Mic Check: ‘Whisperin’ Bill Anderson is still re-imagining his hits

Country legend recently released his 73rd album.
Whisperin' Bill Anderson released his 73rd album in July 2020.

Credit: Contributed

Combined ShapeCaption
Whisperin' Bill Anderson released his 73rd album in July 2020.

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

Editor’s note: With live music and concert reviews on hold due to COVID-19, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is focusing on how Georgia musicians are spending their time in our feature, Mic Check.

A story could be written just listing the accolades of “Whisperin'” Bill Anderson.

The South Carolina-born, Decatur-raised country legend has hit the charts 80 times since the late 1950s. One of his signature songs, “City Lights,” hit No. 1 when Ray Price recorded it. (He penned the song as a 19-year-old DJ working at WJJC in Commerce.) Anderson spurred success for himself in 1958 when “That’s What It’s Like to Be Lonesome” became his first chart hit.

Since then, Anderson has charted in seven consecutive decades, received more than 50 BMI Awards, three CMA Awards and in 2018 was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

And he still isn’t finished.

Anderson, an avid Atlanta Braves fan, recently released his 73rd album, “The Hits Re-Imagined.” The collection, which he recorded in 2018 and decided to release this summer because, “Why not? You can’t do anything else right now!,” includes both reworked and instrumental versions of some of his most beloved songs (“Whiskey Lullaby,” “Po’Folks,” “Which Bridge to Cross [Which Bridge to Burn]”).

In a recent chat from his Nashville home, the affable Anderson talked about the inspiration behind his latest album and how he’s been spending time during the pandemic.

Q: What have you been up to these past few months?

A: The guitar, the microwave and the garden hose are my three best friends these days (laughs). I’ve been like everybody else, trying to stay safe and stay sane. I’ve done better with the safe part! ... I write and that’s been the only thing that’s kept me sane during all of this, to be able to write and be creative. I wrote one song with Brad Paisley on Zoom. He called me one day and asked me if I’d like to do it. The song turned out to be pretty good, and he told me he’s going to record it. For a guy who started out writing on a lined tablet in a hotel room in Commerce, Georgia, it’s not too bad! I also wondered if I could still write a song by myself. The pandemic has forced me to do it. I’ve really kind of enjoyed being creative on my own and proving to myself that I can still do it. I hope to get back in the studio when all of this is over and record some new things.

Q: How about listening? Have you pulled out anything from your collection?

A: The one thing I have tried not to listen to is the news! But I’ve gone back and listened to some of my old stuff. Someone sent me a little video montage this morning of things I’ve done over the years. I have very eclectic taste – everything from bluegrass gospel to jazz, so I’m kind of a dial puncher when I’m in the car. I’m a sports fan and will listen to a lot of sports talk on the radio.

Q: What do you miss about life these days?

A: Sports is probably number one. I had all my plans to see spring training (in Florida) with the Braves, so for a sports junkie, it’s been rough. And I love to go out and have lunch with my buddies and go over to Music Row and maybe write some songs. I miss that. When you’ve lived on the road and a tour bus, home is where you leave and come back to. I discovered that I like my house more than I thought!

"Whisperin'" Bill Anderson released his 73rd album, "The Hits Re-Imagined," in July 2020.

Credit: Contri

Credit: Contri

Q: You just released your 73rd album, which is a crazy number.

A: It’s kinda scary. I’ve not actually recorded 73, since that (numbers) includes compilations, so I’ve recorded probably in the 60s somewhere. I still remember the day my first one came out, and I thought golly, I’ve got an album out. And to think now it’s this many — it’s kind of mind-boggling.

Q: Why was this the right time to “reimagine” the hits?

A: When I was doing the audiobook for the memoir (“Whisperin’ Bill: An Unprecedented Life in Country Music” in 2016), the engineer, who was also a musician, told me he just did an audiobook project with (country music songwriter) Tom T. Hall, and while Tom was talking, (the engineer) played some instrumentals of some of his songs. So, we started putting some instrumental vignettes behind some of the chapters, and I said, “I should record a whole album of instrumentals.” We brought in a few musicians and kept it simple. We recorded in the same key and started with the songs broken down and built them up. I felt like I was visiting with some old friends.

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