Country Heritage: The Mighty Andersons
There have been a number of country singers named Anderson who have graced the genre. During the 1960s and 1970s “Whispering” Bill Anderson placed an impressive number of songs on the charts, both as a songwriter and as a performer. John Anderson graced the scene during the 1980s and 1990s, mostly as a performer. Concurrently Pete Anderson served as a musician, songwriter, producer (most notably for Dwight Yoakam) and performer. What this group of Andersons has in common is that none of them are related to each other.
Such is not the case with the subjects of this article. Liz Anderson and her daughter Lynn both had success on the country music charts and as live performers, although Lynn is one of the true superstars of the genre, whereas Liz was basically a good journeyman performer. Liz, however, had enormous success as a songwriter. Liz’s husband, Casey Anderson, mostly worked behind the scenes.
We’ll start off with Casey Anderson. The major search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo) have virtually nothing on Casey. Consequently, I contacted Liz Anderson to see if she could provide me with a little information on him.
“Yes, there is more to him than the music business. When we met, he was home on leave from the Navy Air Corp stationed in Jacksonville, Florida. [He was] discharged in 1946.
Casey is from North Dakota–a little town in the Eastern part called Osnabrock–Father Carl Anderson and Mother Grace Norton Anderson. [He] went to school in Grand Forks and sang with a trio of young boys. They were quite good; they didn’t sing ‘country’ though–pop stuff. He had two half-sisters, Laverne and Irene, and a pile of wonderful relatives. A Grandmother who was an angel.
We were married in 1946. The first thing we did was buy an old 3-apt house in Grand Forks that needed fixing. Well that started Casey into the building business. He has been building something ever since. While I was busy here in Nashville writing songs and recording for RCA, Casey was starting a log home business and called it “Music City Builders.” His motto was “Made With Logs and Love.” He built some very unusual log homes around Nashville, including one for Willie Nelson; a very large unusual one for us on Old Hickory Lake here that was the “idea” model for the huge home built by Barbara Mandrell now known as ‘Fontanel;’ then he started a subdivision around this wonderful log house with one-acre 50 lots, and we called it ‘Singing Spring Ranch’ in Mt. Juliet. I did help with designing these homes–the woman’s touch you know–then he would build what we had both dreamed up. These house are still standing all around town and beyond. In Oak Hill–a beautiful one on the tip of Harbor Island in Old Hickory.
Casey is also a pilot, snowmobile racer, boater, horseman, cowboy and just about anything that has action to it. According to me, he can do everything…….. Liz”
Liz also noted that Casey is part of a singing group, Sons of The Guns, who record for their record label, Showboat Records. Recently the couple co-wrote “Ballad of the Pony Express.” Casey has co-written songs but does not have any solo songwriting credits to his name, although he often provides the ideas that become songs–most famously “The Fugitive,” a very early Merle Haggard hit that helped define his career.
Liz Anderson is a very successful songwriter, providing material for many artists of the 1960s and ’70s. She was born in 1930 in Roseau, Minnesota, but raised in Grand Forks, North Dakota. She was a relatively late entrant to the genre, not really getting her career in high gear until the early 1960s. During this period, she recorded demos and wrote many songs. Things started rolling in 1961 when Del Reeves recorded “Be Quiet Mind,” and reached fifth gear in 1964 when Roy Drusky recorded “Pick of the Week.” In 1965, Merle Haggard recorded her song “All My Friends Are Gonna Be Strangers,” which became his first Top 10 hit (Roy Drusky also recorded the song–his version reached #6). Liz won a BMI award for the song.
Also during 1965, Chet Atkins signed Liz to a recording deal with RCA. Her first two singles, “Go Now, Pay Later” (#23) and “So Much For Me, So Much For You” (#45) both charted and her third single, “Game of Triangles,” with labelmates Bobby Bare and Norma Jean, became a Top 5 hit. Her next solo release, “The Wife of the Party” reached #22 and then in April 1967, she again had a Top 5 Country hit with “Mama Spank.” This was to be Liz’s last Top 20 record, although she continued to chart for a few more years, switching to Epic in 1971. Among her other popular recordings were “Tiny Tears” (#24 in 1967), “Thanks A Lot For Tryin’ Anyway” (#40 in 1968), her duet with daughter Lynn, “Mother May I” (#21 in 1968) and “Husband Hunting” (#26 in 1970).
Although she would never say so, I believe that Liz’s fall from the top of the charts can be explained in two words: Lynn Anderson. It appears that, starting in 1966, Liz was funneling her best material to her daughter Lynn. Eight of the songs on Lynn’s first album, Ride Ride Ride, were written by Liz (one a co-write with Casey), including three of the four charting singles. Liz also wrote four of the songs on Lynn’s second album, Promises, Promises, and five of the songs on Lynn’s third album, Big Girls Don’t Cry.
