- Out of all the songs you have written, what are your Top 5 that you love most?That’s not an easy question to answer for a couple of reasons. First, as I’ve said many times, my songs are like my children, and you know it’s impossible to pick a favorite child. Too, my favorite songs today might not be my favorites tomorrow. But you asked, so I’ll give it a try: “Mama Sang A Song,” because it’s so personal; “A Lot Of Things Different,” because it reflects on the positive ways we can change our lives as we grow older, “Country,” a song that hasn’t been released yet that I wrote with Mo Pitney and Bobby Tomberlin, “Demons,” a co-write with Jon Randall and an obscure cut from a Kenny Chesney record, and “Old Army Hat,” because it’s such a true and powerful story.
- Do you really answer all of your e-mails?No, I can’t possibly answer all of my e-mails, but the ones that do get answered are all answered by me.
- When you wrote “City Lights” in 1958, do you think it was a hit because at that time traditional country music was hot?No. In fact, it was just the opposite. Traditional country music had almost disappeared under the onslaught of a new thing called rock ‘n roll back in the late fifties. Looking back, I think there were two records that helped turn the tide back toward tradition…..”Alone With You” by Faron Young and “City Lights” by Ray Price. Roy Drusky wrote one, and I was lucky enough to have written the other.Thanks for continuing to send us your questions. Address them email@example.com or to me at P.O. Box 888, Hermitage, TN. 37076. I always look forward to seeing what’s on your mind.
ASK BILL!1) I saw where Leroy Van Dyke is 91-years young. Have you ever worked with him or written a song for him?Leroy is an amazing man and still going strong into his nineties. I have long considered him to be both a talented artist and a good friend. We’ve worked together dozens of times over the years, and while he has recorded a couple of my songs, I never wrote one especially for him. I wish I had been able to.2) When Cousin Jody appeared with Lonzo & Oscar, what instrument was he playing? It sounds like a dobro, but does not look like a conventional dobro. It doesn’t look like a lap steel either. So what is it?Jody jokingly called it his “Biscuit Board,” but in truth it was more like a lap steel than anything else. He did not play with it sitting across his lap, however, but rather in a standing position with the instrument held up by a strap around his neck. It was electrified and had no resonators, which would eliminate it being an actual dobro. To be honest, it was an instrument that didn’t fit into any particular category. As you accurately wrote later in your letter, “Nashville is full of folks who play non-traditional instruments.” Cousin Jody, whose real name was Clell Sumney, was most definitely one of those people.3) I think your song, “While Talking To Myself” is an awesome song. How did you come up with it?Thank you. I’m pretty proud of that song myself. I borrowed the idea from the title of a book that I heard about….something like “Observations I Gained From Talking To Myself.” I thought the concept lent itself perfectly to a country song, and I still think so. Maybe somebody will discover my song someday and turn it into a hit. I tried, but my version didn’t make it.QUICKIES: Did you ever work with Ernest Tubb, and if so, how was it? How about Marty Robbins? What was he like? I worked alongside them both, both at the Opry and on the road. I learned a lot by just standing by and watching how they conducted themselves both onstage and off. They were each amazing artists and stylists, and I remain a fan to this day. Did you know Linda Martell at all? Linda was one of the first African American singers who tried to carve out a career in country music. I may have met her somewhere along the way, but I can’t say that I “knew” her because I didn’t. Are any of your children or grandchildren thinking about a career in the music business? Or would you rather they didn’t? All I have ever wanted for my kids or grandkids is for them to be happy, and if a career in country music could do that for them then I’d be all for it. Right now, though, I don’t think any of them are headed in that direction. I’m sure George Jones recorded some of your songs, but was there one that you really wanted him to record? He did cut a few like “Once A Day” and “I Don’t Love You Anymore,” but nothing that I wrote especially for him. I can’t narrow it down to any one song, but I’d have been thrilled to hear George wrap his tonsils around anything that I might have created. He was truly one of the best.Thank for your questions as always. I’m open to receiving new ones 24/7, so if you have something on your mind write and let me know. The address firstname.lastname@example.org P.O. Box 888, Hermitage, TN. 37076. I’ll look forward to hearing from you, and I’ll see you back here again next month.
1) Have you ever considered recording cover songs by some of the late and great artists who have gone on? Example – Carl Smith, Hank Williams, Wynn Stewart, and many more?
I’ve recorded many songs over the years that have been hits for some of the greats. I can think of at least four Hank Williams songs that I have done…”Wedding Bells,” “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” “I Dreamed About Mama Last Night,” and “Pictures From Life’s Other Side.” There have probably been others. In recent years, though, the trend has been to record more original songs than covers. But if it fit my project, I would never say no to a great song.
2) Do you think the Opry will ever go back to the same format that it used to be?
I assume you mean to the format where one artist hosted a particular segment of the show, opened and closed that segment with their own songs, and introduced the guest artists…as opposed to having an announcer do it all. They changed the format in response to COVID, with the purpose being to have fewer people onstage at one time. I don’t know what the plan is moving forward, and I’m not sure the Opry even knows at this point. If and when I hear anything, I’ll gladly pass it along. Out of curiosity, which way do you like best?
