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John Anderson does his best to smile, but it's not easy. Sitting in a corner outside the small backstage area at the Crazyhorse Saloon in Irvine, Calif., he's amazingly relaxed, considering showtime is soon -- and he's coping with a stomachache. He has faith, though, that everything will be OK when the lights go down.
"Once you get up there and get going, things take over," he declares. "Thank God for that. The sweating and the singing, and the people cheering and the band honking. That's about all there is to it."
He knows something about touring. He scored his first hit over 20 years ago, with 1979's "Your Lying Blue Eyes," and he's had an enthusiastic crowd of followers ever since.
Over the next two decades he racked up more radio plums, including "Straight Tequila Night," "Seminole Wind" and the song that would become his signature hit, "Swingin'," which won a CMA Award in 1983. Now he's re-recorded 30 of his classics for a two-CD set titled Anthology.
"Listening back to the old records, like 'Lyin' Blue Eyes' and '1959,' it sounded like a kid singin' those songs," admits John. "So maybe I've finally grown up a little." John has been married for 19 years, and has two daughters, 22-year-old Brionna and Alexa, 11. "I have so many friends who really sacrificed their home life for the business, and I never did that," he says. "I got to a point where I could make both of 'em work."
He's also at home these days on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry, which wasn't always the case. John appeared on the Opry in 1981, but it was such a bad experience that he stayed away for nearly 20 years. He still recalls the stinging snub he says he received from Opry patriarch Roy Acuff, who "told me that my hair wasn't suitable for the Grand Ole Opry crowd," John remembers. "I was very nice and very quiet, but if he'd have been my age and my size, I guess I'd have invited him outside. It was that heavy."
Ernest Tubb intervened on John's behalf, but the damage was already done. "I assured Roy I wouldn't bother him with my long hair there anymore," John laughs. "And I didn't."
In 1999, Porter Wagoner convinced John it was time he returned. He now performs on the show about three times a year, in addition to his 80 regular concert appearances. He's also established his own company, JA Records, which gives him flexibility as he looks toward making his next album. "I'm thinkin' about it," he says. "Since we're running our own record label, we don't have a deadline!"