Although her own hit records were relatively few, Liz Anderson had a significant impact on the country charts as a songwriter. Here are some of the songs she wrote that were recorded by other artists and reached the Top 40 of Billboard’s Country Charts:
- “Strangers” – Merle Haggard (#10) and Roy Drusky (#6), both in 1965
- “Be Quiet Mind” – Del Reeves (#9 in 1961) and Ott Stephens (#23 in 1964)
- “Big Girls Don’t Cry” – Lynn Anderson (#12 in 1968)
- “Flattery Will Get You Everywhere” – Lynn Anderson (#11 in 1969)
- “Guess My Eyes Were Bigger Than My Heart” – Conway Twitty (#18 in 1966)
- “I Cried All the Way to the Bank” – Norma Jean (#21 in 1965)
- “(I’m a Lonesome) Fugitive” – Merle Haggard (#1 in 1967, Hag’s first of 38 Billboard #1s)
- “If I Kiss You” – Lynn Anderson (#5 in 1967)
- “Just Between the Two of Us” – Merle Haggard and Bonnie Owens (#28 in 1964)
- “Promises, Promises” – Lynn Anderson (#4 Billboard, #1 Record World in 1968)
- “Ride Ride Ride” – Lynn Anderson (#38 in 1966) and Brenda Lee (#37 pop in 1966)
Lynn Anderson is, of course the best known of this triumvirate. Lynn reached superstar status during the late 1960s and early 70s. She ranks fourth among female singers for the decade of the 1970s, behind Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette. Born in 1947, her mother Liz was just over 17 years old. Although born in Grand Forks, North Dakota, her parents moved to California while she was still young. Lynn first became interested in singing around the age of six, but she had her first success in equestrian activities, winning many trophies in and around California, including becoming the California Horse Show Queen in 1966. She remains active in equestrian pursuits to this very day, having achieved great success as a rider and breeder.
Lynn took naturally to performing, landing roles on local television programs, singing background harmony on her mother’s demo recordings and working at KROY Radio in Sacramento. On one of her mother’s trips to Nashville, Lynn traveled with her and was allowed to participate in an informal hotel room sing-a-long with various country singers such as Freddie Hart and Merle Haggard, among others. It is reported that Slim Williamson, owner of Chart Records, was present at the informal jam session and invited Lynn to record for Chart, which she did from 1966-1969. While signed to Chart, Lynn came to the attention of Lawrence Welk, who signed her for the 1967-1968 season. While with Welk, she appeared on the television show and toured with the show’s touring company. During 1968, Lynn married Glenn Sutton, a noteworthy songwriter who wrote David Houston’s mega-hit “Almost Persuaded.”
Many people are under the impression that the Lynn Anderson story begins with her million selling hit “Rose Garden” and her Glen Sutton-produced recordings on Columbia. That impression is quite mistaken. By the time Lynn signed with Columbia in 1970, she had already recorded 13 charting records, four of which were Top 10 records, with “Promises, Promises” reaching #1 on Record World (#4 Billboard) and “That’s A No No” reaching #1 on Cash Box (#2 Billboard) and another five records reaching the Top 20, not bad for an artist signed to a minor label. During the Chart years, much of Lynn’s material was penned by Liz Anderson. Even after the switch to Columbia, one or two of Liz’s compositions appeared on each of Lynn’s albums except Rose Garden. Although Liz and Lynn were signed to different labels, in 1967 and 1968, Chart had some sort of manufacturing and distribution deal with RCA that enabled the mother-daughter duets.
Lynn’s first single for Columbia was the lively “Stay There Til I Get There” which reached #7, despite Chart issuing a competing single, a cover of Hank Snow’s “I’ve Been Everywhere” that reached #16. Her next single “No Love At All” only reached #15 (it would be a pop hit for B.J. Thomas the following year) as it was sandwiched by two more Chart releases, “Rocky Top” and “I’m Alright,” both of which hit the Top 20. Finally in late 1970, “Rose Garden” was released. A somewhat unusual choice for a single as it seemed to be told from a masculine perspective and was penned by pop/rock songwriter Joe South. This single made it clear to the public which label was providing the current Lynn Anderson as it soared to #1 for five weeks, reaching #4 on the pop charts and selling over a million copies in the process. The record also went to #1 in Canada, Norway, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Switzerland, reached #3 in England and went Top 10 in a number of other countries.
Lynn’s follow up to “Rose Garden” was “You’re My Man,” penned by husband Glen Sutton, which spent two weeks at #1. While Chart continued to release old material as singles throughout 1971, the only Chart release to reach the Top 20 was Lynn’s cover of “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels.” As for the Columbia releases, from “Rose Garden” until the end of 1974, Lynn had a terrific run of success as 12 of 13 singles made the Top 10, with five Billboard #1s (“Rose Garden,” “You’re My Man,” “How Can I Unlove You,” “Keep Me In Mind” and “What a Man My Man Is”) plus a Cashbox #1 (“Top of The World”) and a Record World #1 (“Cry”). Along the way, 10 of Lynn’s songs crossed over onto the pop charts. She won a Grammy in 1971 for “Rose Garden” and was the CMA’s Female Vocalist of the Year for 1971.
