By C. Eric Banister, May 2007
n 1980, the country music world was ruled by the pop country of the Urban Cowboy movement and crossover stars like Barbara Mandrell, the Oak Ridge Boys, Kenny Rogers and Anne Murray ruled the charts. The signal of change back to a more traditional sound came from George Jones' hit "He Stopped Loving Her Today" and on the horizon was stars that would lead the '80s neo-traditional movement.
One of those stars was John Anderson, a soulful hillbilly singer whose voice sounds like the physical manifestation of a pedal steel guitar. Beginning with his 1980 eponymous debut on Warner, Anderson began to steadily climb the country music charts with hits such as "She Just Started Liking Cheating Song," "Your Lying Blue Eyes" and "1959," his first song to crack the top 10. After that he remained in the top 10 with songs like "I Just Came Home to Count the Memories" and "Would You Catch a Falling Star" and occupying the top slot with "Black Sheep," "Wild and Blue' and the song most closely associated with him, "Swingin'."
Although Anderson stayed on the charts for the rest of the '80s, he wouldn't see the number one position again until the dawn of the next decade with 1991's "Straight Tequila Night" which started another string of top 10 hits including "Let Go of the Stone," "Seminole Wind," "When it Comes to You" and "Money in the Bank."
Changing tastes, a fickle audience and a few label moves slowed the momentum, but Anderson didn't rest on his laurels. "Actually we didn't go anywhere, we've still been right around," the Florida native says in a phone interview. "Our road shows and all of our road work has actually been staying really steady all along."
Anderson's new release, "Easy Money," is his first studio album of all new material since 2001's "Nobody's Got It All."
The new album grew from a chance meeting many years ago and a more recent songwriting session, both with one of the hottest producers in Music City – John Rich.
"We did a show together back when he was with the group Lonestar," Anderson remembers. "He came up on our bus to meet me and to get a picture with me, and we did that. In fact, Joe Spivey, who answered the door made him sing part of 'Chicken Truck' before he got up there. I overheard him singing it, and I said, 'That's good enough, tell him to come on up.' I didn't realize at the time that this young man would turn out to be one of the hottest writers and record producers and entertainers in our business."
Several years later, their paths would cross again and Rich invited Anderson to write songs together. "He and I began to write some songs and talk about writing," Anderson says. "Then when we got a few written, we decided we needed to go into the studio and put them down, and that's pretty much where the 'Easy Money' album was born. Once we got in the studio, it seemed to be the right thing to do to just go ahead and just do a record. We thought we had good enough songs, so at that point, we decided just to go in and do the record."
It was on that songwriting trip that Anderson would meet other members of the MuzikMafia, the Nashville community of folks like Big & Rich and Gretchen Wilson. "We went on a road trip with Big & Rich, actually it was going to be a writing trip also for us, and Shannon (Lawson) and James (Otto) came out on that trip and of course, Cowboy Troy was out, and I ended up writing songs with all of them. We had a great time."
At the time, they began work on the album, Anderson, 52, didn't have a major label record deal, which lent a relaxed atmosphere to the recording sessions. "The atmosphere in the studio was great to begin with. It really was," he says. "But as it became more evident that we were going to do a record, then things got definitely serious in the studio."
To some, the pairing of the classic neo-traditionalist Anderson with the iconoclast leader of country music's freak parade seems an incredible mismatch, but Anderson didn't encounter anyone who wanted to change his mind. "Most people were really enthused and seemed to be really interested in what we were going to do," he says.
Anderson himself felt the relationship was an equal one: "I think the album well represents both of our styles, and I'm pleased with the way that it came out. I feel like we made a good record."
"He was very familiar with my music and my style, which made it very easy for me to work with him. And I'll have to say not only my stuff, but just country music in general," Anderson continues. "You know, John Rich is a very learned young man about a whole lot of country music. I mean he can sing you just about every Johnny Horton song, every Roger Miller song. He's really keyed in to the great writers too and has been. So, he's got a good handle on what's going on."
With the album nearly finished, Anderson and Rich decided to shop it to Music Row. "It was pretty much finished when (Rich) started shopping it. Actually Warner Brothers was the first place he took it, and they liked it well enough to go ahead and sign us up," Anderson says.