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Bill Anderson whispers his way through bluegrass

By Dan MacIntosh, December 2007

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"'We've got to do this. This song is too good to not show it to somebody'," I urged. So, he came in one night, late one night, and we did a demo. And the song sat around for about three and a half years. The Dixie Chicks had it on hold for a short while."

"And then everything blew up on them. We knew it wasn't the kind of song that everybody was gonna rush to beat down the doors to record because it was a sad song; it was a double suicide drinking song. It kind of went against the grain of everything that was going on in country music at that time. And we knew it was going to take a very special record. It was going to take a very special performance and a very special artist to make it work."

"During the time that the Dixie Chicks had it on hold, Brad Paisley heard it. In fact, I was there the day he heard it. And he said, "If they don't record it, you let me know. I want to put a secondary hold on it.' And that's what we did. And when everything kind of blew up with the Dixie Chicks I said, ‘Brad, you remember that song ‘Whiskey Lullaby'? He said, ‘Oh yeah.' Then, he and his manager, Frank Rogers, came up with the idea of making it a duet because we did not write the song as a duet at all."

More recently, George Strait had his 51st number one hit with Anderson's co-write on "Give It Way," which is nominated for Best Country Song at this year's Grammy program. Anderson collaborated with Buddy Cannon and Jamey Johnson on the track, and - according to a recent interview with Cannon in The Tennessean - Johnson was so depressed about his impending divorce he no longer wanted any of the material belongings he shared with his soon-to-be ex-wife. This led to the song's lyrical focus on giving all that stuff away.

So, how does this latest big hit rank among Anderson's many chart accomplishments? "I'm not sure how a writer goes about 'ranking' his hit songs, but this one was named both the ACM and the CMA Song of The Year for 2007 and it's up for a Grammy Award in February," Anderson comments via email. "I think the public ranked it pretty well, and that's what matters to me."

Bill Anderson, who is as quiet a man as his "Whisperin'" nickname implies, is living proof that the pen is, indeed, sometimes mightier than the sword.. Because behind that friendly face and soft voice is a sharp songwriter's mind. Now with "Whisperin' Bluegrass," Anderson shows us that his insightful honky-tonk songs and gospel favorites also fit the bluegrass style.

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