In an interview for the Museum’s Poets & Prophets series, Bill Anderson, a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, talks about his approach to songwriting, his formative years, some of his biggest hits as a songwriter (many recorded by other artists), and his comeback as a songwriter beginning in the 1990s.
Anderson arrived in Nashville when the songwriting community largely consisted of the first wave of professional writers, such Boudleaux and Felice Bryant, Vic McAlpin, and Danny Dill. Within years, he'd be part of a wave of newcomers transforming country music songwriting, including Hank Cochran, Harlan Howard, John D. Loudermilk, Roger Miller, Willie Nelson, and Mel Tillis.
Hits Bill Anderson wrote and recorded include “Po’ Folks,” “Mama Sang a Song,” “Walk Out Backwards,” “Five Little Fingers,” and many others. His list of hits for others is similarly substantial and spans decades, from Ray Price’s “City Lights,” Connie Smith’s “Once a Day,” and Lefty Frizzell’s “Saginaw, Michigan” to Kenny Chesney’s “A Lot of Things Different” and Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss’s “Whiskey Lullaby.” Anderson’s “The Tip of My Fingers” alone has been a hit five different times for five different artists (first for the songwriter in 1960, then Roy Clark, Eddy Arnold, Jean Shepard, and Steve Wariner).
In front of a sold-out audience in the Museum’s Ford Theater on December 12, 2009, Anderson shares wisdom he gathered over decades in the music business, from finding inspiration in unexpected places to the imprecise meaning of “truth” when it comes to lyrics and the fact that a song isn’t always finished when you think it’s finished.
Illustrating the latter point, Bill Anderson remembers longtime Tree Publishing executive Buddy Killen handing back the original version of “The Tip of My Fingers,” saying the chorus needed work. Killen liked the first line of the song’s hook—“I held you right on the tip of my fingers”—but felt flat about the second. Anderson went back and came up with the second part of the couplet: “But I let you slip right through my hands.”
“I never would have come up with that if Buddy had not told me, ‘Your song’s not finished,’” Anderson remembers.
Bill Anderson also delves into his resurgence as a songwriter, from writing with Vince Gill—including #4 hit “Which Bridge to Cross (Which Bridge to Burn)”—to co-writing 2005 CMA Song of the Year “Whiskey Lullaby” with Jon Randall.
At the program’s end, Anderson acknowledges that the conversation “took him back to some places I hadn’t been in a long time.”
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