Gary James' Interview With
"Whisprerin'" Bill Anderson
There's an old saying: "If you want someone's attention, whisper." And it seems to have worked for Bill Anderson, known to fans world wide as "Whisperin'" Bill Anderson. Bill Anderson has been voted Songwriter Of The Year six times, Male Vocalist Of The Year, half of the Duet Of The Year with both Jan Howard and Mary Lou Turner, has hosted and starred in the Country Music Television Series Of The Year, and in 1975 was voted membership in the Nashville Songwriters Hall Of Fame. Ten years later, the state of Georgia honored him by choosing him as only the 7th living performer inducted into the Georgia Music Hall Of Fame. In 1993, he was made a member of the Georgia Broadcasters Hall Of Fame. In 1994, South Carolina inducted him into their Music And Entertainment Hall Of Fame. And in 2001, he received the ultimate honor, membership in Nashville's prestigious Country Music Hall Of Fame. Bill Anderson was the first Country artist to host a network game show, starring on ABC-TV's The Better Sex. He also appeared for three years on ABC's daytime soap opera, One Life To Live. For six years he hosted a Country music game show on The Nashville Network called Fandango, later an interview show called Opry Backstage, and co-produced another TNN show called You Can Be A Star. In addition, Bill Anderson has appeared frequently as a guest star on television's top variety and game shows including The Tonight Show, The Today Show, Match Game, Family Feud, Hee Haw and so many others. For seven years he hosted the Bill Anderson Visits With The Legends show on XM satellite radio.
Bill Anderson's first autobiography, Whisperin' Bill, was published in 1989 and made best sellers lists all across the South. His second book, I Hope You're Living As High On The Hog As The Pig You Turned Out To Be, published in 1993, is currently in its 10th printing. Since 1997, Bill has hosted the highly rated television series on RFD-TV, Country's Family Reunion, a show where legendary Country stars sit alongside both their peers and newcomers to the industry, singing their songs and swapping their stories.
In the mid-1990s Bill Anderson co-wrote giant hits for Vince Gill ("Which Bridge To Cross, Which Bridge To Burn"), Steve Wariner ("Two Teardrops"), Mark Wills ("Wish You Were Here"), Joe Nichols ("I'll Wait For You"), and Kenny Chesney ("A Lot Of Things Different". He won Song Of The Year honors in both 2005 and 2007 for helping to write "Whiskey Lullaby" for Brad Paisley and Allison Krauss, and "Give It Away" for George Strait. He also won a Dove Award for co-writing the Country / Gospel Recorded Song Of The Year, "Jonah, Job And Moses" for The Oak Ridge Boys, plus the CMA Vocal Event Of The Year, "Too Country", recorded by Brad Paisley, George Jones, Buck Owens and Bill himself. Both "Give It Away" and "Two Teardrops" resulted in Grammy nominations.
In 2002, Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI) named Bill Anderson as its first Country music songwriting icon, placing him alongside R&B legends Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and James Brown as the only recipients of that prestigious award. In 2008, the Academy Of Country Music honored him with their inaugural Poets Award. On September 1st, 2016, Bill Anderson will release an updated autobiography written with noted Nashville journalist Peter Cooper, titled "Whisperin'" Bill Anderson - An Unprecedented Life In Country Music.
What an honor it is to present an interview with "Whisperin'" Bill Anderson.
Q - You're coming out with this new autobiography of yours on September 1st, 2016. I thought you had already written your autobiography.
A - I wrote one back in 1989 after I'd been in the business about thirty years. I thought I'd done everything I was gonna do. (laughs) Strange things happen. I had another career and it was probably bigger and more fruitful than the first one. The autobiography is coming out September 1st (2016) and people can check it out and actually pre-order it now at my website, www.BillAnderson.com
Q - You didn't start out as a Country singer, did you? You started out as a disc jockey, didn't you?
A - Yeah.
Q - As a disc jockey did you ever interview other famous singers?
A - Yeah, sure did.
Q - Did you meet Elvis at that time?
A - No. I didn't meet him at that time because that was in the very early days of his career. I did ultimately meet him. I never interviewed him, but I met him and had dinner with him. I spent a little bit of time with him.
Q - Was it just the one time then?
A - Yeah.
Q - You were writing a column in Country Song Round Up magazine I believe giving advice to aspiring musicians. Is that correct?
