By GENE STOUT
Lynn Anderson, who died Thursday, July 30, in Nashville, was a down-to-earth country star with a great sense of humor and many delightful personal stories.
When I interviewed her by phone in advance of two April 1995 concerts at the Auburn Performing Arts Center in Auburn, Wash., Anderson was 47 years old.
Best known for the 1970 country-pop mega-hit “(I Never Promised You a) Rose Garden,” talked about the four-day recording session that produced the song that earned Anderson the Country Music Association’s female singer of the year award. It was the high point of her career. And for 27 years, it remained the best-selling album by a solo female country artist.
“We figured we had a No. 1 country song, but we had no idea that it would do what it did,” she said.
Anderson died at Vanderbilt University Medical Center after suffering a heart attack. She was 67.
At the time of my interview, Anderson said her own kids listened to Pearl Jam. “Actually, I like them a lot, too,” she said.
If someone makes a movie of Anderson’s life, I’d be delighted if actress Reese Witherspoon were cast as the country legend.
Read the text of my March 31, 1995, story in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer here:
‘COUNTRY’ EXTENDS FAR BEYOND NASHVILLE, SAYS ANDERSON
By Gene Stout
What really throws people when they meet country singer Lynn Anderson is her age.
“People see me and say, ‘Gee, you look really good,’ ” Anderson said with a laugh. “And you know that in their minds they’re trying to compute, ‘How old is this woman?’
“People assume that I’m about 70 because all they know is that I’ve been around for as long as they can remember.”
Anderson, in fact, is 47. She was one of country music’s top women stars in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Her biggest hit, Joe South’s “(I Never Promised You a) Rose Garden,” zoomed up the national country charts in the fall of 1970 — when Anderson was only 23.
Her superstar days behind her, Anderson now performs fewer than 40 concerts a year, making her shows tonight and tomorrow night at 7:30 at the Auburn Performing Arts Center rare events.
“I really don’t do tours anymore. I’m too lazy,” Anderson said in a telephone interview from her home in Taos, N.M.
But the singer with the soft, lilting voice and elegant manner hasn’t lost her passion for country music — just her tolerance for the narrow-mindedness of Nashville.
“I totally feel that the Top 40 country format has become so strict that something has to give,” she said. “Because people do get tired of being force-fed what the record companies are pushing each week.”
A former Nashville resident, Anderson moved to New Mexico to dedicate more time to another passion — horses.
“I’ve been kind of a cowgirl most of my life, so New Mexico is the perfect place for me. It suits me very well. Ninety percent of the time I’m in cowboy boots and a cowboy hat.
“I had an awful lot of success and some really good times in Nashville, but my heart was always somewhere in the West.”
Anderson raises quarter horses and rides as often as she can.
“Of the horses that I’ve bred and raised, I’ve had several national champions and a couple of world champions that were born at my house. I’m just as proud of that accomplishment as I am of the gold records I’ve had,” Anderson said.
Anderson grew up in Sacramento, Calif., the daughter of Casey and Liz Anderson. Her mother was a singer-songwriter who wrote Merle Haggard’s first hit song, “(My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers,” in the early 1960s.
When Anderson’s mother went to Nashville to record in the mid-’60s, Anderson went with her to sing harmony.
“So there I was, this teen-ager from California, this blond California girl singing country music,” Anderson said. “And they just freaked. So they offered me a contract, too, the same week. I remember saying that I’d have to check with my school, because in order to record my own session, I’d have to miss classes.”
By the time Anderson, a journalism major, was a college freshmen, she had several Top 10 and a couple of No. 1 country records to her credit. But no huge crossover pop hit.
Anderson had long been fond of a Joe South song titled “(I Never Promised You a) Rose Garden,” a soaring ode to a disillusioned lover. But then-husband Glen Sutton, a top Nashville songwriter, advised against recording it.
“Glen said, ‘This isn’t a woman’s song. It says, “I could promise you things like big diamond rings.” ‘A woman doesn’t say that to a man.’ So we kept putting it aside.”
Anderson finally recorded it as a filler tune during a lull in a four-day recording session.
“Glen sort of raised his eyebrows,” Anderson said. “But as soon as we started playing it, the guys in the studio said, ‘Whoa.’ And after the session, we couldn’t get them to go home. They called their wives and told them to come listen — and then their buddies. Somebody went out and got a six-pack of beer, and somebody else went out for a bottle of champagne. And we stayed in that studio for about three hours after, listening over and over to that song.
“We figured we had a No. 1 country song, but we had no idea that it would do what it did.”
“Rose Garden” was a monster hit, earning Anderson the Country Music Association’s female singer of the year award. It was the high point in Anderson’s career.
But like the lyrics to her biggest hit, Anderson’s recording career wasn’t all roses. She often felt constrained.
“I felt like my life began and ended with the record charts. But there is life after Top 40,” she said. “As long as I continue to enjoy what I do and take care in choosing my material, I feel there’s a place for me and others like me. By remaining a little slippery, I’ve left myself room to move and grow.”
On her last album, “Cowboy Sweetheart,” released three years ago, Anderson even attempted to yodel.
She said her eclectic tastes are a reflection of her childhood.
“I was brought up on everything from Roy Orbison to the Temptations and I was part of a family where Merle Haggard came to breakfast,” she said. “I was very influenced and still am by a lot of different kinds of music.”
Today, her own kids listen to Pearl Jam.
“Actually, I like them a lot, too,” she said.
At the Auburn Performing Arts Center, Anderson will perform with a five-piece band. Besides her own songs, she plans to perform songs by Bonnie Raitt, Suzy Bogguss and maybe even Tina Turner.
A new hybrid rose recently was named after Anderson, in honor of the 100th anniversary of the American Rose Society. Cream-colored with pink tips, the hot-selling Lynn Anderson Rose is the fifth to be named for a female country star (Dolly Parton, Minnie Pearl, Barbara Mandrell and Patsy Cline also have been honored).
“I may not have a new record out there,” Anderson quipped, “but the Lynn Anderson Rose is topping the charts. It’s the hottest seller this season.”