Cross (Which Bridge To Burn)” with Vince Gill, Anderson was quickly back in peak writing form. He ended the 20th century with two big hits, “Wish You Were Here” (cut by Mark Wills) and “Two Teardrops” (done by Steve Wariner).
Moving into the new millennium, Anderson showed he could successfully pen tunes for the latest country generation. The 2001 single “Too Country” that was co-written with Brad Paisley won a CMA Vocal Event of the Year award. The riveting single “Whiskey Lullaby,” co-written with Jon Randall, was an enormous hit for the duo of Paisley and Alison Krauss, and it eventually won both Video of the Year and Vocal Collaboration of the Year, and ‘Whiskey Lullaby” and “Give It Away” in 2007 were CMA Songs of the Year.
“There are so many wonderful young people in country music today,” Anderson said. “I’m not one of these folks who sit back and complain about the good old days being gone. Sure, you can’t write songs today like you did in 1958, but there are still plenty of incredibly talented and gifted people in the industry. It’s a pleasure to work with them and a thrill that they want to record my songs.”
Others who’ve recorded Anderson songs recently include Sara Evans, Martina McBride, Craig Morgan, Joe Nichols, Jon Randall and Sugarland.
Anderson’s also had numerous songs cut by stars in other genres. James Brown, Elvis Costello, Aretha Franklin, Ivory Joe Hunter, Dean Martin and Lawrence Welk are among non-country performers who’ve had hits with Anderson tunes, and he marvels that the trend continues.
“I just had (American Idol winner) Ruben Studdard cut one of my songs,” he said. “I don’t even know where he got it, but he’s done a great job with it. I’m always pleased when my songs are done by anyone, and it’s great he’s the newest person to do it.”
With a new disc planned for 2010 matching him with some of contemporary country’s hottest writers and singers, Whispering Bill’s distinguished and exceptional legacy will continue on into the second decade of the 21st century.
What: Hall of Fame songwriter and vocalist Bill Anderson being honored as part of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s quarterly Poets and Prophets: Legendary Country Songwriters series.
When: 1:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: The museum’s Ford Theater, 222 5th Ave. S.
Cost: Museum admission, $19.99 (adults), $17.99 (60+, students and military), $11.99 (6-17).