Bill Anderson Dishes on Songwriting Success, Grand Ole Opry and New Single With the Oak Ridge Boys
Whisperin’ Bill Anderson is still one of the most active legends in country music. Taste of Country recently talked with the Country Music Hall of Famer, Grand Ole Opry Star, and Nasvhille Songwriter’s Hall of Fame Member about his enduring success in the fast-paced world of entertainment.
As the most-recorded songwriter in country history, Anderson said that he always was careful to not become too intertwined as Bill Anderson, the artist and Bill Anderson, the songwriter. “What I tried to do as an artist, was to try to find the best song I could find to record. If I thought the best song, or commercial song, or the song that fit me the best was one of my own songs, naturally I would record that one first,” the legend explains. “But I never closed my eyes or my ears to songs that came in from other writers, because I knew there were wonderful songwriters out there, and I couldn’t possibly write everything that I wanted to record.”
‘Whiskey Lullaby,’ sung by Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss, ‘Give It Away’ by George Strait, ‘I’ll Wait for You’ by Joe Nichols and ‘A Lot of Things Different’ by Kenny Chesney are just a few of Anderson’s recent success stories as a songwriter, but a long list of classics also include cuts by Jean Shepard, Ray Price, Conway Twitty and Porter Wagoner.
So, why didn’t the singer of 80-plus Billboard chart hits of his own keep these songs for himself? “Certain songs that I would write, I didn’t feel like that they exactly fit my image, or maybe they weren’t my style of songs, so I would gladly give them away if somebody else wanted to record them,” Anderson spills.
The 75-year-old legend has remained relevant throughout the changes in the music business, but says he has mixed feelings about social media and is unsure if he would have liked the medium if it was around when he was having hit records on the radio. On one hand, it would have helped him reach a wider audience and increased communication with fans on a wider scope, “but the other thing about social media when you’re in the public eye, it’s kind of become invasive in a way,” he says. “It’s a shame that somebody can’t just have their own private life apart from the public eye sometimes. You think something almost and somebody’s tweeting it out somewhere and it spreads all over. I don’t think I would of enjoyed that sort of fishbowl existence, if that had been the big thing back when I was making hit records. It’s a double-edged sword.”
Anderson has seen several changes in the music world in his time, including the evolving lineup on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry. For the bulk of his years as an Opry member, the stage was dominated by Opry mainstays like Minnie Pearl, Roy Acuff, Grandpa Jones and Bill Monroe. Now, it’s more about Carrie, Keith, Trace, and Brad.
However, Anderson says that the Opry is still magical. “I can’t say it’s the same kind of magic. I think it’s just different,” he explains. “There are so many great nights at the Opry where there is a great mix of young new talent with some of us who’ve been there a while — like me and Little Jimmy Dickens, Jean Shepard, Jim Ed Brown — and when they mix that together, it gives the younger, newer fans a taste of the older country music. When the younger artists come out, a lot of the older people in the audience aren’t that familiar with them, but they see them and enjoy them, and they become fans.”
An active member since 1961, Anderson is proud to say that, “the Opry is still a very magic place, it’s still a wonderful show, but to say that it’s the same kind of magic, no, because it’s a different kind of show. Nobody comes out and tells the stories like Minnie Pearl. Nobody comes out and balances the fiddle bow on their chin, or yo-yos like Roy Acuff. It’s magic, but a different kind of magic.”
Today, it seems like Bill Anderson is just as in demand as he was in 1963, when he hit No. 1 with ‘Still.’ Often seen as the host of ‘Country’s Family Reunion’ on RFD-TV, Anderson is also busy making new music, like the recently released ‘Gone Away.’ The song was the creation of Steve Ripley and Buddy Cannon, who brought it to Anderson, who then put a twist on it by adding the country music references honoring some of the genre’s long-lost legends.
Meanwhile, Anderson reveals, “Buddy came up with the idea of asking the Oak Ridge Boys to sing on it. I was thrilled as I am a gigantic fan of the Oaks and have been for years. This was kind of a labor of love, we didn’t exactly know where it was gonna go or where it was going to end up. It’s something I was very proud to be able to do and put out on the market.”
And the rest… is history.