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Pete Anderson Interview
(July 28, 2003)
Pete Anderson
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AboutCountry reviewer Kathy Coleman put together some questions for Grammy Award-winning producer, and Dwight Yoakam front man, Pete Anderson, who kindly sent us his detailed taped replies. Read all that Pete has to say about his music, producing albums, and working with Dwight Yoakam.

KathyHOST: As a producer, you've worked with more than just Dwight; what are some of your favorite projects, and your favorite artists to work with?

Pete Anderson: Well, my favorite project that I've ever done was the very first Michelle Shocked record called ShortSharpShocked. It was a magical record, it came together, all the recording magically was done in seven days, it was a lot of live stuff done, she was prepared beyond belief, I mean, she was every time she played the guitar and sang it was a perfect performance. I could have done the record in the time it took for her to sing ten or eleven songs, but I had other musicians and there were some arrangements and things that went down, so. That record was very special, very magical. The record I did for Jim Lauderdale that never came out it actually came out as an import eventually, I can't remember the name of it but it's got "Lucky 13" on it and "Why Do I Love You" and a bunch of stuff and that was another record that was very magical and recorded the spirit that was about with the musicians in the project when we recorded it made it a really incredible record to work on just 'cause the overall vibe of everything was just so positive, it was so solid. The record came out really solid, so. Favorite artist to work with I've worked with so many that, you know, I've had this long working relationship with Dwight that sort of transcends a normal working relationship with various, you know, when you do one record. I mean I loved working with Michelle, I had a good time working with Sara Evans on "Three Chords and the Truth," that was a lot of fun. Most of the, it would actually be more to the-- which you probably would ask this question if I ask it for you but, you know, which ones didn't you like, which sort of remain nameless, but some are a bit more difficult than the others but most of 'em are fun and I enjoy working with the artists and I have a great time.

KathyHOST: Do you have a least-favorite amongst these? (Project or artist, up to you how much to tell!)

Pete Anderson: Oh, okay, so you did ask the question. Well, although the record-- although the music was great, I made a record with Steve Forbert called The American In Me, and Steve sent me a tape with ten songs on it and nine of the songs were the best nine out of ten songs of "I wanna do a record and here's my ideas" I've ever received. I think the songs are terrific on that record, and I'm proud of the record, but it was extremely difficult to make, just the second-guessing and it's done/it's not done and the angst and just a lot of things that have nothing to do with making a record or making a successful record caused the process to be very, very, very difficult, and very unenjoyable, but I love the record, and I love Steve's talent.

KathyHOST: How long have you been playing the guitar?

Pete Anderson: Well, my first motivation to play the guitar was seeing Elvis Presley on Ed Sullivan, but I was too young, and by the time I got around to it I was sixteen years old, so I've been playing guitar for thirty-four, thirty-five years, something like that. A very long time. I had a-- I've had a long love affair with the instrument. I love the sound of guitar, I love listening to myself play the guitar, I love to hear other people play the guitar, I love to hear guitar on records, all types of guitar-- jazz, classical, I've had sort of an affinity for the instrument since I was very young.

KathyHOST: During the last tour, I noticed you take up the mandolin for a song. How many other instruments do you play?

Pete Anderson: Well, anything that I can-- that is strung up; banjo, mandolin, dobro. I do play harmonica and I started playing that when I was teenager. I played a lot of blues and some country and some folk-blues on the harmonica. Very, very slight dabbling on the piano, like one-finger notes and ideas. I've started playing a lot of drums, bass, and percussion now that I have my own studio and place to work, and I've got time on my hands and nobody's here, I'll just go in and put the drum track down that I want and then work forward from there, so. Pretty much all instruments except I don't play a lot of keyboards and I don't play violin. Anything with strings on it, though.

KathyHOST: Are you self-taught? Do you read music, or play strictly by ear?

