Country Music People December 2017 - Page 55

bookreview WHISPERIN’ BILL ANDERSON: AN UNPRECEDENTED LIFE IN COUNTRY MUSIC Bill Anderson with Peter Cooper University of Georgia Press Right from early childhood, when he listened to (and attempted to imitate) stars like Hank Williams and Ernest Tubb, Bill Anderson always loved country music and knew that’s where his future lay, if not in baseball. Country won out though, with songwriting launching his phenomenal career – not once, but twice, making him the most successful songwriter in country music history. What Anderson never imagined, back in the early 1990s – with four decades, some 80 chart records to his credit and viewing himself as a dinosaur in a changed music world – that he was about to reinvent himself in that new era of music by co-writing with a new generation of Nashville talent. This book charts his phenomenal career, not only as a much applauded songwriter but also an artist who broke beyond the boundaries of country music and into the realms of mass entertainment. It all began, aged nineteen, when working as a dj on radio station WJJC in Commerce, Georgia, he sat on the roof of the Hotel Andrew Jackson, surveyed the city below him and wrote: “the bright array of city lights, as far as I can see/The great white way shines through the night for lonely guys like me.” It became a song, City Lights and then a hit – in fact, a monster hit - for Ray Price, rising to number one and remaining there for 13 weeks during its 32 duration in 1958/59. A publishing deal with Tree Music followed and, within a relatively short time, he had also become a recording star on Decca. Mama Sang A Song, Still and 8 X 10 were among the recordings that firmly established his reputation, a combination of emotional ballads given a “sing-a-little, talk- a-little” vocal format that earned him the title “Whisperin’ Bill”, a moniker given him by country music comedian Don Bowman. Next, aided by an energetic New York manager, Bobby Brenner, the singer-songwriter moved beyond the realms of country music on television, first hosting quizzes and later acting in a daily soap opera, “One Life”. Then his recording career slumped and, although he did enjoy a brief regeneration with country disco, he was not only out of a recording contract but nearing bankruptcy thanks to several bad investments. But an old song changed his life. The Tips Of My Fingers (originally titled The Tip Of My Fingers and Anderson’s first ever Top 10 hit as a recording artist, back in 1960) was revived by Steve Wariner and climbed to #3 in 1992. Then, upon the suggestion of hair stylist Cheryl Riddle, he met up with Vince Gill for a co-writing session. It produced Which Bridge To Cross (Which Bridge To Burn) and Gill’s recording went to #4 in the Billboard Country Charts. Suddenly Bill Anderson was a hitmaking songwriter again and found a home amidst Nashville’s new breed. Other writers that followed included Steve Wariner (Two Teardrops, #2 for Wariner), Skip Ewing and Debbie Moore (Wish You Were Here, #1 Mark Wills) and Jamey Johnson (Give It Away, #1 George Strait). Then, joining George Jones and Buck Owens as backup vocalists on the Brad Paisley recording Too Country, co-written with Chuck Cannon, he won the 2001 CMA Vocal Event of the Year early days, then later comfortably by tour bus), members of his band, Po’ Folks, the Grand Ole Opry, discovering talent like Connie Smith, and life on Music Row. Songwriting is, naturally, well covered with Anderson stating that empathy, along with a good idea, was always the basis for his writing. Then later, with the co-writes, there’s an insight into the blending of creative talents that led on to far, far greater financial rewards than ever secured in his early days. With acclaimed Nashville journalist Peter Cooper involved in the writing, Bill Anderson’s personality shines throughout the narrative with a string of anecdotes, often told with humour, emotion and modesty. It’s also pleasing to find that he’s always ready to give credit where credit is due, like it was Ernest Tubb who persuaded Ray Price to record City Light, George Hamilton IV who helped resolve a career making decision and Tree Music’s Terry Choate who dusted off the writer’s original hits which led on to the career Award, particularly memorable as Anderson had never previously won a CMA Award. The reason: the Association didn’t start handing out its accolades until 1967, soon after Anderson’s first round of hitmaking days were over. But he made up for it that year as, later, he also received country music’s ultimate honour, induction int FP6VG'W62bfR&W6FW2f7W6rW'fW2vƖvG2FP&6FWF26W'F7V7G2b26&VW"6VFrFVVr'W&6VG'7FFFW&rFR&B'7&VB6"FR&W7W'&V7FV7F&VBWF&w&( v7W&~( &FW'6( 2w&VB6vBF6&VW"`R6W7BB7B7V66W76gVb6f^( 067&VFfRFVG2F'v'F%TUD$$@tDTB&RR6F6vW"2W"ƗGFRFVVG2bFW72@&'FF6F7B7V6W"R#3cPDT4T$U"#r6SP