A Conversation with Lynn Anderson

lynn-andersonLynn Anderson was born the daughter of songwriters Casey and Liz Anderson, and went on to become one of country music’s brightest stars in the 60’s and 70’s. Over the course of sixteen years, she amassed an impressive string of eighteen Top 10 country hits including chart-toppers such as “You’re My Man,” “How Can I Unlove You,” “Keep Me In Mind,” “What a Man My Man Is,” and most notably the Grammy-winning platinum-selling crossover smash “Rose Garden.”

Anderson continues busily touring and recording to this day. Most recently, she’s lent her talents to a new collaborative album called Betty Swain Project. The album pays tribute to a gifted songwriter named Betty Swain who was unsuccessful in finding individuals to orchestrate and perform her original songs for most of her life, only to have her longtime dream finally realized a few short weeks before her death thanks to a low-budget demo CD and concert organized by singer-songwriter Jim Paul. Lynn Anderson renders two Betty Swain compositions for this new Center Sound Records release, which also includes contributions from Siobhan Magnus, Brittini Black, Loni Rose, Nikki Nelson, Kim Parent, Devin Belle, Taylor Watson, and Marissa Begin. Country Universe was recently able to reach Lynn Anderson out in New Mexico by phone for an interview in which she enthusiastically discusses both her current projects and past career accolades.

Ben Foster:  How did you come to be a part of Betty Swain Project, and what made you want to participate?

Lynn Anderson:  My friend and my steel guitar player Robin Ruddy (who also plays with Rod Stewart) called me and told me about the project, and asked if I might be interested in it, and I said “Sure” when I heard the history of it. Are you familiar with that?

Yes, it’s a beautiful story.

It really is. It’s very interesting. It’s kind of heartwarming. This lady was finally able to hear her music played before she passed away, and she had such great friends and such great family. It’s kind of amazing that sometimes words and music are timeless and sometimes it’s kind of a time machine. If you put them in a box and bury them under the cornerstone of a building, it’s amazing when that building is torn down and you come up with that time capsule, it’s amazing what you might find there. Some things take you back to an older time, and sometimes that’s good and sometimes you’ve forgotten that. I think Betty’s music takes us back to an easier time – kind of a time of Patsy Cline and that basic country music. So I think it’s amazing. I think it’s incredible to be a part of the project. I think that occasionally if you get a chance it’s kind of a wake-up call that reminds you that people have been writing this music for a long time, and though this lady didn’t get recognized in her prime, it’s a wonderful thing that she was able to hear her music played and know that it would be recorded before she passed away.

What qualities do you think made Betty Swain a compelling songwriter?

I think she was very real. I think she was true to her time, which was much more basic, much more down-to-earth, much more one-and-one with your basic emotions. She wasn’t confused or distracted by the cell phones, the computers and all that stuff that we have now. She basically was just a lady who sat and used her music as her means to communicate with other people, and we’ve kind of forgotten about what we call the good old days. We rely so much on social data, social networking that we’ve kind of forgotten actually how to write a letter, how to write down a poem, how to actually sit down and write a letter to another person, and I think that’s what Betty captures. She kind of brings back into your face the fact that people sat down and wrote down their ideas and their thoughts, and that was how they entertained themselves, and that’s how they entertained their families and their neighbors. It was a softer, gentler time.

What can you tell us about the songs you recorded for the album, “Sweet Memories” and “Prove You Care”?

I love “Sweet Memories.” Since Betty Swain’s song, there were other songs written called “Sweet Memories,” but hers seems to have been the first. So it seems that a good idea never dies. There were, as I said, other songs that I know of in the past twenty or thirty years, but hers seems to have been the first, so I thought it was a really nifty chance to get to capture that songs in its first personification. And it may have been written a hundred years ago. Someone may have sat in a cabin in Kentucky and written a song called “Sweet Memories,” but that’s the first one that’s come to my mind, that’s come to my attention. I just think it’s an incredible opportunity to get to see and feel not only how much the same people’s ideas and words were fifty years ago, but how much different they are. It’s a real looking glass. It’s a chance to look back into history and then place us here in the future

I just thought ["Prove You Care"] was a nifty fun song. She seems to have been a forerunner to Loretta Lynn – somebody with the same down-home moral qualities that Loretta Lynn became famous for years later. She was very down-to-earth, and I think that song says a lot of that.

I couldn’t do an interview with you without taking a little time to talk about your signature song. You’ve had a great run of country hits, but “Rose Garden” stands out as the Lynn Anderson song that virtually everybody knows. How would you describe what that song has meant to your career and to your fans?