Pete Anderson: I'm pretty much self-taught, I did study for a year in the late seventies at Guitar Institute of Technology basically to get my music theory together, and it was a huge break for me, breakthrough for me to study. Howard Roberts had formulated a curriculum that really worked specifically for guitar players, so you weren't learning music ala college through the piano courses and it was designed to teach guitar players the fundamentals and basics of music and it was a huge breakthrough for me to get an understanding of how music really works, jazz harmonies, substitution theories, things of that nature. I was already a moderately accomplished guitar player when I started studying there, but it was really a catalyst for me in my late twenties to learn this and it helped me to be a better arranger and really was the biggest step in my becoming a record producer was being able to talk fluently in music, because I basically was, would be illiterate and studying allowed me to be literate, which meant I could communicate an artist's wishes to the other musicians, either on an untaught level to certain musicians or on, in a formal way to schooled musicians.

KathyHOST: We know that this summer Dwight is touring mostly alone; are there any plans for the full band to join him at all?

Pete Anderson: I think as of this interview, Dwight has hired an upright bass player and a drummer to accompany him on certain shows where he can't play just with acoustic and one accompanist. So I don't... I wasn't told ever about the full band joining back up this year, and I wasn't told about the bass player and the drummer joining up, I've just seen it online, and I've been very.. so much, I've been so busy at Little Dog I haven't been able to pay a lot of attention to it. Once I sort of-- once he sort of claimed he was pulling the plug on the summer tour I got so involved in Little Dog which I was at the time, but I just kind of immersed myself back into finishing all the records that I needed to finish, my solo record which I've been working on for years, called Daredevil; preparing to mix the record for Cisco who had a record out called Pink Motels, a terrific songwriter, great songs on that record; mixing the Moot Davis record which, this guy is just, he blows me away. I mean, you know, if you take Jim Lauderdale, Michelle Shocked, Lucinda Williams, and Dwight Yoakam, Moot Davis has everything they had, or have, plus. He's a great songwriter, he's a great showman, he looks great, he's got a great persona and an incredible personality. So it's just-- I'm really excited about actually doing some shows in the fall in Southern California with Moot. This guy's gonna be somebody to reckon with, I'm very excited, the record's incredible.

KathyHOST: What are some of the drawbacks to a long touring schedule?

Pete Anderson: Well, you're not at home, it's a lot easier now with email and cell phones and things of that nature, to stay communicated in my case where I'm trying to run a record label and be on tour, and then just a health factor, so if you know, where do you eat every day, do you get to exercise, are you... you know, we spent a lot of time last year in the eastern part of the United States, it was very humid, very moist environment and I'm used to California. I stayed on the bus, I literally lived on the bus, I would never leave it. If I'da had my own bus where I could have had a shower and a different setup I would have you know never even ventured into a hotel room, I would only go into hotel rooms to clean up. I kinda got a phobia about packing and unpacking, and hotel rooms with windows that don't open, you can't get any fresh air, and, uck, I just got really sick of that. But the road can be done and it can be done extremely comfortably, and it you can have just a great amount of fun because I mean God, you're out there playing music for a living and you're traveling all over the United States, meeting new people and playing to the friends you've made through the years, so. That's the up side.

KathyHOST: Okay, this is another Dwight-centric question, but it's been a hot topic of discussion since his newest CD was released: do you know why the title "Fair to Midland" uses the wrong "fare"? In the lyrics the correct form is used everywhere except for in the title. I understand it's a play on the phrase "fair to middling," but as the song is about booking fare rather than feeling fair, the title's use of "fair" is peculiar.

Pete Anderson: Well, I tried to talk to Dwight about that, not that it was gonna be some failure point, but it was gonna be a point of correction. Obviously, the catchphrase "fair to middlin'," like "how ya doin', fair to middlin'," everyone's heard, so I don't think that it needed to be grammatically dealt with, and we played Midland-Odessa, and somehow it stuck and he got the idea and it was like that's a great idea, continue to write the song. He had a verse, I listened to it, I said this is terrific, you know, this is gonna be a great song, great song... I don't really know if Dwight was being artistic, or he thought he was being artistic, but it was on purpose, it wasn't a mistake, because he had, he had miss-- well, I don't know if they were misspellings, but he had, he had bizarre uses of the word during the song when I saw the lyric sheet, and I just said, you know, grammatically all you're talking about is fare, like you know, a ticket, two dollars for a bus ticket, fare to Midland, everyone will get {sings} "fair to middlin'" they'll get it because the phrase is so common, and he agreed, and then for some reason he wanted to use I didn't catch it, and he put "fair" in the title, and I think maybe he was worried that people wouldn't get it, I really don't know. I'm not his English teacher. {reads} "...understand it's a play on the phrase "fair to middling," but as the song is about booking fare rather than feeling fair, the title's use of "fair" is peculiar." You are absolutely right. {laughs}

