In the circles of country music, Bill Anderson has been known as a singer and songwriter for nearly sixty years. He has gold records, a house full of awards, and the affection of his peers not to mention his fans.
He performs October first at the Gallo Performing Arts Center in Modesto. He’s performed in the Central Valley before, but this will be his first time playing at the Gallo.
“We’ve been in Fresno once, Sacramento once, and we played the Crystal Palace in Bakersfield several years back,” Bill told me in a phone interview.
The Crystal Palace was owned by the late Buck Owens who lived in Bakersfield. Buck passed away in 2005.
“I didn’t know him well, but one time we were seated together on a flight from Los Angeles to Nashville,” he recalled. “We talked about songwriting and performing. We agreed on some things, disagreed on some things, but I certainly enjoyed the conversation.”
Bill remembers the night he heard another Central Californian, Merle Haggard, perform a new song called Okie from Muskogee. “It was the first time he performed the song on stage,” Bill recalled. “I talked to him about it after the show. Merle told me he wasn’t sure how audiences would accept the song given it had patriotic overtones. I told him not to worry, “I think you have a hit.”
Okie from Muskogee, written by Merle Haggard and Roy Edward Burns, was a number one hit for Merle in 1969.
Years later, Bill interviewed Merle for his satellite radio program. Bill told Merle he was his favorite singer. “A tear fell from his eye,” Bill told me. “I made Merle Haggard cry.”
He also knew the Maddox Brothers and Rose, a popular family hillbilly band who settled in Modesto in the 1950s. “I knew Rose rather well and was acquainted with Fred. Rose ran a nightclub in Ocean City that I performed at back in the sixties.”
While Bill is looking forward to performing in the Central Valley, he wishes he could have traveled throughout the western states more back when he lived in LA in the 1970s. “We could never bundle enough dates together to make it work,” he says.
But this time around, he’s able to play the Gallo Center and the newly renovated performing arts center in Red Bluff. The singer/songwriter plays about forty dates a year in addition to his regular performances at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.
“There are some songs I do all the time during a live road performance,” Bill says. “I can’t get off the stage unless I do Still.”
Still was a number one song written and sung by Bill in 1963. It’s about a man lamenting a lost love and how he carries a torch after many years.
Other songs in his catalog include Po Folks, about growing up in a household short on money but full of love; I Love You Drops about missing someone to the point of tears, and the iconic Tips of My Fingers which recalls the same lost love theme.
Tips of My Fingers has been recorded by a number of country and pop artists including Roy Clark, Eddie Arnold, and even Dean Martin.
In recent years, he has collaborated with other songwriters on tunes that have blossomed into big hits. Give it Away was co-authored by Bill with Jamie Johnson and Buddy Cannon. It was a big hit for George Strait in 2006. Whiskey Lullaby, a sad song about alcoholism, was written by Bill along with Jon Randall. It was a duet hit for Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss.
Bill hopes his fans leave his performances feeling satisfied and entertained. He wants to be remembered as a good singer, and hopefully as an enduring songwriter.
As for his legacy, he says, “I don’t think much about a legacy, but I hope if I am remembered for anything, it will be for my songs.”
Steve Newvine lives in Merced.
His new book on California will be published in December.