Forgive me, but I was so busy yesterday eating cake, opening birthday cards, and fielding e-mails, texts, and phone calls that I simply did not have time to get our November newsletter out on time. Thanks to each of you who sent me birthday greetings in whatever format you chose….over 4,000 messages on Facebook alone! You have a way of making my getting older not nearly as traumatic as it might be otherwise.
I had a great birthday with family and friends, and I’m ready to rock ‘n roll (in a country way, of course) into the month that lies ahead. It promises to be a good one.
On November 5th, I will spend an hour visiting with my friend, Clint Black, on his Circle Network TV show, “Talking In Circles.” I hope lots of you will tune us in. On the 8th, I plan to attend the BMI Songwriter Awards Dinner for the first time since Covid, and the next night I’m taking my 14-year old granddaughter, Hallie, to her first CMA Awards. She loves country music more than any of my grandkids, and she’s over-the-top excited about getting to go to the show. She’s even going to walk the red carpet with me beforehand. I’ve overheard her saying more than once, “This is going to be the best day of my life!” I hope it is.
October was a busy month in Whisperville. I was voted Songwriter of the Year by the members of ROPE, and I appreciated that honor very much. I joined my fellow songwriter, Steve Dorff, for a night of music and fun onstage at the City Winery October 4th, and throughout the month performed five shows at the Grand Ole Opry. On the 16th, I attended the Medallion Ceremony at the Hall of Fame where I was invited to close the show by leading the crowd in singing, “Will The Circle Be Unbroken.” I appeared as a surprise guest on new Opry member, Carly Pearce’s sold-out show at the Ryman on the 26th, and I got to induct my buddy, Steve Wariner, into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame on the 30th. I said it was a busy month, and it was.
I lost some special friends last month, too, with the passing of Loretta Lynn, Jody Miller, Anita Kerr, and Jerry Lee Lewis. I talk about my relationship with Loretta in our Ask Bill column later on, but I enjoyed great friendships with the others as well. Jody and I rode together in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade back in the early 70’s (and nearly froze), plus we co-hosted the TV show, “Country Standard Time,” once or twice on TNN. Anita Kerr’s fabulous singers were the warm, inviting background voices on my recordings of both “Mama Sang A Song,” and “Still,” and played a large role in many of my early recording successes. All three ladies were amazing talents and will certainly be missed.
Jerry Lee and I went back farther than most of you might know. When I was still a disc jockey in Georgia in the late fifties, and Jerry Lee’s career was just shifting into high gear, I booked him to perform at an outdoor skating rink in the small town of Winder. He performed all right…an afternoon concert, an evening concert, and in between he and his band members put on what may have been the best show of all when they strapped on roller skates, and made like Roller Derby contestants across the hardwoods. If you thought Jerry Lee was wild on the piano, you should have seen him on skates! In later years, I toured with him on many occasions, and he recorded at least two of my songs, “City Lights,” and “When Two Worlds Collide.” Suffice it to say, we will probably never see another one quite like “The Killer.”
This Month In Whistory: I was reading through my letter to you from the fall of 2007 after Buddy Cannon, Jamey Johnson, and I had just won the Academy of Country Music’s award for writing the Song of the Year, “Give It Away.” I wrote: “They say what happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas, but my trophy didn’t. It sits proudly inside a case in my house, and hopefully it’s not going anywhere.” I never dreamed at that point the trophy would sit today inside a Bill Anderson Exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Thanks for continuing to make so many of my dreams come true by being the best bunch of friends and fans a guy could have. I wish for you and yours a blessed and Happy Thanksgiving, and I’ll see you back here in December.
1) Did you ever go on tour with Loretta Lynn? Did you ever record together? I will forever miss her.
Many of our questions this month have revolved around Loretta and folks wanting to know more about my relationship with her. She and I came to town about the same time in the early sixties, and my first memory of her was seeing her in a white cowgirl outfit trimmed in red standing in the lobby of the old Cumberland Lodge Building downtown trying to get in to see the Wilburn Brothers. We all know how that turned out! Yes, I toured with her quite a bit in the early days, and used to love standing backstage watching her impersonate me during her performances. We never recorded together, but I sang with her on stage several times. In later years, when Conway Twitty couldn’t be with her, she would call me out to do Conway’s part on “God Bless American Again.” I wouldn’t take anything for those great times and all the memories.
