John Anderson is going back to basics with an acoustic show at Nashville’s City Winery on Saturday night (Dec. 19). A 2014 inductee into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, Anderson is celebrated for hits like 1983’s “Swingin’” and 1992’s “Seminole Wind” (both of which he wrote), yet he’s also got an ear for outside material, like “Wild and Blue,” “Black Sheep,” “Straight Tequila Night” and “Money in the Bank,” among many others.
Between 1981 and 1995, Anderson notched 20 Top 10 hits at country radio, including five No. 1’s. He released his latest album, Goldmine, in May.
Leading up to the City Winery concert, the native of Apopka, Florida, visited with MusicRow about how the acoustic show brings his career full circle.
MusicRow: You have an acoustic show coming up in Nashville. Have you done a lot of shows like that?
Anderson: We’ve been doing them now for about five years, but haven’t done them in Nashville. I played one on the General Jackson three or four months ago for WSM, and I was proud to do that. The next one coming up at City Winery is very special. I’ll have my buddy Glenn Rieuf. He moved to Nashville in ’73, I believe, the year after I did. So he’s seen a lot of changes here. But anyway, Glenn and I have been playing across the country and we do 10 or 15 of these shows a year. Most of them are in performing arts theaters and small listening rooms.
I tell you, it’s really been uplifting for me, just because most folks don’t know, but I started on a stool by myself, doing it single. When I started doing this again, I said, “Well, it will be almost just like when I started, only now I don’t have to play other people’s songs.” And wow, what a difference that makes. Now, 40 years later, the acoustic show has made me come to appreciate my songs, probably more than I ever did before.
It’s because I’m seeing that the people are coming to hear those songs. It’s not really the arrangement so much. In our case, where it’s me and a guitar, and a little Dobro on the side, those songs are in the wide open. You’re really laying it out on the line there. They see that and hear that. That’s becoming a plus in this particular type of set-up, in an acoustic set-up.
When you said you started on a stool, are you talking about playing around town when you first got to Nashville?
Oh yeah, here and in Florida too, before I moved to town. I did that in Florida. Back then, when I was 14 or 15 and doing it, I was playing songs that were more of the folk-pop songs, like James Taylor and John Denver. Then, of course, after moving to Nashville and becoming a songwriter, and writing for 40 years and ending up with a catalog, yeah, it’s a bit different.
How often are you writing now?
Well, I hadn’t written in a little while, but I was telling someone this morning, I just found myself starting to pick up paper and jotting things down again. So, I guess I’m ready this winter to really hunker down and create a little bit.
How do you recognize that impulse?
I kinda have to drum it up. I have to work at it, to get where I write what I call “the good stuff.” You gotta go through a whole lot of just working up to the good stuff. For me, I may be my worst critic, but I have to weed through a lot of mediocrity to get to anything good. I’m hard on myself. And there are lot of things that I write and I say, “You know, a lot of people have gotten by with a lot less than this.” So, it’s just a matter of you deciding when your song is finished, I guess.
I’ve always loved “Seminole Wind.” What kind of imagery were you hoping to capture with that song?
First, you need to know that I wrote that song without ever thinking of it commercially. I mean, you don’t write a song like that thinking, “Boy, this is going to make me a ton of money.” In fact, it was at a time in my career where we’d had a bit of a slow spell. One of the first lessons I learned after having a streak of big hits, and then things started bluntly slowing down due to management changes, the record company, whatever—it wasn’t the music. I knew that. The music was the same.
It was the business side of the music business.
The business side of the music business can sometimes be a real bitch. As we all know. I had to fight that just the same as all the rest of the artists have to fight it. In my case, though, what made me able to overcome a lot of that was the writing of the songs. Being able to sit down and say, “Hey, I want to write ‘Seminole Wind’ for me, about a place I grew up.”
It’s hard to explain “Seminole Wind” because it’s a very spiritual song anyway. A lot of the messages in it are spiritual and subconscious-type things. However, it was a song I wanted to write that I could like about the place where I was raised. I also wanted to write it for some of my friends that I grew up with. I wanted to write a song that we could all like about our spot. I hope I did that. I think I did in a lot of ways. In fact, now there’s talk down in Florida about them making it a state song. That would be something for an ol’ Apopka boy.
What was the smartest decision you made when you started having success again with “Seminole Wind” and “Straight Tequila Night”?
To not change what we were doing originally. I was almost at a point of thinking, “God, do we need to just change?”
Did you really consider doing that?
I couldn’t change if I wanted to. That’s the good thing. That was the blessing. And I didn’t want to. I realized that these songs that I write, and this music that we play, and the band and the tour—hey, people still love us. So we just need to play for those people that love us. I really don’t care about playing my music for somebody who don’t want to hear it. That ain’t a very good feeling at all. So, yeah, it works out better when we’re playing to a crowd of folks that came to hear our stuff.
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