Bill Anderson at Opry City Stage
The night after legendary country music singer-songwriter Bill Anderson was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame at the nearby Marriott Hotel in Times Square, he performed a very rare New York City show at Opry City Stage last Friday night (June 15), playing many of the classics that made his SongHall induction so richly deserved.
These included his 1960s hits “Po’ Folks,” “Wild Week-End,” “I Love You Drops,” “Mama Sang a Song,” “Walk Out Backwards” (by audience request), “The Tip of My Fingers” (after saluting his friend Steve Wariner, who covered it and performed it during Anderson’s SongHall induction), his 1969 country cover of Kenny Rogers and The First Edition’s pop hit “But You Know I Love You,” and, of course, “Still,” his 1963 signature--a No. 1 country hit and No. 8 pop crossover.
He also sang hits that he wrote—and he enjoys the distinction of having placed a song he wrote or co-wrote on the country charts for seven consecutive decades—for others: “City Lights” (written when he was 19 and a No. 1 hit for both Ray Price and Mickey Gilley), “Saginaw, Michigan” (penned with Don Wayne and Lefty Frizzell’s last No. 1 in 1964), “Once a Day” (Connie Smith’s No. 1 debut single, also in 1964), and more recently, George Strait’s 2006 hit “Give It Away,” co-written with Buddy Cannon and Jamey Johnson and the 2007 Country Music Association Song of the Year.
But Anderson also sang “Peel Me a Nanner,” Roy Drusky’s 1964 Top 10 country hit that he wrote, which he joked was the real reason he was inducted into the SongHall (thanks to lines like “Peel me a ‘nana, toss me a peanut/I’ll come swingin’ from a coconut tree...you sure made a monkey out of me”). His more recent composition “The Songwriters,” though, came closer to certifying it: “We get to break out of prison, make love to our best friend’s wife, have a beer for breakfast in Boston, drink rum in Jamaica that night...we’re the songwriters.”
Another more recent song he wrote (with Dean Dillon) and performed was Kenny Chesney’s “A Lot of Things Different” (also the title of Anderson’s 2001 album), which was more serious. In fact, he said he’d told Chesney that he was too young to understand it, being an older person’s reflection of life regrets like not spending more time with his dad when he was alive, and not telling his brother how much he loved him before he went off to war.
“People say they wouldn’t change a thing—even if they could,” sang Anderson, “oooh, but I would.”
As he has throughout his long, venerable career, he sang with utter conviction, never more so than on “I Wonder If God Likes Country Music,” his 1983 duet single with Roy Acuff—"The King of Country Music,” whom Anderson invoked when he first took the stage. The song is about a country singer who happens on an old man at a gig, who wants to sit in. The singer and band laugh at him at first, but when the old man cries, they give him a chance.
On the record, Anderson sang in his trademark “whispering” recitative style –hence his “Whisperin’ Bill” nickname. Now 80, Anderson’s voice, like the late Acuff’s, may not be as sweet and smooth as it was when he recorded it. But Anderson, now one of the last of the Grand Ole Opry legends to have been there with Acuff, is still no less viable as a creative artist, both on stage and on paper.
And by the way, Acuff’s part on “I Wonder If God Likes Country Music” was ably filled by James Freeze, Anderson’s bass player of 27 years.
Bill Anderson and Roy Acuff sing "I Wonder If God Likes Country Music"