Many American country music singers have enjoyed enduringly successful careers with a strong emphasis on songwriting and an instinctive ability to pen their own material.
Hank Williams, nostalgically referred to as the Father of country music was, in a short space of years, the author of virtually every song that he sang and guys like Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson East Tennessee’s First Lady Dolly Parton have written most of the songs they recorded over long and highly distinguished careers.
However, when it comes to songwriting there are few on the Nashville scene quite as prolific as Whisperin’ Bill Anderson, now the father of the Grand Ole Opry, having been a regular there since 1962. The South Carolina man, a crooner with soft mellow tones, has written many of the most popular and best-selling country ballads over a 50-year period. .
Bill Anderson, now 78, has had a highly successful career as a singer, songwriter, television/radio personality and businessman, but it is the hit songs that he has written which have certainly guarenteed him a very special place in American country music.
Bill recorded more than 40 studio albums and reached No 1 on the US country charts seven times: Mama Sang a Song (1962), Still (1963), a song recorded by Liverpool comedian Ken Dodd, I Get the Fever (1966), For Loving You (1967), My Life - Throw It Away If I Want To (1969), World of Make Believe (1974), and Sometimes (1976). Twenty-nine more of his single recordings have reached the top ten.
As a singer, Anderson earned the nickname Whisperin’ Bill’ for his soft vocal style and occasional spoken narrations. Nashville contemporaries who have recorded his material include Ray Price, Wanda Jackson, Connie Smith, Lynn Anderson, Jim Reeves, Conway Twitty, Eddy Arnold, Roy Clark, Lefty Frizzell, Brad Paisley, Kenny Chesney, and George Strait.
Bill first came to prominence when his composition City Lights, written when he was 19, was recorded by Ray Price in 1958 and Mickey Gilley in 1975, with both versions topping the charts.
Anderson, a former journalist, took full advantage of his big break, moving to Nashville, and landed a recording contract with Decca Records.He was voted and nominated ‘Songwriter Of The Year’ six times and chosen Male Vocalist of The Year.He received the ultimate honour, membership of Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame.
Bill has written many of Grand Ole Opry favourite Connie Smith’s biggest hits, including her best-known song Once a Day, which reached No 1 in 1964, spending eight weeks there, the longest by any female country music singer. Bill also wrote Connie’s Cincinnati, Ohio in 1967, among others. In 1995, Billboard magazine named four Anderson compositions — City Lights, Once A Day, Still, and Mama Sang A Song, among the top 20 country songs of the past 35 years, more than any other songwriter.
Bill has been to Northern Ireland several times for concerts and his traditional style of country music always gets a receptive sounding board with fans here.
I’ve met him backstage at the Opry and found him very personable, always eager to talk about his music and songwriting and his trips to the UK for shows.
Anderson’s autobiography, Whisperin’ Bill, was published by Longstreet Press in 1989. The book, which he personally wrote over three years, was a bestseller across the Southern states.