KathyHOST: You seem to enjoy mingling with Dwight fans during after-show meet-and-greets and other predominantly Dwight-related events. What are the ups and downs of this?

Pete Anderson: Well, I do like meeting with... I like meeting with people. If it was my show, when I toured, you know, Pete Anderson--Working Class Tour, Pete Anderson--Dogs in Heaven, I would get offstage, go, just clean up a little bit and be right back at the front of the stage in the smaller clubs and just talk to people and shake hands and say hello. I enjoy that, I enjoy talking to people, I enjoy-- when I would play clinics, or guitar stores and I'd do clinics 'cause younger kids could come, so I could talk to guitar players and kids that were, you know, couldn't get into a bar and I could talk to them about music and that's always enjoyable, and I just felt, I feel good about, you know, giving back any experiences that I have had to people that wanna know, whether they're young or you know they're my age and they're still playing guitar and they're playing in clubs and they just want to talk about it, or about music or anything in general. I like meeting people. So that's the up side, the down side are is that you meet a lot of what I call the brides of Dwight, or Dwight sycophants that you know, just, the only reason they're talking to me is because I stand next to Dwight on stage and those people bore me, and I can-- I see through them, and it's-- I don't dislike them, but their motivations aren't really right, you know? So we initially started doing meet-and-greets after Dwight shows because of Little Dog Records, and because Scott Joss was on Little Dog Records, and we had another artist, Anthony Crawford, and I thought it was good for people to meet them, and because Dwight didn't meet people after the shows, I thought it was also as an ambassador of good will from the Dwight camp, because I had been involved in these records for so long that it would maybe be a little more fun for these people to meet the band, because they weren't gonna meet Dwight after the show. So that was a double-edged sword you know that I was meeting them in lieu of Dwight, I didn't like meeting people that were meeting us because they thought we knew Dwight, and I like meeting people. That's a long-winded, around-the-block answer.

KathyHOST: How do you really feel about Dwight's acting career, and the upsets it's caused with the touring schedule?

Pete Anderson: Well, it hasn't caused so many upsets with the touring schedule in that he's toured the last three years. My only, I don't know if it's a frustration, but my only-- the only thing that really quizzes me about it is that Dwight has, still has and has had the potential to be, you know, the most important country artist of his time, that's my personal opinion, and why he would leave, or descend from, or not maintain a mantle of that stature to become a-- um, no, I barely, I don't know what kind of-- a character actor? A sub-player? You know, he's sort of gotten typecast pretty rapidly as like, kind of a psycho or he plays these mean parts, or hurting people or yelling and screaming and throwing tantrums and shooting and killing and... I don't see the movies, I'm not, haven't been attract I saw Sling Blade, and I thought Sling Blade was okay, I thought the short, the initial short I thought was really good, the movie was good, but-- and Dwight did well in Sling Blade, but Dwight sort of... Billy Bob, it was a low-budget, low-pressure situation, and I think Billy Bob let Dwight just kinda do his thing, and he was acting, you know, on a lot more casual basis. But, you know, I can't... it'd be like somebody saying you know, why do I play so much basketball, I love to play basketball, but I'm not trying to be in the NBA, 'cause that's not gonna happen. I mean, I don't even play in leagues, but it is exercise for me, so maybe it's some sort of exercise for Dwight, I really don't know, I just don't understand why being the most important country artist of your decade isn't as important or something that you could maintain and then control your acting career. But he seems to wanna act no matter what, you know, there-- he gets some enjoyment out of it, and acting is difficult, I've asked him that, I said man, how do you do this? 'Cause he's not one to prone... he's not one that's prone to get up at seven in the morning and go sit in makeup and be on the set for fourteen hours, so, there must be something about it that I don't understand. I mean, I hate doing videos so I have no idea.

