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Whisperin' Bill finds a lot of things different

By Jon Weisberger, November 2001

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Collaborating on songs, Anderson notes, has its strengths and weaknesses. "I wonder sometimes, if we don't get to the point where we use co-writing as a crutch. It can be a terrific thing to prop you up in certain areas. For example, I'm not the world's greatest melody writer, particularly the more intricate melodies that a lot of the country things have today, so there are times when I need to bring somebody in. I'd get an idea for something and I'd know that if I was going to make it commercial for today's market, it would need a little more melody than maybe I'd be able to bring to it."

"And yet, on the other hand… I did a radio show today with some songwriters, and I had three writers there, and I asked each one of them to sing their favorite song they'd ever written. When they got through, I said, 'y'all probably didn't realize this, but there's a common thread running through that.' They all looked at me and asked what it was. I said, 'each one of you wrote your favorite song by yourself.' There were no co-writers involved."

"So, we got to talking about compromises, and I think maybe in some ways you do tend to compromise when you're co-writing, and yet if you can get a co-writer and you can get on the same wavelength, then sometimes two heads are better than one. So it's not a cut-and-dried, black-and-white issue, really. There's a lot of gray involved."

For his own album, Anderson used both material he'd written himself and songs created in collaboration with others. Among the latter are the classic "When Two Worlds Collide," written with Roger Miller and a major hit for three artists over a period of two decades, while the former include "A Death In The Family," previously cut by fellow Opry star Little Jimmy Dickens. Aside from these two vintage numbers, though, the rest of the songs are new, and they demonstrate the range of Anderson's writing partnerships.

"Too Country," which closes the collection, was written with Chuck Cannon, and appeared on Brad Paisley's "Part II," released earlier this year, while "When A Man Can't Get A Woman Off His Mind," recorded by newcomer Craig Morgan, bears Sharon Vaughn's name and Ander-son's. Other collaborators include Wariner, Dean Dillon and Jon Randall.

But though he's been working with contemporary writers, Anderson remains unaffected by one trend that runs through much of today's writing.

"I try not to get very involved in thinking about who might record a song until it's finished," he says. "I don't want to limit myself by thinking 'well, this would be perfect for so-and-so', but you can't say this word, or this would be perfect for me, but you've got to take that high note out of it. I try not to let that affect the actual construction of the song.

"When I finish the song, I might have an idea that it might be something I could do, I don't really think that as much any more as I used to because I want to get songs recorded, and I'm not on a major label. So, I kind of record those that are left over, that nobody's picked up," he laughs. "But I never have been the kind of writer that liked to write for a particular artist, I've always felt like that kind of limits you. Let's just write the song, say what we want to say in the best way we can say it, and then we'll go from there and see where it lands."

Still, the songs on his new album don't sound like leftovers, and even before the Varese Sarabande deal, fans were snapping up the CD at personal appearances and on Anderson's website.

"It occurred to me somewhere along the way that all of my fans didn't die the day that Garth Brooks came to town," he notes. "There are still some people out there, and in recent years they haven't been served by country radio outside of the Opry or with the whole debacle at TNN. They've kind of felt pretty disenfranchised by the whole thing. I have people come up to me at my shows and say, 'well, I can't hear your records on the radio so I had to come out and see you' – which is kind of a backhanded compliment. All I can say to them is, 'Gee, I'm sorry to put you through the torture,'" Anderson laughs, "'but while you're here, would you like to buy a record?'"

As for the Hall of Fame, Anderson says, "I'm still not sure they got the right guy. That's just so far beyond anything that I ever really dreamed of that I guess I've had a hard time letting it sink in."

Anderson's had plenty of opportunities to do that lately. "Going out and doing a few dates on the weekends, maybe 50 or 60 dates a year or so, is still a lot of fun," he says. "But I went a little overboard this summer. We had a stretch from about the middle of July to the middle of September where I was hardly home. I got to thinking, I've seen this movie, I don't know if I want to watch it again. I keep forgetting I'm not 20 years old any more."

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