Talk about…1961 and the Grand Ole Opry. What must it have felt like, that first time you appeared?
When you walked out?
My mom and dad had taken me to the Grand Ole Opry when I was 14 years old. They knew how much I loved country music and planned a family vacation for us to go to Nashville. I also wanted to see an old baseball park there called Sulphur Dell which was very famous. I’d grown up listening to the Atlanta Crackers playing baseball at Sulphur Dell against the Nashville Vols, so I wanted to see the ballpark and, of course, I wanted to go to the Grand Ole Opry. And never dreaming, sitting out in that audience when I was 14 years old, that in just a few short years I’d be standing on that stage and performing. It just…it…was really something I didn’t even dare to dream about. I just figured that happened to other folks, you know. I didn’t figure that would ever happen to me. But there’s been many a night when I’ve stood on the stage at the Ryman - and we still go back there for 4 months in the winter now – November through February – and many a night I’ll stand on that stage and I’ll look over to my left where we sat that night and I’ll think, you know, this didn’t really happen. (Laughs) But it did.
Amazing thing, wasn’t it?
You…you’ve met all the greats. You’ve worked with most of them. If you were picking out some special people to talk about…
(Laughs) You wouldn’t have time for me to pick ‘em all out.
I remember that first night at the Grand Ole Opry seeing little Jimmy Dickens on the stage…
Listening to him sing…what he introduced as a new song and…it became one of his biggest hits, a song called “We Could” and now I tour a lot with little Jimmy Dickens and have known him and have been close friends with him for many, many years and sometimes I have to just kind of go, you know, that’s…pinch myself…that’s…that’s little Jimmy Dickens that you saw from the audience and….and now you’re working on the stage with him. He’s still going strong. He’s 87 years young and still going strong. So, people like that…that…that have inspired me so much down through the years. Getting to…to become friends and know and be on a first name basis with people that I idolized from afar as a kid and then later…people….that…who’s records I played when I was a disc jockey. Johnny Cash…uh, you know…people like that. I’ve been very blessed to get to know just about everybody and…
Minnie Pearl’s birthday was the same day as my birthday. Not the same year, but the same day, and she was always somebody that I just…looked up to as somebody to respect, who…who made people laugh but also, I know she did a lot of wonderful things in and around Nashville and was just a wonderful person, so…
She was one of the finest human beings that I…that I ever knew. She’d walk down the hall at the Grand Ole Opry and you’d….you’d meet her in the hallway and she’d just look up at you. She’d say “Bill Anderson, have I told you lately that I love you?” I’d say, no Minnie Pearl, have I told you I love you? And we’d hug, you know. One of my favorite memories of Minnie, and I’ve shared this with a lot of young artists in the business because this…this really said something to me. It was the last tour I ever worked with Minnie Pearl on the road. We were in Charlotte, North Carolina, and she was standing backstage getting ready to go on and I walked up and was kind of standing behind her. And she looked around at me and she said, “Bill, do you think we’ll ever get over being nervous before we go on stage?” I said, "Don’t tell me Minnie Pearl is nervous. Don’t…don’t pull that on me. As many stages as you’ve been on." She said, “Every time I go on a stage, I get butterflies in my stomach.” And then she paused and she said “but you know, if I didn’t then maybe it wouldn’t mean as much as it’s supposed to mean.”
What a lesson. What a great lesson for me to pass along to other people. I…I love these kids who come on the Grand Ole Opry now and I’ll be introducing them the first time they’ve ever been on the stage and they’ll say “I’m nervous” and I’ll say good….good…you’re supposed to be nervous. This is supposed to mean a lot to you. If you weren’t nervous I’d be worried about you, and I learned that from Minnie Pearl.
Couldn’t do a better job. Whisperin’ Bill…
Do you remember where you got that nickname and when did it happen?