3) When you wrote “The Lord Knows I’m Drinking” did you write it in the tempo that Cal Smith recorded it or in the tempo you later released?
My version was for my Whisperin’ Bluegrass album, and a bluegrass arrangement just lends itself to a faster tempo. Or, if the tempo itself is not faster, it SOUNDS faster because of the rolling banjo and other acoustical instruments. I wrote the song more in the vein of Cal Smith’s original record, and the fact that it was such a big hit leads me to think that was the right way to do it.
Quickies: Your July newsletter dealt with a question about your high school years. How many people were in your graduating class? That’s been a few years ago, but I seem to remember it was around 140. A friend of mine knew Jack Greene when he worked in your hometown of Decatur, Georgia. Did you know him then? Yes…he worked at a glass repair shop and my dad handled their insurance. Jack played music at night at the Covered Wagon in Atlanta. Do you know why Neal McCoy has never been invited to join the Opry? No I don’t. You’ll have to ask someone who is involved in making those decisions. I am not. Do you have an address where I can write to Connie Smith? You can write to any of the Opry artists in care of the Grand Ole Opry, 2804 Opryland Drive, Nashville, TN. 37214. I seem to remember you once had a drummer you called Snuffy Miller. Was that his real name, and is he still with you? His real name was Len Miller, and he was with me from 1964 into the early 70’s. He passed away a few years ago. What are your thoughts about karaoke music? I try not to think about it.
Thanks for continuing to supply me with interesting questions for the Ask Bill column. If you are curious about something, let me know. I’ll do my best to try and satisfy that curiosity.
Write me at email@example.com or in care of P.O. Box 888, Hermitage, TN. 37076. We’ll see you back here next month.
1) What advice would you give to somebody who wants to write songs?
It would depend on what that person had in mind. If they wanted to write strictly for their own enjoyment, I’d say pick an idea, put together a chord structure on guitar or keyboard, and go for it. But if they have dreams of writing songs commercially, then I would suggest that, first, they listen to current music as much as possible to see what the trends are and the types of songs that are successful. Print out lyrics and study how hit songs are constructed. Search through some of the many books and videos that address songwriting. And consider joining the Nashville Songwriters Association, International (www.nashvillesongwriters.com)
. They have some amazing materials and programs for aspiring writers. And I would wish this person good luck….because we can all never have too much of that!
2) Do you have contact with any of the people in your high school graduating class? Did you participate in the choir or the band?
My graduating class was an extremely close-knit group, and we have had well over a dozen class reunions since 1955. I have attended most of them. One of my classmates, Shirley Bettis, for years forwarded all our fan club newsletters to our group, and that helped me stay connected to many of them as well. Like the song says, “You can’t make old friends,” and those are some of the best friends I ever had. No, I was not in the choir or the band in school.
3) I have heard about Jimmy Gateley all of my life. I will someday be buried in the same cemetery as him. I would like to know how he passed, and if you have any stories that you’d like to share of your time working with him.
Jimmy, from the little community of Pleasant Hope, Missouri, was the bass player, fiddle player, singer and emcee for my Po’ Boys band for 13-years…from its inception in 1964 until 1977. He died of a heart condition in 1985. Jimmy was the only band member I ever hired who was older than me, and I learned so much from him. He had been a cast member on the Red Foley Ozark Jubilee TV shows before moving to Nashville, and he was so much wiser about the ins-and-outs of the music business than I was. I wore him out asking questions, but in his calm, understated way he graciously (and often humorously) answered them all. He was a great guy, extremely talented, and hardly a day goes by that I don’t remember something he said or did and it always makes me smile. I wrote a lot about him in my first autobiography, “Whisperin’ Bill,” which you might be able to find at a garage sale somewhere.
Quickies: I was so sad to read of the recent passing of B.J. Thomas. Did he ever record any of your songs? And did Elvis ever record any? Yes…back in the sixties B.J. recorded “I May Never Get To Heaven.” Elvis never did any of mine, though. I wish he had!
You recorded a song in the 50’s called “Take Me.” Have you ever thought about re-recording it for a current album? No I haven’t. That wasn’t a very good song back then, and it hasn’t gotten any better over the years. Did you ever smoke? I tried it like most teenagers, but I didn’t like it. I’ve got plenty of bad habits, but smoking is not one of them. How did you come up with the song, “If Anything Ever Happened To You?” It’s a great song. Thank you. I wrote it thinking about my mom and dad They were married for 68-years, and I’d often wondered which one would go first and how the other one would be able to survive on their own. Have you ever written a song for one of your children or grandchildren? The day my first child, Terri, was born I wrote a song for her, but that’s the only one. It was not intended to be commercial, and I never tried to do anything with it other than giving it to her. Were the two great guitar players, Sammy Pruitt and Jack Pruitt, related? Yes. Sammy, who played with Hank Williams, was the older brother of Jack, who played with Marty Robbins and others. A fan of yours noted a wish for a Bill Anderson-Lionel Richie writing session. Any thoughts? I have never met Lionel Richie, but I’m a big fan of his. I’d love to write with him, but we should probably meet one another first.
Thanks for a large supply of good questions this month. Sorry I couldn’t get to them all. I’ll hang onto as many as I can for August. Meantime, 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 month.