Sunday, 24 June, 2007 11:25 AM
CMA: John Anderson Gets Rich
with Easy Money
BY TONY BAKER
recording artist John Anderson.
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
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
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
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
"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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