February may be the shortest month of the year, but I’ve got a really long list of things I want to share with you this go-around, so let’s get started:
First, we had a wonderful time on our 9th annual Country’s Family Reunion cruise to the Caribbean, and I want to thank all the great fans and friends who made the trip with us. We sang and laughed and went sightseeing and we ate. Then we ate some more. If you’ve ever been on a cruise you know what I’m talking about. Seems like there is a buffet open somewhere 24-7 for the entire week, and I seldom passed without stopping. From the food to the gym and back to the food again became my daily routine!
I arrived home to the wonderfully exciting news that I’ve been elected to the Songwriters Hall of Fame. This is the biggie…the one in New York where all the great writers from all genres of music are enshrined. From Irving Berlin to Bob Dylan and all the greats in between, I’ll be joining some very talented and exclusive company. The actual induction won’t be until June, so I’ve got several more months to let the news sink in and the excitement build, but I am certainly grateful and thankful for this honor. Who would have ever thought it on top of that little hotel in Commerce, Georgia, where I wrote my first hit song all those years ago?
It shouldn’t be too many more days until you can see and hear the new song I wrote for my friend, Vickie, when she was first diagnosed with cancer. It’s called, “Until The Light Comes On Again,” and we filmed a simple video to go along with the recording. We’ll get it finished as soon as our video editor wins his battle with the flu!
We’ve dedicated it to “All those whose lives have been interrupted by cancer,” and unfortunately that’s a lot of people. Maybe our song can help offer a glimmer of hope and a ray of sunshine to them as well as to the special lady I wrote it for. And, yes, that’s Vickie in the video with me.
Our tour schedule for the year is starting to take shape, and you’ll notice we’ll be teaming up with Bobby Bare on several of our concert dates. There wasn’t an empty seat at the one show Bobby and I worked together in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, a couple of years ago, and naturally we are hoping for similar results everywhere else we go. I imagine most places will advertise it as a Country Music Hall of Fame show, since Bobby and I are both HOF members, and those shows are few and far between these days. We’ve highlighted the dates where I’ll be appearing with Bobby on the Tour page at www.billanderson.com.
I was in the recording studio for several days just prior to the cruise, and laid down nine new tracks for my next album project. It’s hard to believe that in over a half-century of recording there’s something different that I haven’t tried, but the approach to this record is definitely different. I hope to finish it up this Spring and perhaps have it available by the middle of the year.
While we were our cruising, my grandson, Gabe, got quite a surprise from the Make A Wish Foundation. Gabe, as you know, has suffered from cancer for more than half his life, and he got invited to a special Disney-character show at the Country Music Hall Of Fame. He thought he was just going as a spectator, but mid-performance they called him up from the audience and announced that he and his entire family would be going for a week’s worth of fun to Disney World all expenses paid! The date hasn’t been set, but it will be sometime this year. To say that he’s excited would be the understatement of all time. Thanks to each of you who continue to ask about him and to pray for his recovery. And thanks, Make A Wish. You are wonderful!
We’re looking forward to seeing lots of you at shows coming up in Effingham, Illinois (16th), Wabash, Indiana (17th), The Villages, Florida (Mar. 1st), and Shelby, N.C. (Mar. 2nd). And we’ll see you back here next month.
Thanks so much for everything.
1) Does Jan Howard do any concerts still and will you two ever record together again?
There were several questions regarding Jan this month, so I’ll try to answer them all here. First, Jan’s health has not improved to the extent that she can sing, perform, or appear with us on Country’s Family Reunion at the present time. She never recovered 100% from the fall she suffered at her home a few years ago. She is surrounded by her many friends and still socializes with us whenever she can. The picture in our last newsletter was taken at a dinner where several of us gathered before Christmas to visit, laugh, and recall our fun times together. Which leads to our next question…
2) Are there any in the country music family who especially need our prayers and thoughts of encouragement at this time?
What a thoughtful question. Thanks for thinking to ask. We can all use positive thoughts and prayers at any time, but you might want to keep Jan in mind along with Donna Fargo, who is recovering from a stroke. Willie Nelson’s respiratory issues have been well documented while Mike Johnson, the great steel guitar player, has been undergoing treatment for a cancerous condition in his neck and throat area. He was unable to go with us on the recent CFR cruise and we missed him. Jeannie Seely’s husband, Gene Ward, has had some recent health concerns, and I’m sure there are others that I don’t know about. As the old gospel song says, we’re all “standing in the need of prayer.”
3) Up to now, what is the saddest moment and the happiest moment in your music career?
WHOA! I never really thought about that. My happiest TWO moments would have to be when I was invited to join the Grand Ole Opry all those years ago and my election to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001. I’ve certainly had some sad moments in my personal life, but at the moment I honestly can’t recall any directly related to my career other than perhaps the death of my manager, Hubert Long, back in 1972. I have been blessed beyond belief in my chosen profession, and continue to thank God every day for the light He has shined onto my path.
And a few quickies:
4) If I buy your book for my Kindle do you get the royalty?
Yes, thank you.
5) When someone records one of your songs do you have to approve that person or approve the recording before it’s released to the public?
6) Where can I find your recording of “Rock And Roll To Rock Of Ages” on CD?
So far as I know, it’s not currently available.
Thanks for all your questions. You can always send yours to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. or at P.O. Box 888, Hermitage, TN. 37076. See you back here next time.
It was all smiles at the Grand Ole Opry recently when I got together with (L. to R.) Jamie Dailey, Ricky Skaggs, Vince Gill, and Darren Vincent. I had better looking singers surrounding me on the cruise, though, as you can from this picture with Leona Williams and Rhonda Vincent. In the last picture, I’m trying to decide if Jan Howard and I sat in the wrong chairs or if the person who made the signs couldn’t tell which one of us was whom!! Regardless, it made me smile when I saw it.
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.