Whisperin' Bill Anderson tells more than stories
in his new album...
By: Gina Kay Singerhouse
(This article was printed in the November / December 2014 issue of Strictly Country Magazine.)
It was a different time and a different era. People were kind and always had a “hello” for each other. Thinking back, he was just a boy who thought that he was a man when he marched off to Army boot camp. Like most in his platoon, he was eager to march off to war to become a hero like so many before.
War changes a person. He spent three years in the Pacific, in places he had never even heard of. Most of the time he was fighting for his life, it was him or the enemy and the enemy was not going to win. All of it changed him.
When he returned home he packed everything up and neatly placed it in a cedar chest. It was as if that chest was his foot locker, like the one he had stored his meager belongings in while in the Army. As he places the last items, his uniform, in the chest – he comes across his Army hat.
Memories flood back of his first days of boot camp. His first formation, meeting his fellow soldiers, Army grub and more… How he misses his buddy Bob. They hit it off right from the start. The things they did together and the stories that they shared are all memories of a time gone by.
He can not put his Army hat away. As he holds it within his callused hands, he can not force himself to pack it away with all of the other mementos of his days in the Army. It’s his life blood, his token, the one thing that will always remind him of his days in the military. Within its folds, lie the memories of his Army buddies.
He was one of seven of forty-four men in his platoon that returned home. For many called him a hero, but in his eyes the real heroes never made it back.
As time marches on, he still holds dearly to the memories of his fellow soldiers. He never packed that Army hat away. In fact, he wore it every day he left the house. The neighbors once called him a hero, now they just look at him like his is some old crazy man. But he doesn’t care. The memories of the faces of the brave men whom he served along side come rushing to his mind’s eye as he grabs that old Army hat and proudly places it upon his head as he leaves his house for the day.
Years pass. He marries and has a few children. Not one day goes by that he does not reach for that old Army hat as he walks out the door. The stories it could tell are stories that he will never share. Deep in his soul he lives those stories over and over as he places that Army hat upon his head.
Every evening like clock work, you could find him sitting on his favorite chair in front of the television watching the evening news. It’s a darn shame what this world has come to and he misses the world of his youth. Brian Williams comes on and announces the dedication of the World War II Monument in Washington, D.C. He sits up straight and ponders the thought of going to see that Monument. His story does not end there…
Just two good friends sitting and talking, that is all they are. With a cup of coffee in one hand and a Danish sitting on a plate near by, one man proceeds to tell his friend about his father and his old Army hat. What was a story about a friend’s father has now become a powerful song and video that many can relate too.
In 2013, Country Music singer and iconic song writer Bill Anderson was the man whom heard the story of this World War II hero and his memorable Army hat. The story prompted Anderson with the help of fellow song writer Walt Aldredge, to write the song “Old Army Hat.”
“It’s based on a true story. I met the son of the man that it actually happened to.” tells Whispering Bill Anderson. “In the song we took a few liberties and referred to the old soldier as my Grandfather. But, actually he was the father to a friend of mine and it really happened. He took his Dad up to Washington, to the Memorial and told his Dad not to wear that old Army hat that he wore around all the time. His Dad said ‘I’m going to wear it if I want too.’ So he wore it up there and they were just totally blown away by the response that they got; how many people stopped him on the street; and thanked him and even saluted him and all this kind of thing.”
As much as the story about the soldier who continues to wear his old Army hat is quite entertaining, it’s the tale end of the song and story that softens even the hardest of hearts.
“The story of the little boy coming up and wanting his picture when they got to the Memorial, that actually happened. That’s a true story.” shares Bill.
A great song writer will always write a song that can paint an image within the listener’s mind while they hear the song. This song, with it’s up beat melody does just that. However, it truly captures the listener when it speaks about the actions that this man took with the little boy that brings a sense of honor to one’s soul as you hear it.
“Well actually, one of the hard things in writing this song was figuring out what to include and what to delete.” shares Bill. “There was actually a little more too that. The son told me that when they got to the hotel; they had a cab from the airport to the hotel; and said when they went to get out of the cab at the hotel – of course his dad was wearing the hat – and he said the bell man who opened the door to the cab, spotted him and said he backed up about two steps and saluted and held the salute the whole time that the man was getting out of the cab. He said when they got into the lobby of the hotel and they were walking through the hotel, that it was just one person after another – spotted the hat, came up and talked to him and said thank ya. So there wasn’t time to put all of that in the song. But that actually happened.”
Words can not describe this beautiful and powerful song. Experience it for yourself…
Old Army Hat
(Bill Anderson, Walt Aldredge)
He came home to Tennessee
A young man at the end of ‘45
Only one of seven men in his Platoon
that made it back alive
He must of seen some tough times
But he never talked too much about all that
Put his pictures and his memories in the cedar chest
Everything but his old Army hat
By the time I graduated
The winds of change had blown across our land
They were burning flags and draft cards
When they bothered to take some kind of stand
And we used to laugh at Grandpa like
he was some ole relic from the past
‘cause he never left the house unless he was wearing
That funny looking warn out Army hat
Every eye was on him
Any time that he went any where
They whispered and they pointed
But you could tell that Grandpa didn’t care
I ain’t wearing this for them he said
It’s a whole lot more than that
For my buddies who gave everything
the least that I can do
Is keep on wearing this old Army hat
He called me up one morning
Said he’d seen it on the news on his TV
They’ve opened up a monument to
World War II in Washington DC
I ain’t getting any younger and
I wish someone would take me to see that
I couldn’t help but think their
gonna laugh at you up there
If you show up in that silly Army hat
Two strangers both saluted as Grandpa
walked up to the monument
One said ‘thank you soldier for a job well done’
the other said ‘amen’
And a young boy said ‘sir my daddy
went to war and never made it back
Would you take a picture standing here beside me
And maybe let me wear your Army hat’
Every eye was on him
And there was not a dry one in the crowd
They whispered and they pointed
And Grandpa stood up extra tall and proud
He said ‘son just keep it’ when
the young boy tried his best to give it back
‘you’re a brave little soldier son and every
soldier needs his very own authentic Army hat
For your daddy who gave everything, the least that I can do is pass on this old warn out Army hat
The hero in Bill’s song served in the Pacific theater, during World War II.
