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Entertainment News

Sunday, 24 June, 2007 11:25 AM

CMA: John Anderson Gets Rich with Easy Money

PHOTO BY TONY BAKER

Raybaw recording artist John Anderson.

By Bob Doerschuk
© 2007 CMA Close Up News Service

The funny thing about John Anderson's voice is that even back in the late '70s and early '80s, when he came out of nowhere with his first smash hits, something about it seemed familiar.

It took a while to realize that Anderson sings with the voice that America hears in its imagination. It's rough and untamed. It can sound like it's ready for a fight or aching for some love. It can raise hell in a honky tonk or rise toward heaven on a sunny Sunday morning.

It's also been quiet over these past four years, since Somehow, Someway, Someday, his only album from his fifth major label deal. But that should change when Easy Money hits the streets on May 15. Anderson's debut for Big & Rich's Warner Bros.-distributed Raybaw Records label is what you would expect, in its wide emotional range, with plenty of heartbreak, humor and rugged warmth.

It is traditional Country Music - a sound that Anderson can claim a fair amount of credit for bringing back. Before Randy Travis had washed his first dish in the Nashville Palace kitchen, Anderson was breaking into the Top 10 with "Chicken Truck" and "1959," climbing higher into the Top 5 with "I'm Just an Old Chunk of Coal," and hitting the No. 1 spot for the first time, in 1982, with "Wild and Blue."

These hits, and the performances he packed around them on seven albums during a five-year run with Warner Bros., invigorated Country Music with a volatile, moonshine mix of outlaw, mainstream and roots elements. In the process, he established himself as one of the most distinctive personalities in the business - the successor, some were saying, to George Jones as a performer and Merle Haggard as a truth-telling writer.


Then, like a number of other legends or legends-to-be, Anderson parted company with his label and began wandering from one imprint to the next, never losing the respect of his peers or the affection of his fans yet forced to scramble as changes furrowed the Country landscape. Anderson emerged with at least one bit of hard-won wisdom. Leaning forward, winking playfully, pointing his finger for emphasis, he put it simply: "I didn't want a crappy little record deal."

He came to this realization slowly, during his two-year swing through the boardrooms along Music Row. "I went to all the labels in town, period," he said. "Somewhat to my dismay, nobody showed any interest, not even close friends and old buddies who could have jumped right up and signed us right away."

Opportunity came not from old-school pals but from a young superstar who, at the peak of his own success, never forgot how it felt to look up at Anderson from the audience.

"John Anderson is officially my honky tonk hero," stated John Rich of Big & Rich, who produced Easy Money. "I don't think that even John can comprehend what an influence he is. There's a hole in Country Music where he used to be, and I'm hell-bent on filling it back up."

The two met about 10 years ago, when Rich, then singing lead with Lonestar, knocked on the door of Anderson's tour bus. They stayed in touch and, years later, hooked up for a co-writing date which led to an invitation to come onboard for a week during a Big & Rich tour. For Anderson, the experience was at once a flashback and a premonition.

"It was like old times," he said, smiling. "John, Kenny, James Otto, Shiny [Shannon] Lawson, we were all on the bus, passing the guitar, singing and writing songs. Then John asked me what I wanted. I told him I'd take a decent record deal but if we could just write some good songs together, that would be like icing on the cake, because I was thinking," he said with a sly wink and a laugh, "'Man, I'm going to get me some Big & Rich cuts!'"

He got more than that: an offer to sign with Raybaw. By the time they hit the studio, Anderson and Rich were armed with a bunch of songs, about half of which they had written together, the rest a combination of things they hatched on their own or brought in from other writers, with highlights including a tear-it-up drinking song ("Brown Liquor"); a romantic ballad ("You Already Know My Love"); a slapstick rocker with a punch-line hook ("If Her Lovin' Don't Kill Me"); the heartfelt ("Bonnie Blue"); and fist-pumping ("Funky Country") tributes to Dixie, the de rigueur dig at the business side of Country ("Easy Money"); and a musically ambitious, Celtic influenced tour de force ("Weeds").

"A lot of making these songs work together came into play with the production, more so than on most of my other records - and that was all John Rich," Anderson said. "Yeah, a few songs were pretty spontaneous, but for the most part John came to each one with an arrangement in his head. He directed us, the players and me, and we all believed in him. Nobody had a sour face as they were being told what to do, and in Nashville, with players this good, that's walking on eggshells, brother. And for a guy like me to watch that, hell yeah, I was taking notes."

By his own admission, Anderson can be ornery when he's cutting tracks. "Norro Wilson, bless his heart, directed me a little bit on my first record and rightfully so. After the second album, though, I became a producer and I didn't let nobody tell me a damn thing. But within an hour after John and I started our first session, I stood at the studio window watching him work and decided that I wasn't going to co-produce this one. I'd just keep my opinions and ideas out of it and let him go. He kept saying, 'Trust me, Uncle John, I'm not going to screw up your record.'"

Rich insisted that it was never his intention to seize the sole production credit for Easy Money.

"I just wanted to get in there and do anything that would let me hear some new John Anderson music," he explained. "But I work real fast, so I think he saw me get in my groove and just let me do it. After we'd done a song or two, I realized I hadn't even taken the time to see how John thought about it. But he told me, 'If I hear something I don't like, I'll stop you.' And he never did."

They were kindred spirits, each drawing from the energy of the other in music, whether playing it or in laying out exactly what it needed from a broader perspective.

"The folks who run this business now think they can contrive their stars," Anderson said. "Anybody with any attitude barely makes it to the executive screen. Well, nobody had more of an attitude about their music than Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard or Waylon Jennings. Trust me, I knew them. You didn't tell Johnny Cash how to sing. You didn't tell Waylon what to sing. And you don't tell Merle Haggard a damn thing, if you got any sense. So I'd say to every artist, do your thing. Knock a hole in that screen; and tell 'em old John sent you."
Young John, grinning from the sidelines, said "Amen."

On the Web: www.johnanderson.com

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