2) I was reading in your autobiography about the song, “Saginaw, Michigan,” and your involvement in writing it. You say your name was added as a co-writer on the album copies, but I’ve never seen it there – even on the budget reissue that came out in 1973.
After Don Wayne asked me to help him finish writing, “Saginaw, Michigan,” I had every intention of recording it myself. And, as the artist, I was not going to ask for part of the songwriter’s share. However, when Don or Buddy Killen, the publisher, or somebody leaked the song to Lefty Frizzell, I felt I should be compensated. Don agreed, and my name was added to the song. By the time that happened, though, the first 45rpm copies of Lefty’s version had come from the pressing plant without my name on them. That was changed by the time his album was released, and my name has been on the song ever since. How it got left off that 1973 re-issue is anybody’s guess. The best part is that my name has been on the royalty statements for almost sixty years.
3) Do you think that country music has lost its identity? I certainly believe that is has.
I don’t know that country music has “lost” its identity, but its style and its sound has definitely evolved and changed in recent years. But that’s nothing new. I imagine when Bill Anderson and Roger Miller and Willie Nelson and Harlan Howard and Loretta and Dolly and all the rest of us came to town in the early 60’s that Roy Acuff and Ernest Tubb and the other pioneers thought country music’s identity had been lost too. We wrote songs and recorded them differently from the way it had been done up to that point, and I’m sure some longtime artists and fans didn’t take too kindly to our innovations. The one constant in music is that it’s constantly changing. It always has and it always will.
Our Question of the Month comes from Diane in Michigan and is an insightful one: “Back in 1969 I saw you perform at the Ryman Auditorium. When the time came to move on, what was it like to no longer have the Opry at the Ryman?”
It was strange at first. The Ryman was the only Opry home that I had ever known, as both a fan and as an artist, and there was a certain sentimentality to leaving it behind. It felt weird to drive to another part of town on Friday and Saturday nights, even though for the first time we had free parking near the stage entrance and spacious dressing rooms inside. As a performer, the distance from the stage to the front row at the Ryman had been short and the fans always felt close to us and us to them, an intimacy that was compromised in the move to the new, larger Opry House. At the same time, it was a move that had to be made. The Ryman had fallen into a sad state of dis-repair, and the surrounding area downtown had grown neglected and seedy, nothing like it is today. Some people wanted the Ryman to be torn down, but fortunately wiser and cooler heads prevailed and the building has a vibrant life today. What felt awkward at the time has turned out to be a win-win situation for everybody.
Quickies: Several of you responded to last month’s question asking if Hank Williams ever recorded a Christmas song. Many referred to his version of, “At The First Fall Of Snow” as being his one and only Christmas recording. I checked out the lyric, and while that’s a wintertime country song, it is not “religious,” as some suggested, nor does it have any connection to Christmas. I think it stands that Hank never recorded a Christmas song. Who was your steel player on “Walk Out Backwards?” It was the legendary Hall of Famer, Pete Drake. Did you write the song, “Old Things New?” I know you have a version and so does Joe Nichols. I like them both. Thank you. I co-wrote it with Buddy Cannon and Paul Overstreet. What is Carol Lee Cooper doing these days? Does she still perform? I reached out to her to try and get an update on her current activities, but so far I have not heard back. I’ll let you know when I do.
Thanks for a great group of questions again this month. If you’ve got one rolling around in your head, feel free to send it to me, and I’ll try my best to answer. Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and watch for your answer in a future column. Win your choice of any item free from our online store if yours is chosen our Question Of The Month. See you back here in December.
I tried to talk the person who puts together our photo section into flipping this first picture over so that my birthday candles would read “58”, but he said he couldn’t do it. Besides, that would make my granddaughter, Sophie, “31” and that wouldn’t be fair. We shared our birthdays with each other once again, and as always it was special. It was also special to share the Ryman stage with the current Female Vocalist of the Year, Carly Pearce, a few days prior. Carly is a terrific singer, a super-nice young lady, and the perfect kind of person to help guide the Grand Ole Opry into and beyond its 100th birthday. As I told her onstage, she’s what the future of country music is all about. Our third picture shows three guys who have each had some big nights over the years, and Steve Wariner’s induction into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame was one of his biggest. I was the one who got to hand him his Manny Award after Garth stilled the crowd with his rendition of Steve’s “Holes In The Floor Of Heaven.” Later, as you can see, we were all smiles backstage.