“The soldier - this man - he was in the south Pacific.” shares Bill. “I’ve seen pictures of him and his unit. They were on the front line in the Pacific. For those of us who weren’t there, we couldn’t imagine it I’m sure.
“To know that there were and that there are people like this man who came home and kind of put it all away, but he still kept that hat. He wore that hat around in tribute to his buddies that didn’t make it back.” explains Anderson when asked what he wanted the listener to gain from his song. “When the little boy asked him to wear the hat, then he turned around after all these years, gave it to him. Gave it away to this little boy. I just think, the kindness of this man who saw all these horrible atrocities and all this stuff during the war. Yet came home and was such a kind and giving man. I just think it paints a picture that - we read the news and hear the news and ‘everything’s bad; this is wrong with America and this is bad and all this.’ Then realize that there are people like this man and this soldier. I think we all need to be reminded of that from time to time.”
Bill Anderson includes this powerful song on his latest album called Life. The album features ten beautifully written and recorded songs that capture essence of many aspects of the title.
“This particular record has everything from that silly song about ‘Bubba Garcia’ all the way through to the ‘Old Army Hat;’ we’ve threw in a lot of different emotions in all.” laughs Bill. “I think my favorite thing about the album is really the wide scope of the music. It’s a little bit of everything.”
The album opens with a fun song called “Bubba Garcia’s.” Performed in a Tex-mex feel, Bill gains the help from Willie Nelson in this fun filled song.
The album continues with the first of many songs that will hit our list of Top Songs of 2014, while earning a nomination for the Spirit Award’s Song of The Year Award. John Anderson lends his vocal talents in “Rhinestone Grindstone.” Performed as gentle ballad, this one captures the life of a country music entertainer who’s career is fading in to the history books.
The second song to hit our list from this album is “Blackberry Winter.” This beautiful ballad contains a lot of artistic definition in the instrumentals mixed with a lot of imagery while it paints a picture of living through tough times in a relationship.
“The expression ‘blackberry winter,’ to me, is just so colorful. Just the two words together, to me, just paint some kind of a picture.” shares Bill. “When I went to Rob Crosby with the idea, I said ‘let’s write a song about a blackberry winter, where the weather’s good and it’s spring, the flowers are blooming and the sun is out. Then here comes these four or five days of this cold winter and let’s liken that to a relationship and that’s what we tried to do in that song.”
Another song that we pulled from this album to hit our list is “When You Love Me.” Bill utilizes the beauty of an acoustic piano mixed with a gentle string arrangement as the back drop in this beautiful love ballad. As artistically defined as the instrumentation is, it’s the power of the message contained within the lyrics performed with Bill’s unique whispering vocals that draws this song out demanding for anyone to take a listen to. The message is that of love between two people and the love between one’s self and God.
“That’s exactly what we intended when Billy Kirsch and I wrote that song.” explains Bill. “We actually wrote that song to submit to a movie. They were making a movie here about the early life of Billy Graham. They wanted a song, that the lyric would be Billy singing this to Ruth, whom he was about to marry at that point in his life, or to God, whom he discovered at that point. That’s exactly what we tried to do when we wrote that song!”
This song will also make for a beautiful addition to any wedding ceremony or to dedicate to anyone who is special in your life.
Of course the final song to hit our list of Top Songs of 2014 while earning a nomination for the Spirit Award’s Song of The Year is “Old Army Hat.”
Bill gains the help from several artists including Vince Gill in “A Song Like This,” Dailey and Vincent lend their vocals in “Dreams Are Easy To Come By,” and Joey + Rory lend their talents in “Whisper.”
Although Bill has written and worked with so many entertainers throughout his career, there is one that eluded him.
“Well obviously being the age that I am and the generation that I am, I would have loved to have sat down in a dressing room at the Opry backstage with Hank Williams and had a guitar and written a song together.” humbly replies Bill. “That would have been my ultimate fantasy, I guess. To write a song with him. You’re right, I’ve never met Hank Williams.
I have been very blessed to work with just about everybody that’s come along since then. From the very newest ones now to the ones that were the leaders of the pack when I got to Nashville. I feel like I’ve been very, very blessed.”
It’s very rare that we acknowledge an album by nominating it for the Spirit Award’s Album of The Year Award. However, I must say this one deserves such an honor. Not because of Bill’s legendary status. It’s the arrangement of the instrumentals, the heart of the lyrics that create an image in the listener’s mind and the pure heart and soul of Bill’s raw emotions is what makes this album so incredible.
But what is more incredible is that this album captures life in general. It consists of comedy, heart break, work, dreams, broken dreams, relationships, love, honor and respect.
Like the man who shares his “Old Army Hat” to a little boy, Bill Anderson shares his take on Life. Share this one with everyone, for this is what Life is truly about.
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