Country music legend John Anderson, the pride of Apopka, is ‘swingin’ through Lake County to perform at the Cattle Baron’s Ball and help in the fight against cancer. We caught up with Anderson to talk about his upcoming appearance, his childhood, country music, and giving cancer the boot!
story: James Combs
Lake & Sumter Style: Hello, John. It’s an honor and privilege to talk with you. You will be performing at the Cattle Baron’s Ball, which is being held at Lake Receptions in Mount Dora. How do you feel about having the opportunity to raise money for cancer?
John Anderson: For me, it is always a pleasure to be involved in any type of benefit. I do numerous ones throughout the year for various worthwhile organizations. It is a very good feeling. But the Cattle Baron’s Ball is especially near and dear to my heart because my wife, Jamie, is a two-time breast cancer survivor. I’m so proud of her because she was so courageous in the way she battled the disease. It is not an easy battle, and she certainly went through highs and lows, but she never wavered in her determination to overcome it. Also, one of my best friends and songwriter Lionel Delmore died of lung cancer. He helped me write what became my most popular song, “Swingin’.”
STYLE: I’m sorry to hear that. Well, at least you are doing your part in helping raise money to find a cure so future generations hopefully will not have to deal with this disease.
JA: We can only hope. Everyone is going to be affected by cancer in one way or another. Even if you don’t get cancer yourself, you are bound to know a family member or friend who will. Cancer does not discriminate; it has an impact on everybody at some point.
STYLE: Since you grew up in nearby Apopka, I assume you are familiar with Lake County. Did you ever spend any time in Lake County before becoming a country music star?
JA: Absolutely. I spent time fishing on the lakes there with my dad when I was growing up. Some of my bigger bass were caught on Lake Dora, Lake Harris, and Lake Beauclair. Lake County is an absolutely beautiful part of the country, and the fishing was always great. I always think of home when I’m in Lake County. For that reason, it is always one of my favorite places to visit.
STYLE: Are you able to go fishing often?
JA: Well, fishing is one of my favorite pastimes. Sometimes, I get to do more of it than other times. It still remains one of my favorite things to do. I’ve been fishing all over the world. It’s great!
STYLE: Tell me what it was like growing up in Central Florida back in the 1950s and 1960s.
JA: Central Florida was a great place to grow up as a boy. Back then, it still had the small hometown feel, yet it was advanced enough that we could still be as cool as the kids from California. We had the best of both worlds. You could listen to bluegrass music and go surfing at the same time!
STYLE: You are a legend in the world of country music. Tell me how you became interested in music.
JA: Growing up, I listened to lots of bluegrass music, as well as the old traditional country music, folk music, and rock ‘n roll. I started playing guitar when I was 7 and never stopped. By the time I was in junior high, I performed in a couple different bands. However, we played mostly rock ‘n roll or other music kids danced to at the time.
STYLE: So, while you were a fan of country, you don’t recall many of your friends listening to country music back then?
JA: No way! Trust me; country music was certainly not the most popular type of music when I was growing up. As a matter of fact, in those days country music was for all the old people!
STYLE: Yet, you decided to pursue a career in country music, even though it wasn’t considered hip and cool among the youth at that time.
JA: When I was in my mid-teens, I had decided music was all I ever wanted to do. I was sure of it. There were many types of music to be inspired from, but I decided to settle on country music. I was just following my heart because I loved country music.
STYLE: At what point did you seriously begin to pursue your musical career?
JA: I moved to Nashville in 1972 at the age of 17. As I’m sure you already know, Nashville is the capital of country music.
STYLE: Wow, you moved up there before you were legally considered an adult! What challenges did a young person like you face trying to break into the country music industry?
JA: I knew it was going to be a challenge. My older sister Donna had moved there to become a singer several years earlier and told me how tough it would be. Yet, I went prepared to stay. I ended up getting various daytime jobs to pay rent and buy groceries. Back in those days, there were very few songwriter showcases like they have these days. Every now and then we had what we called a guitar pulling where a few writers would get together, have a little party, and play our new songs to each other. From there, I started performing at some local nightclubs and got to know some people. I slowly worked my way into the business.
STYLE: Looking back, is there any one person whom you can thank for helping you break into the industry?
JA: Absolutely. I always credit the late Al Gallico, who was a very successful music publisher from New York. He had offices in Nashville, Los Angeles, and London. Around 1975, he had heard a record I made that had yet to be released. He was obviously impressed because he sent his people out to find me. They ended up finding me, and he signed me to a songwriter’s contract. He told me he would help me find a label, and nine months later, I signed a contract with Warner Brothers Records. I understand he did the same thing for Tammy Wynette, so I certainly wasn’t in a club all by myself.
STYLE: You would have been around the age of 20 at the time. What was it like for you to sign with a major music company at that age?
JA: It was very exciting at first, but it did not take me long to realize how low on the totem pole I was. Of course, that aspired me to work harder because I knew my music was as good as some of the music the studio was spending money promoting. In time, I was proven right.
STYLE: What do you mean?
JA: When my song “Swingin’” was released in March 1983, it became the biggest-selling record in the history of Warner Brothers Records. It also won the Single of the Year award from the County Music Association. This being 2013, we’re celebrating 30 years “just a swingin’!”
STYLE: Of course, you have produced numerous hit songs throughout the years, including ones like “Straight Tequila Night” and “Money in the Bank,” both of which helped re-energize your career in the early 1990s. Is there one song that is your absolute favorite?
JA: It is a toss-up between “Swingin’” and “Seminole Wind.” I helped write both of them and for that reason, they will always be close to my heart. I love all my songs, but these two songs in particular helped me make more money and garner more success than any of the others.
STYLE: You have been a successful country music singer now for a long time. How do you describe your lifestyle?
JA: It is a great lifestyle. It can be very hectic and busy, but when you’ve been doing it as long as I have, you can pick and choose your ways as far as doing the things you want to do and letting some of the other things go. Obviously, you have to love to travel, but for me, being able to perform around the country is one of the things I truly love about being a country music singer. As a matter of fact, I’m getting ready to leave for the airport and fly out to Idaho.
STYLE: Before you leave, would you share five things about yourself nobody else knows?
JA: I’m not sure there are five things about me nobody else knows. I’m not that big of a secret keeper. I guess most folks don’t know I’m basically a shy person. I don’t know how I ended up doing what I did for a living. But I’m glad I got over my shyness enough to perform in front of large crowds. Also, I love the outdoors. Always have, always will. These days I really enjoy living a good country life in Smithville, Tenn., in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. It is a wonderful place to call home.
Cattle Baron’s Ball: Corralling cancer
The Cattle Baron’s Ball gives participants an opportunity to don their favorite jeans, cowboy boots, and belt buckles to enjoy an evening of fun-filled activities and help in the fight against cancer. This is the signature event of the American Cancer Society Lake/Sumter Unit. Executive Director Dorothy Hardee hopes the event will raise $100,000.
When: Sept. 21 from 6p.m. until the cows come home.
Where: Lake Receptions in Mount Dora.
What: Casino-style games, Irish derby, Nintendo Wii bull riding, live and silent auctions, dancing, and a Diamonds and Decadence contest where attendees have an opportunity to win a diamond ring and a diamond tennis bracelet. In addition, various food vendors will set up stations throughout Lake Receptions, and guests can enjoy huckleberry lemonade and Patron shots throughout the evening.
Cost: $150 per person, or $1,000 for a table of eight.
Why: The money raised goes directly toward funding cancer research, as well as providing local patient services.