Classic Rock Corner

NRBQ's Al Anderson Now a World Famous Headliner

Above: Al Anderson (l) and World Famous Headliners in the studio.

There are people in Nashville, highly successful people, the average fan or casual music listener has little if any clue about. Chris Stapleton comes to mind. Mike Henderson is another. Everyone in Nashville knows and admires them, from Music Row to the East Nashville hepcats, but they're most often flying under the radar.

In spite of his 20 years in critics' darlings band NRBQ, "Big" Al Anderson is not exactly a name the average person is probably familiar with in spite of the fact that he has written numerous hit songs, played umpteen thousand gigs, and made some of the coolest, most idiosyncratic records of the past 30 years.

Anderson has written an amazing and varied string of hits for mainstream Nashville acts; here are just a smattering of the most recognizable: "Every Little Thing" (Carlene Carter), "Poor Me" (Joe Diffie), "The Cowboy In Me" (Tim McGraw), "Trip Around the Sun" (Jimmy Buffett), "Powerful Thing" (Trisha Yearwood), and the Mavericks' signature hit "All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down."

Anderson, who lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico these days is -- if he's thought of at all -- thought of as a Nashville songwriter and picker, although his real musical identity and roots lie in Louisville, Kentucky, where NRBQ was based for so long.

August 21, he is set to release his latest project, the eponymous World Famous Headliners, Anderson's first recordings since his departure from NRBQ in 1994. The PR unabashedly describes World Famous Headliners as "Nashville's premier rock band," and after hearing the album, that description is hard to quibble with.

Joining Anderson on Telecasters are Shawn Camp, another big-time Nashville songwriter, as well as former sideman for Guy Clark and John Prine, and Pat McLaughlin, Subdude Tommy Malone's Tinytown partner in crime in and the writer of dozens of Nashville hits.

The three pickers and singers are joined by drummer Greg Morrow (Dixie Chicks, Joe Cocker, Johnny Cash) and bassist Michael Rhodes (Bob Seger, J.J. Cale, John Fogerty).

Together, these five battle-hardened veterans lay down a barrage of god-a'mighty licks, slap-your-face grooves, and unforgettable, can't-get-it-out-of-my-head songs. To these ears, there really isn't another album out there like this one.

From opener "Give Your Love To Me" through the disturbing churn of "Party Til the Money's Gone" and the chilling soul-ripping "I Bleed," the album breaks the sound barrier the second it takes off and refuses to land quietly.

We caught up with Anderson at his songwriting gig at Nashville's Big Yellow Dog Publishing Company.

Rocks Off: Is this a real band, or is this just a one-off project?

Al Anderson: Well, it's a real band as far as I'm concerned. We plan to tour and support the album, and I believe we will eventually make another record. Does that qualify us as a real band?

RO: It's such a supergroup lineup, how did you put it together?

AA: Well, Shawn, Pat and I all write for Big Yellow Dog. And we do a lot of co-writing as just part of our day-to-day schedule. And I have to give a lot of the credit to Carla Wallace at Big Yellow Dog because she really pushed us to do this thing. She's been very supportive of this project from its inception.

RO: The liner notes credit the song writing to World Famous Headliners. Are these songs all three-way co-writes?

AA: Not exactly. Some Shawn and I wrote together, Pat and I wrote some, a few the three of us wrote, and there's a couple they wrote with other writers.

RO: Do you like co-writing? Some do, some don't.

AA: I really like it, especially with the right people. There's a perspective thing when you have another person working with the same idea.

RO: Before the music begins on track one, someone screams, "Come on, don't be pussies." Who said that?

AA: I'd rather not say who said that ... uh, you know ... well, maybe I said it.

RO: That seems like such a chance to take, leaving "come on, don't be pussies" there at the very beginning of the album. What was that actually all about?

AA: We did this whole thing live in the studio for the most part. You can see the recording set up if you look at a few of the Youtubes that are out there from the sessions. Anyway, we'd just done a take on "Give Your Love To Me" and we thought it needed to be beefed up just a bit, a bit more muscle.

So that was just me hollering something stupid to get us all going harder on the second take. And that's the one that ended up on the record. So we just left that part in there.

RO: Very few people in Nashville would have the balls to do that.

AA: Yeah, well...

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