KathyHOST: What are some of the rest of the band doing during this "free time"? We know Scott Joss is touring with Merle Haggard, are any of the others working with other acts?

Pete Anderson: Scott Joss was working with Merle, and when he heard that Dwight was cancelling the summer tour, said well, that made his decision easy, so he would continue to work with Merle, he's having a great time. Merle, obviously, is one of his icon idols and him and Merle have created a really good relationship. Although Scott's known him since he was a teenager, I think Merle has sort of re-discovered Scott as his right-hand man. Skip Edwards is playing with everybody and anybody that calls, he tours with Johnny Rivers and has been for 25 years, so he called Johnny Rivers and said, hey, I'm available again, and he's been in and out of town. Basically, they do weekends, two or three days on the weekend or maybe, maybe four shows a month, five shows a month, enough to keep him busy. Bob Glaub is playing sessions, but there's not as many as there used to be, he sort of had some misfortune and lost out on a tour that he could have taken, but he was under the assumption that this tour was gonna happen, so he was sorta, he's sorta been put out in the cold on this one, but he's thinking of starting a management company, and I think he's probably by the time this goes to press he'll have done a record with Percy Sledge, he's gonna play bass on a Percy Sledge record that sounds really like a lot of fun. Who else? Gary Morse, Gary Morse lives in Nashville and Gary doesn't stop working, so I'm sure he just called up his usual clients, he's been doing a lot of demos, a lot of master sessions. He's one of the best steel players around, and last time he called me a couple of weeks ago, from Phoenix, and he was playing with that Dierks, I think it's Dierks Benedict {Dierks Bentley - KH}, he's on Capital and he's got a song called "What Was I Thinkin'" really a cool song so he was out tourin' with that guy. Gary's a survivor and a great musician, and I've been sort of left-- I would have-- initially I thought wow, I'd really like to tour this summer and play, but by the time this tour got cancelled, everyone had bands booked for the summer, and then I sorta resolved myself that I really needed to stay home and work on Little Dog, and it's been so fruitful. I've just I just work every day, I come to work at anywhere from 1:30 to three in the afternoon and work 'til midnight to one or two in the morning, five minimum five days a week and we've been making great music, and Little Dog is turning around. As the industry collapses, Little Dog kinda grows, kinda like a tomato plant outta the manure, and I'm just really excited. I love being at Little Dog every day, I don't know what I'd do if I didn't have this place, it's a great place for me to come and create, and I'm actually already writing songs for my next record. My record, "Daredevil," will be done by the end of August. It's all instrumental, I'm very excited about this record. I just got tons of plans for music that I've always had, but I haven't been able to implement because usually for the five or six months of the summer I would be gone.

KathyHOST: Tell us a little about your current producing projects, such as working with newcomer Moot Davis, and any other projects you have on the horizon.

Pete Anderson: Well, I think I just answered that, in that all those things I'm doing. I'm finishing my record, and I'm gonna start another record immediately for myself, 'cause I have the ideas. Got a couple of new artists that I've found that are just unbelievable can't say who they are, until it's a lock-down deal. Just did some re-mixing here, Sally Browder did for King of the Hill, for a song with, I don't know, that who's the big tall guy with the ponytail he sang on something for King of the Hill, and just work every day at Little Dog, on Little Dog music. Nothing else that really interests me. And you know, the record business, the major record industry, is collapsing, nobody's really making records, nobody knows what to do. They've eroded the companies so that the people that are there are not music people, they're not record-makers; so they just continue to move their companies in the wrong direction, and it won't be long, but they eventually will crash, every single company, and it will sift down to what it always should have been, and I hope that music-- I know, I not only hope, but I know that music when the smoke clears, only music people will be in music. It started that way in the fifties and sixties, got bought out in the late sixties and early seventies by corporations, they diluted the staffs and the talent of the people who started these companies, and it took 'em thirty years and they finally destroyed it.

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