- John Anderson Gets
Rich with 'Easy Money'
By Bob Doershuk
- © 2007 CMA Close Up News Service /
Country Music Association, Inc.
The funny thing about John Anderson's voice is that even back in
the late '70s and early '80s, when he came out of nowhere with his
first smash hits, something about it seemed familiar.
It took a while to realize that Anderson sings with the voice that
America hears in its imagination. It's rough and untamed. It can
sound like it's ready for a fight or aching for some love. It can
raise hell in a honky tonk or rise toward heaven on a sunny Sunday
It's also been quiet over these past four years, since Somehow,
Someway, Someday, his only album from his fifth major label deal.
But that should change when Easy Money hits the streets on May 15.
Anderson's debut for Big & Rich's Warner Bros.-distributed Raybaw
Records label is what you would expect, in its wide emotional
range, with plenty of heartbreak, humor and rugged warmth.
It is traditional Country Music - a sound that Anderson can claim
a fair amount of credit for bringing back. Before Randy Travis had
washed his first dish in the Nashville Palace kitchen, Anderson
was breaking into the Top 10 with "Chicken Truck" and "1959,"
climbing higher into the Top 5 with "I'm Just an Old Chunk of
Coal," and hitting the No. 1 spot for the first time, in 1982,
with "Wild and Blue."
These hits, and the performances he packed around them on seven
albums during a five-year run with Warner Bros., invigorated
Country Music with a volatile, moonshine mix of outlaw, mainstream
and roots elements. In the process, he established himself as one
of the most distinctive personalities in the business - the
successor, some were saying, to George Jones as a performer and
Merle Haggard as a truth-telling writer.
Then, like a number of other legends or legends-to-be, Anderson
parted company with his label and began wandering from one imprint
to the next, never losing the respect of his peers or the
affection of his fans yet forced to scramble as changes furrowed
the Country landscape. Anderson emerged with at least one bit of
hard-won wisdom. Leaning forward, winking playfully, pointing his
finger for emphasis, he put it simply: "I didn't want a crappy
little record deal."
He came to this realization slowly, during his two-year swing
through the boardrooms along Music Row. "I went to all the labels
in town, period," he said. "Somewhat to my dismay, nobody showed
any interest, not even close friends and old buddies who could
have jumped right up and signed us right away."
Opportunity came not from old-school pals but from a young
superstar who, at the peak of his own success, never forgot how it
felt to look up at Anderson from the audience.
"John Anderson is officially my honky tonk hero," stated John Rich
of Big & Rich, who produced Easy Money. "I don't think that even
John can comprehend what an influence he is. There's a hole in
Country Music where he used to be, and I'm hell-bent on filling it
The two met about 10 years ago, when Rich, then singing lead with
Lonestar, knocked on the door of Anderson's tour bus. They stayed
in touch and, years later, hooked up for a co-writing date which
led to an invitation to come onboard for a week during a Big &
Rich tour. For Anderson, the experience was at once a flashback
and a premonition.
"It was like old times," he said, smiling. "John, Kenny, James
Otto, Shiny [Shannon] Lawson, we were all on the bus, passing the
guitar, singing and writing songs. Then John asked me what I
wanted. I told him I'd take a decent record deal but if we could
just write some good songs together, that would be like icing on
the cake, because I was thinking," he said with a sly wink and a
laugh, "'Man, I'm going to get me some Big & Rich cuts!'"
He got more than that: an offer to sign with Raybaw. By the time
they hit the studio, Anderson and Rich were armed with a bunch of
songs, about half of which they had written together, the rest a
combination of things they hatched on their own or brought in from
other writers, with highlights including a tear-it-up drinking
song ("Brown Liquor"); a romantic ballad ("You Already Know My
Love"); a slapstick rocker with a punch-line hook ("If Her Lovin'
Don't Kill Me"); the heartfelt ("Bonnie Blue"); and fist-pumping
("Funky Country") tributes to Dixie, the de rigueur dig at the
business side of Country ("Easy Money"); and a musically
ambitious, Celtic influenced tour de force ("Weeds").
"A lot of making these songs work together came into play with the
production, more so than on most of my other records - and that
was all John Rich," Anderson said. "Yeah, a few songs were pretty
spontaneous, but for the most part John came to each one with an
arrangement in his head. He directed us, the players and me, and
we all believed in him. Nobody had a sour face as they were being
told what to do, and in Nashville, with players this good, that's
walking on eggshells, brother. And for a guy like me to watch
that, hell yeah, I was taking notes."
By his own admission, Anderson can be ornery when he's cutting
tracks. "Norro Wilson, bless his heart, directed me a little bit
on my first record and rightfully so. After the second album,
though, I became a producer and I didn't let nobody tell me a damn
thing. But within an hour after John and I started our first
session, I stood at the studio window watching him work and
decided that I wasn't going to co-produce this one. I'd just keep
my opinions and ideas out of it and let him go. He kept saying,
'Trust me, Uncle John, I'm not going to screw up your record.'"
Rich insisted that it was never his intention to seize the sole
production credit for Easy Money .
"I just wanted to get in there and do anything that would let me
hear some new John Anderson music," he explained. "But I work real
fast, so I think he saw me get in my groove and just let me do it.
After we'd done a song or two, I realized I hadn't even taken the
time to see how John thought about it. But he told me, 'If I hear
something I don't like, I'll stop you.' And he never did."
They were kindred spirits, each drawing from the energy of the
other in music, whether playing it or in laying out exactly what
it needed from a broader perspective.
"The folks who run this business now think they can contrive their
stars," Anderson said. "Anybody with any attitude barely makes it
to the executive screen. Well, nobody had more of an attitude
about their music than Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard or Waylon
Jennings. Trust me, I knew them. You didn't tell Johnny Cash how
to sing. You didn't tell Waylon what to sing. And you don't tell
Merle Haggard a damn thing, if you got any sense. So I'd say to
every artist, do your thing. Knock a hole in that screen; and tell
'em old John sent you."
Young John, grinning from the sidelines, said "Amen."
On the Web:
John Anderson will perform at CMA Music Festival in Downtown
Nashville on Thursday, June 7 at the Greased Lightning® Daytimes
Stages. Full performance lineups and ticket details: CMAfest.com
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