Like a blue chip stock, John Anderson has managed to ride out cyclical changes in the country music business--sometimes up, sometimes down--over the past 15 years, but always on the board and paying dividends to fans who have invested in his records and shows.
Raised in the central Florida town of Apopka, he took his first musical steps playing rock 'n' roll inspired by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. But by age 17 he had headed to Nashville, Tenn., his ear captured by the music of Hank Williams and Jimmie Rodgers, the Delmore Brothers, Merle Haggard and George Jones.
He broke through in the early '80s with hits both traditional-sounding ("Wild and Blue") and aggressively rocking ("Swingin'," "Black Sheep")--early highs that were followed by a long plateau. While the hits subsided, he continued to make albums that reflected his wide-ranging tastes. His recorded repertoire has included songs by Chicago blues legend Willie Dixon and Bob Dylan as well as by Haggard; in turn, he is that rare mainstream contemporary country artist who has captured the ears of a hip alternative-rock band, England's Mekons having waltzed through a cover of "Wild and Blue."
Anderson soldiered on with the most distinctive voice of any country male singer under 40 (a claim he can continue to make until he hits 40 on Dec. 13) with its rich, cottony textures and natural, unaffected and idiosyncratic colorations.
Persistence paid off in 1992 when the album "Seminole Wind" returned him to commercial prominence. In an era of cowboy-hatted Adonises, the huskily built, blond-maned, low-key Anderson relied on musical strengths rather than image-retailing.
In the title track of "Seminole Wind," a song he wrote about the environmental devastation of his home state's rivers and Everglades swampland, he came up with one of the finest mainstream country songs of the '90s, a stirring, tragic anthem haunted by historical consciousness and powered by driving, inexorable rhythms.
His new album, "Country 'Til I Die," may not have anything to match that peak (although the love-miseries account "Bend It Until It Breaks" harks back to the anthemic cast of "Seminole Wind"), but it's a fairly solid representation of Anderson's talent.
Lighthearted rockin'-country songs dominate, including a cover of the Georgia Satellites' hit "Keep Your Hands to Yourself" and a superfluous remake of his own "Swingin.' " Anderson's abundant warmth and intimacy allow him to sing sentimental ballads like "The Good" and "Mississippi Moon" without sounding calculated.
Perhaps the best example of what separates him from the rest of country's younger generation comes on "Hillbilly With a Heartache," a duet with Tracy Lawrence.
The song is a foolishly jocular account of a hotheaded good ol' boy who rides around with a shotgun in his pickup and booze in his belly, nursing thoughts of getting even with the flame who dumped him for a city feller. A regular riot, that.
Anyway, Lawrence strains with so much earnest effort as he tries to strike a note of twangy insouciance, that one fears he'll turn himself into a hillbilly with a hernia. Anderson slips into that cottony, natural flow, the sound of a singer who should be able to ride out country's business cycles comfortably into the next century.
* What: John Anderson.
* When: Monday, Nov. 7, at 7 and 10 p.m. Both shows are sold out.
* Where: Crazy Horse Steak House, 1580 Brookhollow Drive, Santa Ana.
* Whereabouts: Take the Costa Mesa (55) Freeway to the Dyer Road exit. From the north, go right on Grand Avenue, then take the first right, Brookhollow Drive; from the south, go left under the overpass, right on Grand and right on Brookhollow.
* Wherewithal: $39.50.
* Where to call: (714) 549-1512.
IN SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO: CRAIG CHAQUICO
This guitarist from the Bay Area played post-hippie anthems with the Jefferson Starship in the '70s, corporate rock with Starship in the '80s and has found a new direction in the '90s with successful New-Age instrumental albums. He plays the Coach House on Friday, Nov. 4. (714) 496-8930.
IN ORANGE: PANSY DIVISION
This avowedly gay punk band from San Francisco has been the hand-picked opening act for two tours this year by hot-selling Green Day. Pansy Division headlines today, Nov. 3, as a weekly all-ages rock series called the Kurtain continues at the Tunnel, 612 N. Eckhoff St. (714) 630-6128.
IN SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO: ALVIN LEE
"I Hear You Rockin' " is the latest album by the venerable British blues-rock hero, who plays Sunday and Monday, Nov. 6 and 7, at the Coach House. Backing Lee, who debuted in the '60s with Ten Years After, are Gerry McEvoy and Brendan O'Neill, alumni of Rory Gallagher's bands. (714) 496-8930.