I recently had the pleasure of interviewing the legendary songwriter and Grand Ole Opry member “Whispering” Bill Anderson. He talked candidly about songwriting, gave advice to aspiring songwriters, and answered questions about who inspired and mentored him in songwritingAnderson has been writing songs since he was 10 or 11 years old and now, at 73 years old, he is still recording and writing, showing no signs of slowing down. Anderson songs have inspired a legion of songwriters, including Jamey Johnson, Brad Paisley and Vince Gill. It was for this reason that I felt an interview focused on songwriting would allow Anderson to give advice and insight to a larger audience of aspiring and professional songwriters. For more on Bill Anderson or to purchase his latest album, Songwriter, visit his website at www.billanderson.com. Finally, my thanks go out to Bill Anderson and Betty Hofner for making this interview possible.
1.) How did you start writing songs?
I learned to strum the guitar when I was 10 or 11 years old, and it just seemed like a lot of fun to try and make up my own tunes and stories as I went along. I didn’t really think of it as “writing songs” until several years later.
2.) How/where do you get ideas for songs?
From life. Ideas are everywhere. You just have to keep your songwriter’s antenna up and on alert at all times.
3.) Who is your favorite songwriter/songwriters ever?
Hank Williams was my first songwriting hero, and he and Fred Rose are still at the top of my list.
4.) Who is your favorite songwriter/songwriters today?
Gee, there are so many now that it’s hard to settle on just one. Off the top of my head I’d say that for creativity and consistency over the years I’d lean toward Dean Dillon and Brad Paisley. Jamey Johnson is earning a place up there as well.
5.) Who were your mentors in songwriting?
Buddy Killen taught me a lot about the craft of songwriting, and I hung around Roger Miller just enough to absorb a tiny bit of his freewheeling style of creativity. I was like a sponge, though, trying to soak up a little bit of something from everyone I came in contact with.
6.) What artists/music has influenced you most?
The three “Hanks” … Williams, Snow and Thompson.
7.) How has the music business, as far as songwriting, changed over the years since you first began writing?
It’s much more political today, and harder to present songs directly to the artists. There are layers and layers of people in the filtering process, and I find that songs are put on hold and then released from those holds without the artist having ever heard the song. As a writer, you can only imagine the frustration, especially for someone like me who used to get cuts by sitting down with the biggest stars of the day and singing new songs with just my guitar.
8.) What advice would you give aspiring songwriters starting out in Nashville?
Based on what I just said in answer to the previous question, come armed with a lot of patience! And thick skin. And songs that don’t sound like things everybody else is writing. Other than that, there’s nothing to it!
9.) What do you feel is your most successful song, not necessarily financially, and why?
Probably “The Tips of My Fingers,” because it has been a hit on five separate occasions spanning four decades in the United States alone. I recorded it first, then Roy Clark, then Eddy Arnold, then Jean Shepard, then Steve Wariner. All five of those recordings were single releases and rose high in the charts. It has also been a hit in several other countries and translated into several different languages. I wish I could write one of those every day!
10.) What has been the key to your success as a songwriter?
Probably my trying to keep an open mind as trends and styles in music have changed and evolved over the years.
11.) According to Bill Anderson, what are the key elements of a great song?
Lyrics and melodies that speak to and connect with people. The greatest compliment I can be paid as a writer is for someone to say, “You must have written that song just for me, because that’s just how I feel.”
12.) Is there a follow-up to Songwriter in the works or any new cuts on other artists’ albums coming out soon?
I certainly hope there will be a follow-up to “Songwriter.” I’m already beginning to put some songs and thoughts together. I’ve written or co-written songs that have recently been recorded by Billy Ray Cyrus, a new artist named Brett Eldridge, Michael Peterson, and others I am probably overlooking. My apologies. I’m constantly working on getting new product into the marketplace, and have no intention of stopping or even slowing down. I haven’t known but one speed for the past 50-plus years and that’s full steam ahead!