Country Music Hall of Fame member Bill Anderson was at the WSM studios visiting the show of Eddie Stubbs recently when he took a trip back in time. Stubbs was playing Anderson's 1957 recording of "City Lights," a song that changed his life forever when recorded by Ray Price the next year.
"I sat and listened intently for the first time in years to the original record of 'City Lights,' and I got to thinking of the people that played on it," he tells Billboard.com. "It took me right back to that very night in 1957 when we recorded it at an unfinished TV studio in Athens, GA. We had no idea what we were doing that night -- that we were jump-starting a career for Bill Anderson. We were just cutting a B-Side for a rockabilly song that we recorded," he recalls.
Anderson has had quite the time for retrospect as of late. He is the subject of a four-CD box set titled "Bill Anderson: The First Ten Years," that features all of his recordings during the first decade of his career. He admits that looking at the box set stirs up the emotions.
"I was pretty floored the first time I looked at it," says Anderson. "Bear Family's Richard Weize came to Nashville and brought me a dummy copy - the cover and the book, but with no CD's. He and I had lunch together, and pulled it out of his car, and handed it to me at the restaurant. Of course, I've been excited because I know they have the reputation of doing the best box sets of anyone in the business. I've wanted a box set for the past few years, and have wanted Bear Family to be the ones to do it. When I listened to the music, there was a lot of it that I hadn't heard in a long time."
One of those songs likely is "Empty Room," his first recording from 1956. The Grand Ole Opry star says he's fine with it being out there for the public to hear -- now.
"There was a time in my life and career where I would not have wanted that to be out," he confesses. "But, I think I've been around the business long enough now. It is what it is. It's the first record I've ever made, and I can't deny it. I might as well put it out there and let people hear what it sounded like back in 1956."
The set traces Anderson's beginnings as a recording artist, his signing with Owen Bradley and Decca Records, and his rise to stardom in the 1960s. In addition to the studio recordings are several demos that the singer is excited for the fans to hear for the first time.
Bear Family allowed Billboard to pull out some of the original demo recordings of some of these songs. These were the demos that the artists heard, like when Connie Smith first heard 'Once A Day,' and some of the songs that I recorded, like 'I Love You Drops,' which you can hear where there some changes made."
One of those demos is an early 60s recording called "If It's All The Same To You," featuring a pre-stardom teenager named Dolly Parton. "It has disappeared off of a demo session that I had, and we couldn't find it," says Bill. "I knew it existed. About a year or so ago, a man sent me an email from Texas, and asked if I would like to have it. I said 'Of course I would." He sent it to me on an acetate. I don't know how Bear Family managed to clean it up as good as they did, but they did an incredible job."
Fans are already adding the release to their collections, and Anderson says all the comments have been favorable. "People have commented about the book. I've had people write about certain songs. I got a letter from a fan in Sweden about the song "Here Lies The Heart of Amos Brown." It was a demo, and has never been out before. There were several songs that were B-sides that were never on albums."
Anderson continues to write to this day, with recent cuts by Joe Nichols and Brad Paisley to his credit. "I'm getting my winter writing schedule lined up. This is a good time to write, because so many artists are off the road and want to write," he says, while also saying that he is planning to release a collaboration with fellow Opry stars The Oak Ridge Boys in 2012.