Los Angeles TimesOctober 1988
Producer/Guitarist Pete Anderson: Don’t Fence Him in
by Steve Hochman
Two pairs of cowboy boots sat on the floor in Pete Anderson’s Glendale bungalow office.
“These need to be stretched,” he instructed his assistant Jo-Jeanne, tapping the pair on the right with his foot. “And these need to be sent back–they’re too small.”
What Anderson is really trying to stretch these days is his career. Though–as the boots hint–he’s had success in the country arena as producer/guitarist of L.A. honky-tonker Dwight Yoakam, the 40-year-old Anderson is feeling a bit hemmed in.
“That’s something I feel awkward about,” the fit, bearded Detroit native said. “Dwight was the first thing I produced on a country level. I’d always preferred blues and R&B. Country’s kind of the fringe of what I do.”
In truth, Anderson’s only on the fringe of country–the three gold Yoakam albums that hang on his wall notwithstanding. Besides Yoakam, who entered the public consciousness as an outsider and rebel, Anderson’s most visible projects have been a rockabilly/country album for ex-Screamin’ Siren Rosie Flores and a straight honky-tonk record for L.A. (from Oklahoma) singer George Highfill. Anderson also oversaw the “Town South of Bakersfield” anthology that helped expose the L.A. country scene a few years ago.
So country people consider him something of an outsider, while pop people think of him as country.
Of course, Anderson isn’t the only one in that position: As vice president of contemporary A&R at CBS Records in Nashville, Anderson booster Larry Hamby also feels somewhat between worlds. Hamby, who worked with Anderson on the coming Epic release from L.A. country singer (and potential matinee idol) Jim Lauderdale, thinks the way Anderson has been largely ignored by the country world is a crime.
“He’s responsible for selling more than 2 million records to the country marketplace over the last two years,” Hamby said by phone from his Nashville office. “So obviously the o7 people f7 like him. He’s done a tremendous job with Dwight. Those are excellent, pure but intelligent records. But he’s probably not getting to produce some records he should because he doesn’t live here, or because he’s from Detroit and not Charlotte or somewhere like that. . . . There’s a lot of prejudice against people from out of town.”
And Anderson’s standing in the pop world? Just as unfair, said Hamby.
“Who says you’re only allowed to be knowledgeable and talented in one field?” he said. “Pete shouldn’t have to apologize for being multitalented.”
Anderson certainly isn’t having to apologize for the latest release bearing his stamp: On the recent “Short Sharp Shocked” album by Texas troubadour Michelle Shocked, he has proved himself an inventive, imaginative pop-folk-blues producer.
“With Michelle’s record, it’s going to broaden the scope for me,” he said, hopefully.
Only once, in the late ’70s, did he actually play what he considers country, playing in an L.A. bar band. “I quit that band because ‘Urban Cowboy’ took off,” he recalled. “It felt like I was in a disco band.”
Not long after that he hooked up with Yoakam, another veteran of the L.A. country bars. But Anderson said he didn’t consider Yoakam a country artist at all–a view he holds to this day despite such mainstream country successes as the current country No. 1 single, “Streets of Bakersfield,” a peppy duet of Yoakam and his idol Buck Owens taken from Yoakam’s latest LP, “Buenos Noches From a Lonely Room.”
“We made Dwight Yoakam music, not country music,” Anderson claimed. “Dwight first of all is a singer/songwriter. He happens to work in a country format.”
Still, why not accept this success (which came after years of kicking around Detroit, Phoenix and then Los Angeles) and stick with country?
“This is a gift,” he acknowledged of the recognition he’s gained through his work with Yoakam. “But when Dwight and I started this, I said I wasn’t going to do this forever. I thought I’d be selling myself short. . . . I could just work with Dwight and make a good living, but I didn’t want to be tied to his career.”
The Shocked album turned out to be less than painless. Shocked, a political activist wary of corporate corruption, approached the project with severe trepidation.
“She wrote a letter and had her manager read it to me over the phone,” Anderson recalled. “It was basically something to the effect that she was doing the project under duress and never would she work with me.”
Shocked herself has said that she went so far as to bring a musician friend along as back-up producer because she expected to fire Anderson. But Anderson built her trust and the two now get along famously–as does the album with critics and new fans.
“It just seemed a project that was meant to be,” he said.
And Anderson has also taken a small step out on his own as an artist. An instrumental single, “Happy Geetar,” was released in August by PolyGram, Shocked’s label.
If he does break the mold, Anderson has a few projects in mind for the future. One would be an album of his own.
“I have fantasies of making a record now–a guitar album . . . roots thing,” he said. “And I’d like to get into scoring films.”
But he also has a fantasy project that could completely put an end to his being typecast as a country kinda guy.
“I’d love to make a record with Tony Bennett,” he said. “I think I could make a great record. I have a handful of songs a friend of mine wrote that are really hip. I’d like to do it with a small, rockin’ little jazz type of thing.” – Steve Hochman