Pete Anderson: "We [Dwight Yoakam and I] Were Americana Before There Was Americana"
If known only for his guitar playing and production work with Dwight Yoakam, singer/songwriter Pete Anderson would still be a legend in both the country and alt-country genres.
There is much more to Pete Anderson than the stellar licks on such Yoakam hits as "Guitar, Cadillacs" and "Streets of Bakersfield." To begin with, there is Anderson's production work, which includes Roy Orbison, Michelle Shocked and even indie heroes the Meat Puppets.
Plus, Anderson has a back catalog of solid solo outings, including the recently reissued, deluxe repackaging of 2009's Even Things Up. Speaking from his home in Los Angeles and in anticipation of his performance tonight at the All Good Café, Anderson spoke with DC-9 about his early days in Detroit and his fateful decision to move to California, where he would meet Dwight Yoakam.
You were quite the athlete in high school. What sports did you play?
I played football, baseball, basketball and track. I specialized in basketball as I got older, but I really loved baseball. But I grew up in Detroit and back then, baseball was just a summer sport. It wasn't like I was in a fair weather town where I could play baseball year round.
Are you a big fan of the Tigers?
Yes, I was all over the Tigers this year. I really like the manager, [Jim] Leyland and [Justin] Verlander is an amazing pitcher. I've always loved American League teams. That's why I pulled for the Rangers in the World Series.
Normally, there is a split between artists and athletes. Did you think of yourself as a Renaissance man?
Well, I definitely had more of an art brain. Everybody just played a lot of sports back then. I kind of transformed into a musician in my late teens. I kept playing basketball, but then I started playing a lot more music. Once the music bug hit, it was pretty hard to find time for sports. At first, playing music served as my creative outlet, but once I picked up a guitar and starting creating music, that was where it was at.
What was your first band?
That would be a jug band called the B-52 Blues. That's going way back. That was in my last year of high school. We would play any party or coffee house.
Did you ever think about suing the new wave band The B-52s for stealing the name?
No, but I ought to just because of the crazy music they put out.
Was it much later that you moved to California?
Well, I made it to Arizona first and then to California. I arrived in L.A. in 1972 with nothing. It was several years later that I was introduced to Dwight Yoakam.
Did you quickly realize the quality of music you were making with Yoakam?
Well, people told me how much they liked it. I'm really proud of the music we made. We worked really hard and made our stand. We were one of the few Nashville acts to record in California. I think the label just sort of tolerated us because we sold records. Warner Brothers were good to us. They gave us our freedom. They figured as long as we were selling records, they would leave us alone. And we ended up selling 20 million records.
What do you think made the music so successful?
We toured a lot, and Dwight has a strong image on stage. The girls like him. He was exciting, and the band was hot. It was the same band that played on the records. The band played like they were invested. Most Nashville bands hired folks to go on the road and try to replicate the records. That wasn't us. We were like Buck Owens and the Buckaroos or Merle Haggard and the Strangers. All of the players were great. And since there was not a lot of country music going on in Los Angeles, it wasn't like anyone was busy doing sessions. I made a decent living touring with Dwight, and I was proud of putting on such a strong show. We started off playing with bands like Los Lobos and The Blasters. Playing with bands in the rock scene helped us cement our audience. We were Americana before there was Americana. Warner Brothers got involved, and we got our records played on mainstream country radio, and we found an audience there as well.
You've worked with or produced everyone from Michelle Shocked to the Meat Puppets. How did you come to work with such a diverse list of artists?
I was introducing Dwight to the mainstream, but at the same time, I wanted to work with songwriters. If you were a songwriter, I was going to be a good complement to you in the studio. Michelle is a good songwriter. Curt Kirkwood from the Meat Puppets is a good songwriter. All of these people I've worked with were good songwriters. I was more of a songwriter's producer. I wanted to create some soundscape for these songwriters to live in. It's all about the song.
Pete Anderson performs tonight at the All Good Café.