PENNING THINGS DOWN

Grand Ole Opry favorite Bill Anderson bridges the past, present and future with his songs

Bill Anderson was scared. His stomach was churning. After a decade of feeling left behind and inadequate as a songwriter, he'd scheduled a writing session with one of country music's finest, Vince Gill.

"I didn't know Vince," says Bill, relaxing on a Nashville afternoon, and recalling his encounter with superstar Vince almost a decade ago. "I was dreading the idea that he might think of me as a washed-up old-timer."

Starting as a teenager, Bill had written a slew of smash songs, including the country classic "City Lights" for Ray Price, "Saginaw, Michigan" for Lefty Frizzell, "I May Never Get to Heaven" for Conway Twitty, plus a ton of hits for himself, such as "The Tips of My Fingers" and "Still." And Dean Martin, Debbie Reynolds, Jerry Lee Lewis, Lawrence Welk, Aretha Franklin and others had also recorded his tunes.

But when country music shifted gears and made an unexpected sharp turn in the early 1980s, the South Carolina native thought his brand of country was left in the dust.

"The music had gone in a more pop direction," recalls Bill, "and I thought maybe my time had passed me by, and that the good Lord had given me all the songs he intended to give me. I still loved songwriting - and I kept jotting down ideas all the time - but I lost interest in actually finishing a song. So for 10 years, from about 1982 to 1992, I thought my songwriting days were over."

Things changed when Steve Wariner scored a Top 5 song with his version of Bill's 1960 hit "The Tips of My Fingers." Bill chuckles. "Steve had a hit with a song I'd written 32 years before. So it dawned on me that if a song I'd written three decades ago could do well on the charts now, maybe I still had what it takes to write a hit song today."

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-- Story by Larry Holden

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