I hope everybody had a Happy Thanksgiving, a Blockbuster Black Friday, and a Cool Cyber Monday. And now I’m wishing you a Dandy December and Smooth Sailing from here until Christmas.
I had all my family at my house for Turkey Day (except for my two granddaughters who don’t currently live here), and we ate and talked and laughed and ate some more. It was a super day, but by nightfall things had turned a bit topsy-turvy.
By 3 A.M. (there’s a good title for a song!) my daughter Terri was in the ER at a local hospital, and on Saturday morning my friend, Vickie, was admitted to another. The rest of the weekend is a big blur, but I’m happy to say that as I am writing this, everyone is safely back home and things are looking up.
I had been scheduled to go into the recording studio the day after Thanksgiving, but after all that happened my mind wasn’t on it and my heart wasn’t in it. So I canceled my sessions. I used the time to rest up and regroup, and hopefully I’ll feel like rescheduling sometime soon.
I did do a bit of recording prior to the holiday, and when you read our Ask Bill column you’ll see what I was up to. Also, I did some songwriting last month and particularly enjoyed a couple of writing days with John Schneider, the fine singer and former star of “Dukes Of Hazard.” He, Bobby Tomberlin, and I wrote a song we’re all excited about, plus John recorded two other songs Bobby and I had a hand in writing. He has a very unique vision for his musical career moving forward, and I think you’ll be hearing and seeing some great work from John in the days ahead.
All of us at the Grand Ole Opry are excited about the new Opry venue in New York City and the fact that our Opry shows are being televised live on giant screens right in the middle of Times Square. I’ll be interested in hearing from any of you who might have been there. And speaking of New York, my fingers are crossed that the Songwriters Hall of Fame up there decides to vote me membership into their esteemed circle this year. Voting closes December 17th, but it may be early in 2018 before we’ll know the results.
Closer to home, I want to give a special shout-out to my former Avondale High School classmates who receive our newsletter every month courtesy of a sweet lady named Shirley Bettis. Shirley, a former classmate herself, is on our mailing list, and forwards our publications each month to the folks we went to school with. Avondale High, which was in suburban Atlanta, doesn’t exist anymore except in our hearts and our memories, so I’m doubly thankful for this continuing connection.
Well, with Christmas on the horizon you’ve probably got lots of things on your plate, and I shouldn’t keep you any longer. I hope it’s a wonderful holiday season for each of you and that Santa fills your stockings with all kinds of goodies… and maybe even a few Bill Anderson records, books, t-shirts, and the like. By the way, we’ve still got some of our Christmas cards available..check them out at www.billanderson.com. And thanks to all who took advantage of our Black Friday specials. Be watching for some new products from us early next year.
Merry Christmas! And may God bless us everyone. See you in Branson for New Years Eve!!
1) I would like to ask when and where was your first concert, and if you were the only artist, and what songs you sang if you remember.
The first time I ever sang in public was in a high school talent show when I was in the 10th grade. For about five years after that, I sang on every local show I could find around Atlanta. In the Spring of 1959, I was invited to perform with my very first Grand Ole Opry troupe. It was at a movie theater in Burlington, North Carolina, and I appeared along with George Morgan, Roger Miller, and Donny Young, who was later to be known as Johnny Paycheck. I’m sure I sang “City Lights,” and probably my first Decca recording called, “That’s What It’s Like To Be Lonesome,” but I have no idea beyond that. It seems like a hundred years ago.
2) The Jimmy Dean Show – Can you tell us how the kinescopes survived and where they were kept for so many years?
I reached out to Jimmy’s widow, Donna Dean Stevens, on this one, but unfortunately she wasn’t sure of the answer. She wrote, “All I know is that before they became my property they belonged to Bob Banner & Associates who produced the shows. Bob Banner also produced the Carol Burnett and Garry Moore Shows. Somehow I remember they had donated some of the kinescopes to UCLA, but I don’t know the whole story.” I’m sorry that doesn’t fully answer your question, but the full answer may never be known.