Well, that was just a little bit of magic. That’s just one of those things that, if you’re lucky, happens once in a lifetime. It had been recorded seven times before I did it, and it wasn’t a hit, but it just simply took off and went out of my hands when we recorded it. We were planning on recording it in several different languages, and before we could do it, it became a hit worldwide. It became a hit in Mexico and Spain and France and Germany and Japan and so on before I had an opportunity to sing it in those languages. So to me it says how much music is a universal language – how much a really great piece of music speaks over languages barriers and over different barriers that seem to rise up between people.  A great song can break them all down.

It’s amazing how things sometime just come together like that.

Yeah, it is. I feel so lucky too that my song “Rocky Top” has become the state theme song of Tennessee. Actually we have two. There’s “The Tennessee Waltz,” but whenever the University of Tennessee makes a touchdown, they have to play “Rocky Top”! Do you know “Rocky Top”?

Oh yes, that’ s actually one of my favorite songs you’ve done.

Wherever we go all around the world, I usually close my show with “Rocky Top.” Everywhere in the world people like the music. It’s a very American song. It’s a banjo and all that. People clap their hands and stop their feet and go “Yee haw” and stuff like that. It’s a very happy, up-tempo very, very American song, so I love “Rocky Top” as much as I love “Rose Garden.”

Looking back on all of your impressive career accomplishments, what do you consider to be your proudest moments?

I think that the idea that “Rose Garden” was named the unofficial theme song for the United States Marine Corps was an amazing moment. When the soldiers came back from Vietnam, we were in a stadium with a lot of soldiers. The U.S. Navy was on the left side – about ten thousand of them – and the army was in the front – about ten thousand of those, and the navy was behind them. On the right, there were about ten thousand United States Marines. When I sang “Rose Garden,” all of them stood on signal at attention and saluted when I sang that song because it was the theme song for the United States Marines! And that’s an amazing thing. I cried. It was an amazing moment having a song that’s the theme song for the men and woman who are defending the United States. It’s an amazing thing.

So what’s next for Lynn Anderson? Is there anything upcoming that you’d like to let folks know about?

I’ve got a gospel project that we just finished. It’s not out yet, but it will be in a couple of months. I’m very excited about it. This is the first time I’ve ever done a gospel project, and we’ve got a song in it that the Oak Ridge Boys came and sang with me, and of course they’re in the Gospel Hall of Fame! It’s something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and to have the Oaks come in and sing with me is a wonderful thing. Those guys are just great! I can’t wait to get that out and see what happens with that.

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10 Responses to A Conversation with Lynn Anderson

  1. Nice interview. I enjoy how she asks you a question a couple times, to make sure you know what she’s referring to.:)

  2. Erik NorthNo Gravatar

    I don’t know whether this may be of any interest to anyone, but during the period that “Rose Garden” was a big pop hit (it peaked at #3 on the Hot 100 in February 1971), it was played on pop radio alongside (are you ready for this?) “My Sweet Lord” (George Harrison); “Immigrant Song” (Led Zeppelin); and also Ray Price’s “For The Good Times” (itself a big country-to-pop crossover smash), to name just three.

    Just goes to show you how topsy-turvy the charts were back then (IMHO).

  3. Tara SeetharamNo Gravatar

    Great read, Ben! I also loved how she asked you questions. :)

  4. And, I don’t think I knew that she did the more successful version of “Rocky Top.”” I’ve always just known the Osborne Brothers version.

  5. I absolutely love Lynn’s version of “Rocky Top.” I was actually kind of tickled that she brought it up.

    That is interesting, Erik. Makes me wish I’d been around to hear that!

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  7. CountryKnightNo Gravatar

    We could use more women like her in country music.

  8. Erik NorthNo Gravatar

    Quote by Ben Foster re. other songs on the Hot 100 alongside “Rose Garden”:

    That is interesting, Erik. Makes me wish I’d been around to hear that!

    Of course it was a different time when you could have this crazy hodge-podge, and country songs could get played on pop radio without needing remixes to filter out the country instrumentation or anything else. This unfortunately could not really happen much (if at all) today.

    “Rose Garden” was Lynn’s only actual Top 40 pop hit, but a very big one just the same, and a great signature song for her to have.

  9. cajNo Gravatar

    Love, love, love Lynn Anderson. I liked her version of the Carpenter’s ‘Top of the World’ as well.

    It’s a shame that great women like Anderson, Donna Fargo, Crystal Gayle, Dottie West, and Anne Murray don’t get the kind of respect they deserve. These women from the 70s were groundbreakers for women in country music just like the others were.

  10. Lynn: In the early seventies you gave a concert at the Wisconsin State Fair Park and my then girlfriend got me backstage and told you I just wanted to meet you, You took both of my hands and planted a big kiss on my lips. I was like a teenager in awe and couldn’t hardly talk. After the show you were in the Beer Garden giving out LP’s and signing pictures. I still have that album and picture you gave me. I was deeply in love with you for many years!