A - No, it wasn't exactly that. I wrote a question and answer column for them for over twenty years. People would just send in various questions. Some of 'em would be about getting into the music business. Others would be what ever happened to so and so? You know, those kinds of things. Just general questions. I'd have ten or fifteen of 'em every month and answer 'em in there. That was fun. I enjoyed doing that.
Q - Did anyone who wrote to you go on to have success in the music business? Do you know?
A - (laughs) I don't know. If they did I never knew about it. I never had anybody come up and tell me that, but you never know.
Q - I actually saw you in concert at the New York State Fair. I believe it was back in 1971. You're no stranger to Syracuse, New York.
A - I've spent many days and nights there, the old War Memorial Auditorium up there. I played a bunch of concerts there and had many friends for years at the old WSEN radio station up there. I think I played the New York State Fair a couple of times. I always enjoyed it.
Q - And didn't you and your band challenge the guys at WSEN radio to a baseball game?
A - My musicians and I would get confused whether we were musicians or softball players there for awhile. We had a little team and we'd go around and play games for charity around the country. That was a lot of fun.
Q - As pastimes go, it seems pretty harmless.
A - Well, I grew up wanting to be a ball player so I got to live out my fantasies of playing music and playing ball. (laughs) Two loves of my life.
Q - When you wrote "City Lights" at 19, it became a hit. How did you find the time to get your college degree.
A - (laughs) I didn't sleep. I'd get up early every morning and I'd go to class from 8 o'clock, 7 o'clock some mornings until noon, then I'd go to the radio station and work. Then I'd get off and go study as little as I could get by with and then crank it up and start all over again the next day. I worked at it. I was very determined to get my college degree because that was the only thing my parents ever really asked me to do, which was to graduate from school, so I did and I was able to get some practical experience along the way and the fact that the songwriting career started at the same time, you look back on it and you wonder how it all happened, but it did and I've been very blessed by it all.
Q - What was your major in college?
A - Journalism.
Q - And you did put it to good use.
A - Well, I've always loved to write. It didn't matter what I was writing. I wrote sports for awhile. I wrote about Country music every time I had a chance. I just loved to write, so I figured a journalism degree would come in handy. I don't know if it helped me to write songs or not, but I don't guess it's hurt me.
Q - Today, people go to Belmont College in Nashville and the intern at various music companies.
A - Yeah, they do that. There are several colleges now that have various music programs. I don't mean Classical music. We had all that when I went to school, but these very practical things that they have at Belmont and Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, which is near Nashville, they have recording industry courses and classes. They didn't have that back then. If they had I probably would've signed up for every one of 'em. (laughs)
Q - When you get right down to it, can you really teach someone in a college setting how to be like Bill Anderson?
A - Well, I don't know anybody that would want to go to college to learn how to be like Bill Anderson. They cannot sit you down in a journalism class or a music class or anything and teach you to be a songwriter. They can teach you the basic principles of how you write, how you communicate, and then you have to take it and go from there. They can give you the road map and the guidelines, but ultimately it comes down to your own ability and creativity and your own desire and work ethic.
Q - How long did it take you to write "City Lights"?
A - I wrote the whole song in one night. I wrote it up on the roof of a little motel where I lived. I don't have any idea how long I sat up there. I'm sure I wrote it in a couple of hours or so.
Q - Were you referring to the lights of Music Row?
A - No. There was no such thing as Music Row back then. There aren't many lights on Music Row to start with. I was just I guess using my imagination. The night I wrote the song was a clear night with a lot of stars in the sky. I guess I was kind of drawing the comparison between the stars above and the lights down below, although I was in a very small town that didn't have a lot of lights.
Q - Was it easier to get a record deal when you were starting out? Did you have to pound the pavement, knocking on record company doors, leaving demo tapes?
A - I didn't have to do it that way. I guess some people do. I got my recording deal because of my songwriting. I had written several songs, "City Lights" and then two or three after that and had gotten them recorded. My music publisher actually took me to a record producer and the record company and opened that door for me. So, I didn't have to go knocking on the doors, introducing myself. I had a little bit of a track record already built up when the record opportunity came along.
Q - That makes it a whole lot easier.
A - Oh boy, tell me. (laughs) When people ask me today how do I get into the music business, I stress to them: Write your own songs, create your own thing, be original. Do it your way and hope that your way is something that people will want.