BEHIND every great country legend is a good story. Fans like authenticity with their songwriters, and John Anderson is one of those artists whose 30-year career has churned out odes to the everyday folk, love letters to his country, and tongue-in-cheek redneck anthems thanks to his firm roots and inherent talent.
Through country’s melding into pop, Anderson is one of those musicians who has managed to hold fast to tradition while creating infectious toe-tappers that never seem outdated or dusty.
The 61-year-old icon boasts both a stellar catalog and a great backstory. Anderson’s musical life began when he left his hometown of Apopka, Florida in his 20s, arrived at his sister’s Nashville home without warning, and began the balance of odd jobs in the day and club gigs at night. (That Anderson worked as a roofer for the Grand Ole Opry years before becoming an honored guest on the famous stage is a story worthy of its own country tune.)
After six years of hustling, Anderson inked a record deal with Warner Bros. Records, hitting the Top 40 with the gentle ballad “The Girl at the End of the Bar” in 1978. When he released the goofy tune “Chicken Truck,” followed by “I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal (But I’m Gonna Be a Diamond Someday)” in 1981, Anderson’s place in the traditional country music revival movement was solidified, earning him a Grammy nomination for Best Male Country Vocal Performance.
The ‘80s would prove to be Anderson’s decade with the dynamo hit “Swingin’”. Penned with Anderson’s longtime writing partner Lionel Delmore, “Swingin’” cracked the country charts and hit Number One by March 1982; it’s now considered a classic. With a rock ‘n’ roll backbone, Anderson’s distinctive backwoods drawl, and a simple concept—falling hard for a beautiful girl on her front porch swing—the honky-tonk ode to young love had everything a good song needed. It was a crossover hit, easing into the Billboard Hot 100 and becoming the biggest selling country record in the history of Warner Bros. Records.
Over the next decade, Anderson recorded now-classics like the smash hit “Seminole Wind,” “Straight Tequila Night,” and “Money in the Bank.”
Recently, he contributed vocals to a cover of “Seminole Wind” on Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road’s album Country Grass, a collection of renditions of timeless country songs featuring the songs’ original vocalists. Coincidentally, Jordan & Carolina Road were just in the Savannah area last weekend, promoting Country Grass with a gig at Randy’s Pickin’ Parlor.
Though he eased off the charts in the late ‘90s following the release of Top Five hits “I Wish I Could Have Been There,” “I’ve Got It Made,” and “Bend Until It Breaks,” Anderson’s devoted fans remain loyal and true. In 2007, he shared Easy Money, a comeback album produced by John Rich of Big & Rich, and in 2009, Anderson co-wrote Rich’s single “Shuttin’ Detroit Down,” a topical song addressing the Michigan auto industry crisis.
In 2015, Anderson shared his first album in eight years: his 23rd studio LP Goldmine. Steeped in Anderson neo-honky tonk tradition, patriotism, and the good ol’ boy day-to-day (from gator huntin’ to hanging out by the river), the record’s proof of Anderson’s unwillingness to bend to trends. Through the years, the songwriter proudly sticks to what he believes in: well-crafted storytelling and upbeat numbers laced with steel guitar, catchy country licks, and that signature drawl. Anderson’s so trusted with the mantle of classic country that Merle Haggard even wrote a song for him, “Magic Mama,” which appears on Goldmine. The Hag was writing new tunes while confined to a Macon, Georgia hospital bed—as only he would—and knew the twangy, swingin’ Western track was perfect for Anderson’s voice.
After a career filled with numerous albums cited as “comebacks,” Anderson has enjoyed a different kind of resurgence with Goldmine. You’re more likely to catch him on classic country radio than stations that spin new, country-accented pop hits, and he’s okay with that. Music changes, trends fade in and out. But country fans are lucky to have Anderson to count on—and if his sold-out and recently-added second date at The Mars Theatre are any indicator, the humble hitmaker will be giving the people what they want for quite some time.