I don’t claim to know much about country music, but there are some country songs that I would rank among my favorites – On the Road Again, Islands in the Stream, and Good Hearted Woman, to name just a few.
But thanks to a blog I recently started to follow, Coti Howell at Nashville Noise, I just discovered Whisperin’ Bill Anderson. Now I say “just” because Bill has been writing and recording and performing since the late 1950s, and is considered one of the most successful songwriters in country music history. Anderson is also a popular singer, earning the nickname “Whisperin’ Bill” for his soft vocal style and occasional spoken narrations.
In recognition of his remarkable career, Whisperin’ Bill is a member of the Grand Ole Opry, the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. BMI named him its first country songwriting Icon, placing him alongside R&B legends Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and James Brown as the only recipients of that award.
Anderson has written songs for many country music singers, including Ray Price and Connie Smith. 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.
He has released more than 40 studio albums and seven of his singles have reached No. 1 on the country charts.
So not knowing Bill Anderson seems to be the equivalent of not having heard of Paul Simon or James Taylor, but I guess better late than never.
For those of you who may not know Bill’s work, I thought I’d include some videos of his songs, performed either by him or by one of the many people who recorded his songs. Since I was not sure which ones to include, I thought I’d start with the four songs noted above which were selected by Billboard as among the top 20 country songs from 1965-1995.
City Lights: City Lights was written when he was 19 years old while working in Commerce, Georgia, at WJJC-AM, and was recorded by Ray Price in 1958 and Mickey Gilley in 1975 and both versions went to the top of the country charts. Anderson took full advantage of his big break, moving to Nashville, Tennessee, and landing a recording contract with Decca Records. This video seems to be from the early 1960s.
Once A Day: Anderson wrote many of country singer Connie Smith’s biggest hits in the 1960s, including her best-known song, “Once a Day,” which topped off at No. 1 in 1964 and spent eight weeks there, the longest by any female country music singer.
Mama Sang a Song: This was Anderson’s first number one hit, from 1962. This may be the song that earned his nickname, because of his whispering recitations during the song.
Still: Anderson recorded his biggest hit and signature song, the partly spoken ballad “Still,” in 1963, and it not only topped the country charts, but crossed over as well. The song climbed to No. 8 on the pop chart, as well as No. 3 on the adult contemporary chart.
Anderson continued to write and perform, and some of his biggest successes have been more recent than the songs shown above.
Whiskey Lullaby: In 2004 Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss scored a hit with Anderson and Jon Randall’s “Whiskey Lullaby.” The video for the song won Anderson Video of the Year and Vocal Collaboration of the Year in 2004. Here is the very emotional video, performed by Paisley and Krauss:
Give It Away: Co-written by Anderson and performed by George Strait, won the Academy of Country Music Song of the Year for 2006. In November 2007, “Give it Away” was named the Country Music Association Song of the Year.
And Whisperin’ Bill is still going strong (he even has his own web site); he released his latest album in 2018, at the age of 81. Here is the music video for one of the songs from the album, featuring many other country stars:
I’m glad I found out Whisperin’ Bill, thanks to the Nashville Noise blog. Not only is his music great, but I loved reading about someone who found his passion at a relatively early age, and then stuck with that passion for over 60 years. I wish him many more years of happiness and success.