3) I got your newsletter and I really liked the family pictures. I have a question: Is Vickie your wife, or girlfriend, or mistress?
For the past ten-plus years, Vickie, whose full name is Vickie Lee Salas, has been my best friend and companion. Many of you met her at my 50th Grand Ole Opry Anniversary Celebration back in 2011. Others of you may have been introduced on one of our Country’s Family Reunion cruises, or perhaps at a show in Branson or elsewhere. You might not have recognized her in the recent picture, because two years ago Vickie was diagnosed with cancer. She underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments, and lost her pretty long blonde hair. It has come back short, curly, and snowy white.
Late last year, we thought the cancer had gone into remission, and she went back to work in her job as a professional tailor. Unfortunately, the cancer reappeared, and she is now undergoing chemo and radiation for a second time. It hasn’t been a fun journey for either of us, but we continue to work with the doctors and pray.
Not long after she was first diagnosed, I wrote a song for her and recently made a simple recording of it with just an acoustical guitar and upright bass. I’m going to post that recording online soon so that you and others who might be going through a trying situation of your own can listen and hopefully draw strength from it. It’s called, “Until The Light Comes On Again,” and Vickie says it has been very meaningful to her. I can only hope it will be equally meaningful to you and to others.
Thanks for all your questions. If you have one for me, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org
The custom made table you see here on the left was a birthday gift to me from some very special friends and fans here in Nashville. It was made by a company that specializes in unique, one-of-a-kind products, and stands over 4 ft. tall. I don’t know how much it weighs, but moving it from my office to my house was no easy task. As you can see, it depicts many different facets of the Grand Ole Opry and my involvement there for all these years. I am extremely appreciative of such a special gift. The picture on the upper right was taken Nov. 18th when I hosted the Ernest Tubb Midnight Jamboree radio show. The young lady with the big smile is Ava Kelley, granddaughter of my longtime guitar player, Les Singer. Ava, who is 8 1/2 years old, made her radio debut that night singing “Once A Day.” And on the lower right, one more picture and one more lasting memory of my long friendship with Mel Tillis. He was a big part of my early career and of country music in general. He will certainly be missed.
If, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, these three pictures are worth their weight in gold. They were taken on one of Mel Tillis’ last appearances on the Grand Ole Opry. You can see from the smile on my face how easily he could make me laugh…and in the last picture you can see how much we genuinely cared for one another.
I probably knew Mel longer than I knew any other Nashville artist. We met in late 1957 or early 1958 on a show called the Peach State Jamboree in Swainsboro, Georgia. I was one of the “local” entertainers and Mel was the week’s special guest from Nashville. Our first conversation, after being introduced, went something like this:
Mel: I…I…I heard your rec…record on every damn ra…ra…radio station in Ge…Ge..Ge…Georgia on my way d…d…down here. Hoss, it’s a sma…sma…smash!
Me: Thank you. Are you talking about the ballad called, “City Lights?”
Mel: Hell, n…n…no. It’s tha…that…that one with the crazy drum be..beat.
Me: Oh, you mean “No Song To Sing.” Yeah, that’s on the other side.
Mel: W…W…Well, every station I lis…lis…listened to was p…p…playing it. Do…do you have an extra cop…copy I could have?”
I assured him that I did, and I gave him one. Next thing I knew, he had returned to Nashville and recorded his own version of “No Song To Sing” on Columbia Records. It wasn’t a hit for Mel, but it was the flip side of his first national hit, “A Violet And A Rose.”
In later years, he confessed to never having flipped my record over and listening to “City Lights.” “Hell,” he stuttered, “I cou…could have had the hit in…in…stead of Ray Pr…Pr…Price!”
In 1989, toward the end of his recording career, Mel started his own label called Radio Records. Believe it or not, his first release…and the last record he ever had on the Billboard charts…was an incredible version of “City Lights.”
Rest in peace, my friend. And thanks for a lifetime of laughs, music, and memories.