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Articles / 2009

Hunk with a heart Keith Anderson to flex philanthropic muscles at gala

Ventura County Star
Friday, 04/17/2009

Country singer Keith Anderson has burly biceps, looks like Brad Paisley and once played baseball well enough to interest a major league team. He used to be a model, was named one of People magazine’s 50 Hottest Bachelors, and was voted by fans as one of the best-dressed men at the recent Academy of Country Music Awards.

Yes, he’s a hunk.

Now that we’ve established the obvious, drool over this: Anderson also has smarts and heart.

Anderson, raised in Miami, Okla., graduated with a degree in engineering — and a 3.9 grade-point average — from Oklahoma State University. He liked English class, too, which might have helped hone his songwriting dexterity.

lthough his first big hit as a songwriter, a 2001 duet by Garth Brooks and George Jones, was the raucous college drinking refrain “Beer Run (B Double E Double Are You In?),” his highest-charting song as a solo artist, released last year and still a staple on country radio, is a poignant ballad he co-wrote, “I Still Miss You.”

Brawn, brains and sensitivity should all come together Saturday night when Anderson headlines the Community Memorial Healthcare Foundation’s 19th annual Gold Dust Gala in Ventura.

Anderson said in a phone interview from Las Vegas that when he performs live, “it’s a pretty rockin’ show, high energy, with a lot of interaction and a big old party in the crowd.”

Yet when he sings “I Still Miss You” at the gala, a benefit for breast cancer prevention, he’ll likely be remembering someone he still misses very much: his mother, Janice, who died last year of brain cancer.

I’ve talked to friends

Talked to myself

I’ve talked to God

I’ve prayed liked hell but I still miss you

“I hate cancer — what it does to someone physically and emotionally, and to the people surrounding the person,” Anderson said.

The singer spent a substantial chunk of time recently tending to his own health. Anderson had to cancel his January and February tour dates to undergo minor vocal-cord surgery.

“We knew for a while I had a condition — once very year or two my vocal cords would bleed,” he said. The surgeons “went in with a laser, and cauterized and eliminated” the problem blood vessels, Anderson explained.

He couldn’t talk or even cough for three weeks. “That quiet time forced me to deal with emotions and issues in my head, after losing my mom last fall,” he said. “I felt healed spiritually, emotionally and physically.”

The surgery didn’t sap any juice from Anderson’s country chords. “It actually made my voice stronger, and doesn’t change the tone,” he said.

Anderson has a history of not letting injury sideline him — and one nonvocal wound in particular might have contributed to his music career.

As a high school and college baseball player, Anderson was talented enough with a bat that the Kansas City Royals scouted him out. A shoulder injury ended any major league fields of dreams, however. Physical rehabilitation led to an interest in bodybuilding and part-time modeling — he was even a runner-up in a Mr. Oklahoma contest. He worked at an engineering firm in Dallas after college, but gave that up to focus on songwriting and performing live.

Anderson, as a wise teenager, had perceived that girls were charmed by guys with guitars and a trove of love lyrics. In high school he learned guitar from his older brother, Brian (who went on to become a NASA physicist), and started playing drums and singing harmony in Brian’s band.
His songwriting influences include melodic storytellers like Don Henley, Billy Joel, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, the Eagles and James Taylor.
In Dallas he landed gigs at nightclubs, the Grapevine Opry (other “alumni” of the country-music venue include LeAnn Rimes and Miranda Lambert) and Six Flags Over Texas theme park.

Singing didn’t pay as well as engineering — and sometimes not at all — so he and a friend started their own economic venture: Romeo Cowboys, a country singing-telegram business.

“We looked in the Yellow Pages, and the only thing we found (for singing telegrams) was four guys with bow ties,” Anderson said. “We figured we could do better than that.”

The business took off when he persuaded a radio station to include them in a morning-show bit. Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day were lucrative earning periods.

Anderson headed to Nashville in 1998, where he waited tables while doing the legwork it takes to get noticed in the Music Row leagues: made demos, performed constantly, visited radio stations, passed around CDs — and networked, networked, networked, which led to a songwriting collaboration with noted writer George Ducas, who’s penned tunes for Garth Brooks, the Dixie Chicks, Trisha Yearwood, Sara Evans and others.

Anderson and Ducas were part of the songwriting team for the Brooks/Jones hit “Beer Run.” Anderson also co-wrote Big and Rich’s No. 1 “Lost in this Moment” and Gretchen Wilson’s “The Bed.”

His solo recording career kicked off when Arista Nashville signed him and released “Three Chord Country and American Rock & Roll” in 2005. The debut album, certified gold, included the rowdy “Pickin’ Wildflowers” and tamer “Every Time I Hear Your Name,” a ballad about breaking up that was a forerunner to “I Still Miss You”; both were Top 10 country hits. “Podunk” and “XXL” (referring to the clothing size, not a Roman numeral) landed on the country charts as well.

Billboard and Radio & Records named Anderson the No. 1 new male country artist of 2005.

His sophomore album, “C’mon!,” with a much-shortened title and a larger stable of ballads than his previous effort, was released in August on Columbia Nashville.

“I Still Miss You,” which peaked at No. 2 on the country charts, came together in one day during a songwriting session when Anderson and co-writers Tim Nichols and Jason Sellers were talking about one of country music’s go-to topics: heartbreak.

The tearjerker video for “I Still Miss You” takes the song beyond mere breakup woes, however. Through a series of black-and-white video montages and photos, it addresses anyone who might have lost someone: a child, a parent, a spouse, a friend, a soldier’s relative. And in one photo, a man holds his mother’s hand at her hospital bedside.

That image was not of Anderson and his mother, but the singer did make the video as she was dying. The song took on new meaning, of course, after her death.

When asked if his current songwriting hopper included any tunes in memory of his mom, Anderson replied, “There are a lot of ideas going out. Sometimes these things don’t see the light of day, but they’re very therapeutic.”

Margie Stites, chairwoman of the Gold Dust Gala, said she had no idea until contacted by The Star that Anderson had been touched personally by cancer. A similar “coincidence” occurred last year, she said, when the lead singer of headlining country band Emerson Drive gave a surprise mention onstage that his mother had died of breast cancer.

Your sons — and daughters, husbands and friends — still miss you, moms.