BILL ANDERSON (By Phil Davies)
Born James William Anderson III, 1 November 1937, Columbia, South Carolina
Bill was raised near Atlanta. He studied journalism at the University of Georgia, with an eye toward sports writing, and worked his way through school as a radio DJ, during which time he first tried his hand at songwriting and singing. His composition the now classic "City Lights", written when he was just 19 years old, was recorded by Ray Price in 1958 and went all the way to the top of the country charts, reaching gold disc status. Anderson took full advantage of his big break, moving to Nashville and landing a record contract of his own with Decca. He was fortunate to work with legendary producer Owen Bradley. His first chart hit came with 1959's "That's What It's Like to Be Lonesome" and he had his first Top Ten entry with 1960's "Tip of My Fingers". This was covered by Eddy Arnold, Roy Clark and became a 1970 UK top 20 hit for comic legend Eric Morecambe's fav singer, Des O'Connor (Des compered Buddy Holly's 58 UK tour). Twas the era of the smoother Nashville sound.
Early hits like "Po' Folks" (1961, he named his band Po Folks in tribute to this hit, which also got him onto the Opry), "Mama Sang a Song" (his first number one, from 1962), and "8 X 10" (number two, 1963) still remain among his best-known. Anderson recorded his biggest hit and signature song, the partly spoken ballad "Still", in 1963, and it not only topped the country charts, but crossed over to the US pop Top Ten as well (# 8). Liverpudlian comic Ken Dodd started covering Bill's hits and reached the charts here with "Still", "8 by 10" and "Happiness" (Ken still closes his stage/tv shows with this song). Karl Denver also reached the top 20 with a cover of "Still". His Po' Folks guitarist Jimmy Gateley wrote the classic "The Minute You're Gone" for Sonny James which became a UK numero uno for Sir Cliff in 1965, would've suited Elvis in his Nashville ballad mode.
Anderson remained a regular visitor to the country Top Ten through the late '70s, and reached the Top Five a total of 19 times through 1978. Among the highlights were the number ones I Get the Fever (1966), For Loving You (a 1967 duet with regular partner Jan Howard), My Life (Throw It Away if I Want To) (1969), World of Make Believe (1974), and Sometimes (1976). By that point, Anderson was working often with a new duet partner, Mary Lou Turner. He had also penned numerous hits for other artists, including Connie Smith ( Once A Day), Hank Locklin ( Happy Birthday To Me), Porter Wagoner (I've Enjoyed This As Much As I Can Stand), Jim Reeves ( I Missed Me) Burl Ives (It Comes and Goes), Frankie McBride ( 5 Little Fingers) and Brenda Lee ( My Whole World Is Falling Down).
He co-wrote "Face To The Wall" with Faron Young and the great "When Two Worlds Collide" with Roger Miller (title track of JLL's 2nd Elektra album). Roger and Bill wrote it alternating lines on a road trip. Bill's narration "Golden Guitar" (written by Curtis Leach) earned him the nickname Whispering Bill, given by dj Don Bowman who went on to record a parody of "Still". Bill's most famous style is the gentle whisperlike vocal style, often a mix of singing and recitation. Whilst a lot of his work is perhaps too sentimental for most readers there are gems like "Bright Lights & Country Music" (covered by Rick Nelson in his Decca days), the uptempo "I Got The Fever" and "3A.M." about a man on the verge of suicide (wonder why Ken Dodd never covered that one, too taxing perhaps ;-)). he worked with Bradley until 1973 when Buddy Killen took over production duties.
During the Vietnam war he recorded the patriotic "Where have All My Heroes Gone?" This no doubt lead to a duet with ultra right winger Roy Acuff on "I Wonder If God Loves Country Music", which sounds like a Billy Connolly sketch!! Showing his diversity he also recorded a duet with ex con and outlaw David Allen Coe, "Get A Little Dirt On Your Hands". His final Top Ten country hit came with 1978's disco-tinged "I Can't Wait Any Longer" paving the way for a whole trend of awful disco country songs by other lesser talents. Thankfully his spell as Nashville's answer to Barry "walrus of lurve" White was short lived! Wonder what his co founders of ACE (Association Of Country Entertainers) thought about that, ACE was set up to prevent country music (ala 70s mode) against losing sight of its heritage. Decca (now MCA) dumped Bill and many other older stars in 83.
By 1982, Anderson's inability to score a follow-up hit led him away from both songwriting and recording. Instead, he became a regular presence on television, hosting game shows (ABC's The Better Sex, TNN's Fandango) and spending several years in the cast of the soap opera One Life to Live; he also hosted the TNN talk show Opry Backstage ; he and his wife had a narrow escape as victims of a hit and run driver in 1984, both recovered.
When Steve Wariner hit the Top Five in 1992 with yet another cover of "The Tips of My Fingers", Anderson was galvanized into a return to songwriting. He partnered with various Nashville pros and saw his songs new and old recorded by many others like Ricky Scaggs, Vince Gill etc. In 1998, Anderson returned to recording as well, signing with Reprise for the all-new album "Fine Wine. A Lot Of Things Different" which featured Anderson's version of the title track (a hit for Kenny Chesney followed on Varese in 2001).
Shaun and I saw Bill at the Ryman at an Opry birthday show in Oct 2000 along with Jim and Jesse, Millie Kirkham and Billy Walker. Many of our favs have covered songs by the hoarse whisperer( D Oh!) Dino, Merle Haggard, Lefty Frizzell, Mickey Gilley, Ray Campi, Wanda Jackson, Waylon, JLL, Ricky, Jack Scott, George Jones, Dave Rich, Ray Price and Ivory Joe Hunter. If that stellar list wasn't enough to wet your appetite, well how about naming another SAO fav covered by Desmond Dekker mon?
Thanks to AMG & CMP
Country Music -the Rough guide - Kurt Wolff
most of the covers listed above by SAO favs
old Decca lps like
Bright Lights & Country Music ( check out Bill's and Rick's)
BA Sings Country Heart Songs
BA Greatest Hits - 1996 cd Varese Vintage, 18 of the best compiled by the Billster, only the 4 70s songs spoil it
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