John Anderson | Years | BMG
Four out of Five Stars
Nearly 50 years after it began, country singer and songwriter John Anderson’s career almost came to an abrupt and unintended conclusion. It wasn’t due to retirement or any other choice Anderson made on his own, but rather it was the result of a medical procedure that found him at death’s door, not once, but three times while on the operating table. When he came out of it, he had not only lost the ability to sing, but most of his hearing as well.
“At one point, I had real questions and doubts if I’d ever be able to write or sing another song,” he recalls. “I had been very sick, and at one point I had lost 95 or 98 percent of my hearing, and of course at that point, I couldn’t play or sing. It was amazing how hard I was trying. I was playing guitar and trying to hear the same note. The people that were trying to help me, I could see in their eyes that it was real serious. It was pretty rough.”
He desperately asked God to restore his senses, and in what can only be described as a modern miracle, his prayers were answered. Some 48 hours later, he found himself starting down a road to recovery.
“My hearing started coming back slowly,” he explains. “I had missed my music so much, and I remembered that old adage — ‘you don’t miss something til it goes away.’ Music’s been a big part of my life for nearly 60 years, and suddenly, not being able to do it was a real shock. On the other hand, I was so sick physically, I couldn’t hardly concentrate on not being able to hear.”
Fortunately, the luck he had gained with his recovery luck didn’t end there. Seemingly out of nowhere, he got a call from an ardent fan, none other than the successful producer and songwriter Dan Auerbach. As their conversation progressed, they decided that it would be a good idea to attempt to write some songs together. Along with Auerbach’s collaborator David Ferguson and a number of gifted co-writers — Pat McLaughlin, Dee White, Joe Allen, Larry Cordle, Paul Overstreet, and Bobby Wood — they composed the ten songs that comprise Years, a heartfelt album that reflects Anderson’s optimism, gratitude, honesty and outlook in the aftermath of an experience that almost stole his gift of music out from under him. With any number of telling titles such as “I’m Still Hangin’ On,” “Years,” “Tuesday I’ll Be Gone,” “What’s a Man Got To Do,” “You’re Nearly Nothing” and “All We’re Really Looking For,” the new record finds Anderson reflecting on his blessings while peering ahead towards the future.
“The song ‘I’m Still Hangin’ On’ is about all those folks that had kind of written me off,” Anderson notes. “My wanting to play music again so badly was part of the inspiration.”
Remarkably too, Anderson not only comes across with renewed assurance and confidence but also singing like an individual half his age. There’s a freshness and vitality imbued in his vocals. It belies the fact that he can claim dozens of albums he’s released since the ‘80s and has also reached an age where many working people are hoping to pack it all in. So while he remains a revered figure in country music circles, he still sounds more like an eager and enthusiastic young man than the accredited star he’s remained since very early on.
“That’s what we’d all like to sound alike,” Anderson replies. “At this point I feel like a teenager. When a person wakes up feeling good, it is a blessing.”
Indeed, Anderson insists that there was never any doubt in his mind that he should continue to make music. “Dan kind of convince that we should at least try,” he explains. “I remember saying, ‘If we do this, we ought to treat it like it could be my last one.’ It wasn’t a matter of dying and not being able to do it. It was a matter of physically being able to do it, and knowing that at any minute, that hearing could go right back away and I wouldn’t able to sing again. I sure didn’t want to lose that again.”
Anderson says he’s been writing songs consistently for the past several years, and that he’s composed a couple more tunes since the new album’s release. “Right now, I’m just enjoying the fact that this record has come out, and I’m really hoping that before too long we get to go out and perform some of the songs with the band. That’s been tough, knowing that you have a record and that fans would really like to hear the songs and see us play them in concert. Right now, I’m basically solitary.”
Given his decades of success, one might presume that Anderson has high standards to live up to. “As far as measuring up to anything I’ve done previously, I really don’t do that,” he insists. “However, I do have a bar that I don’t go below as far as the songs are concerned. A lot of times I’ve listened to the advice of producers and A&R people and this and that, but I prefer to just do what I do. I’ve found that it doesn’t change a lot, the way I do it. I just sing and play. Hopefully I have new songs that I’m just excited about singing. That’s part of it too. It’s wanting to sing that new song and hear folks clap. But at this point, I don’t know when I’ll hear folks clap.” (laughs)
Even so, the collaboration with Auerbach and Ferguson found him on a new plateau, experiencing a cross-generational kinship that gave him a feeling of both satisfaction and accomplishment.
“Dan and I hit it off musically right way,” Anderson suggests. “The first morning we started writing together, we knew it could be a good thing. It started clicking. Dan’s a great talent. He’s a great writer and player, singer and producer. He does it all. He works a lot harder than I ever would.” (laughs)
Sadly though, all the optimism invested in the project since its inception nearly two years ago has naturally been tempered as a result of the pandemic. “We had a great year lined up as far as appearances,” Anderson insists. “But things happen. All we can do is be hopeful and try to stay healthy so that everything turns out good…soon. Timing is everything, but hope is a good thing too. I always say that a person can have hope as long as they have a little bit of faith.”
Ultimately, Anderson’s own hope is centered on the songs being able to connect and resonate with his fans and followers.
“It means an awful lot,” he reflects. “When it’s all said and done, you feel pleased when people are affected by any song or music that you wrote. That’s a pretty big deal. That’s a big part of what music is all about.”