It’s been over a quarter century since John Anderson changed country music the first time. That was back in the ‘80s when that jaw-dropping country voice combined with huge hits like “Wild And Blue” and “Swingin’“ to pave the way for the decade’s neo- traditional movement. In the early ‘90s, he did it again with Seminole Wind, a bona fide classic that reignited his career and helped fan the flames of the coming country explosion with hits like “Straight Tequila Night” and the album’s unforgettable title track. Well, it’s 2009 and Anderson’s back with Bigger Hands, an album that instantly reestablishes this country music icon as a contemporary musical force to be reckoned with. In other words, Bigger Hands (2009) is the real deal - undiluted, no-holds barred, full-on John Anderson.
“I think we made a fine record, and I know we had a great time making it,” says Anderson.
Bigger Hands reunites Anderson with Seminole Wind producer James Stroud, and the chemistry and camaraderie that made that project such an artistic and commercial triumph was there from the very first sessions for Anderson’s Country Crossing Records debut.
“It’s always been super easy for us working together,” Anderson says. “That’s one thing that never did change, even after all this time. When James and I went back in the studio it was just as much fun as I remember it being the first time.”
A big part of the fun for Anderson was reuniting with a lot of the A-list musicians that played on those early hit records.
“All of these guys basically are old friends, so that just makes it extra good,” he says. “I give an awful lot of the credit to the musicians, and it’s one of the highlights of my life to go into the studio with guys that play on that level.”
From start to finish - from flat-out rockers like opening track “How Can I Be So Thirsty” to hardcore honky-tonk workouts like “Bar Room Country” and “What Used to Turn Me On” to the swampy southern groove of the album’s timely and topical title track - Bigger Hands sounds and feels like a labor of love. Freed from major label pressures and concerns, Anderson dug deep into his bag of songs, pulling together his most personal and freshest sounding collection in years. He wrote or co-wrote every one of the album’s twelve tracks, including rowdy leadoff single, “Cold Coffee And Hot Beer”, which Anderson wrote with his old friend and “Swingin’“ collaborator, the late Lionel Delmore,
“James has always been real accepting of my songs through the years,” Anderson says. “In fact, most of the big hits we had together were songs that I’d written.
A lot of times there’s no demo; I just come in with a guitar, sing the song and say, ‘Do you like it?’ and James will say ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’ And then I get to watch it come alive in the studio.”
That’s one of the big reasons for Anderson’s longevity and continued relevance as an artist, and it’s the reason Bigger Hands is a standout album for the man and his fans. Through three decades of Platinum albums, CMA, ACM and Grammy Awards, countless studio sessions and endless touring miles, Anderson has retained the tireless work ethic and empathetic soul of a songwriter. Gifted with one of the most distinctive and instantly recognizable voices in country music, he still puts a whole lot of stock in a songwriting session.
“For me, it’s really all about the songs and the writing,” he states. “That’s a big part of having a style. I feel blessed to write the songs I write.”
Anderson was especially honored - and pretty much floored - when songwriting legend James Taylor chose to include his own distinctive version of “Seminole Wind” on his critically acclaimed Covers album from last year.
“It’s almost like finding Easter eggs,” Anderson says with a shake of his head. “Songs have a funny way of coming back. But to get a James Taylor cut at this stage of my career? It was wonderful.”
It’s not Anderson’s first foray over to the pop side of the fence. After covering Dire Straits’ “When It Comes to You” back in ‘92, he was invited onstage to sit in with the band and became fast friends with bandleader Mark Knopfler. And he co-wrote “Shorty’s Long Gone”, Bigger Hands’ hardest rocking track, with hunting buddy Mark Farner, leader of ‘60s rock sensation Grand Funk Railroad. But despite a latent tendency to kick out the jams every now and then, Anderson’s heart is still deep in the country. He’s currently watching “Shuttin’ Detroit Down” - a recent co-write with his former producer and frequent collaborator, country rabble-rouser John Rich - leapfrog its way to the top of the charts.
“John’s solo record was supposed to be finished when we wrote “Shuttin’ Detroit Down”, and I said, ‘This is a right-now kind of thing we got here John,’“ says Anderson. “I already told John I might just buck dance if it goes to number one . . . and I don’t hardly ever dance anymore!”
On Bigger Hands, Anderson delivers his own blistering version of what has become the most talked-about country song in years. And while “Shuttin’ Detroit Down” reaffirms Anderson’s power as a chart-topping songwriter, it only hints at what lies within the grooves of Bigger Hands.
“With this record, the band worked hard, and James Stroud worked harder than I’ve ever seen him work,” Anderson says. “I worked hard to write these songs, and I sure worked hard singin’ ‘em. It was a joy just to see everyone doing their thing. And that’s what America and the music and whole deal is really all about - people doing what they do and liking what they like. They’re all just looking for something real they can latch onto.”