After 1975, Lynn continued to record, but she really didn’t fit the outlaw movement that came into vogue during the second half of the 1970s. Consequently, the really big hits tailed off although there were still nine Top 20 hits to follow with her 1979 hit “Isn’t It Always Love” reaching #10 and her late 1983 duet with Gary Morris, “You’re Welcome To Tonight,” reaching #9. Her marriage to Glenn Sutton came undone in 1977. Her tenure at Columbia ended in 1980, and she did not chart during 1981 and 1982. In 1983 she emerged on Permian Records and later recorded for Mercury (also, there was a duet with Ed Bruce on RCA).
After falling off the charts in 1989, Lynn continued in equestrian activities where she has won 16 national and eight world titles. Never fully retired from recording or performing music, Lynn issued a bluegrass album in 2004. Since 2006 she has been involved in recording for her mother’s Showboat label.
As always, all vinyl is out of print. Liz recorded eight albums for RCA, plus an album on the Tudor label released in 1983. Her RCA albums all feature songs that she wrote alone or with Casey as co-writer. I assume that the Tudor album My Last Rose contains some of her compositions, but I cannot verify it.
Liz also recorded four singles for Epic, all of which charted and none of which made the Top 50. The most interesting of these was the single “Astrology.” Unfortunately, Epic never released these on an album.
Unfortunately, none of Liz’s vinyl output has made it onto CD. She does have her own record label, Showboat Records, and has issued several CDs of relatively new material. Liz and Casey can be heard on the Sons of the Guns album and on the CD titled The Cowgirl Way.
She also has a couple of holiday CDs available.
Liz is an accommodating sort, and at my request she put together a greatest hits collection for me several years ago. You may be able to persuade her to do the same for you. Her available output can be found at the Showboat Records website.
Lynn had a very prolific career during the vinyl era. Chart issued 13 albums of which three were compilations. Her Chart career contains a lot less of the ‘country cocktail’ that characterized her Columbia recordings and more straight-ahead country. My favorite Lynn Anderson recordings come from this period. All of the Chart Albums are worthwhile, and all feature songs written by her mother. Look for Songs My Mother Wrote, which features Lynn singing her mother’s most famous songs.
Columbia released 20 studio albums on Lynn Anderson, plus a Christmas album and several compilations. Greatest Hits contains most of the biggest hits; Greatest Hits Volume 2 is mostly lesser hits documenting Lynn’s slide down the charts. As far as the various albums go, if you like the ‘country cocktail’ production, you’ll like all of Lynn’s Columbia albums. She was always adventurous in her choice of material, sampling material from various genres of music in order to avoid becoming stale.
After leaving Columbia, Lynn issued two more vinyl albums: 1983’s Back, on the Permian label, and the 1988 effort What She Does Best on Mercury. The Permian album contains Lynn’s last Top 10 hit, “You’re Welcome To Tonight” and the Mercury album contains her last Top 25 single, a remake of the Drifters classic “Under The Boardwalk.” Both albums vary considerably from the sound of her Columbia albums.
Currently there are several Lynn Anderson CDs available. Collectors Choice Music has issued Greatest Hits which gathers eight of her Chart label hits with 16 of her Columbia hits–this is the best collection currently available. The Columbia/Legacy 16 Biggest Hits has two of the Chart titles listed along with 14 Columbia titles–I don’t know if the Chart titles are original recordings or Columbia remakes. Her 2004 project, The Bluegrass Sessions, is still in print and finds Lynn in good voice as she recasts her biggest hits as bluegrass. Collectibles has reissued two of Lynn’s Columbia albums on one CD, Rose Garden/You’re My Man were, the two biggest albums of her career. Although now out of print, you may be able to find the two outstanding collections issued by the now defunct Renaissance label, Anthology: The Chart Years and Anthology: The Columbia Years. Also available is Lynn Anderson – Live At Billy Bob’s Texas, which showcases Lynn in a live setting. Plus, there are two albums of western music recorded for her mother’s label, Cowgirl and Cowgirl 2.
You may be able to find some other CDs of Lynn’s recordings. Beware of the off-labels (Dominion, Delta, Country Stars, etc) as these will normally feature remakes of the earlier hit recordings. There is, however, an off-label CD worth checking out: Cowboy’s Sweetheart on Laser Light features original recordings of cowboy and western songs (issued in 1992, it finds Lynn in good voice and is a worthwhile acquisition.
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