It was apparent in the halting pauses between words and thoughts that country singer Brad Paisley was wrestling with some big emotions when he got on the phone Tuesday to speak about the passing of Andy Griffith, his costar for the 2008 music video for his song “Waitin’ on a Woman.”
Like millions of Americans, the West Virginia-born Paisley grew up watching Griffith as Sheriff Andy Taylor on “The Andy Griffith Show,” doling out words of plain-spoken wisdom to his son, Opie, and other residents of the quintessential rural town of Mayberry.
“I told him, ‘You are as responsible for how I’m raising my son as either one of my parents.’ Just from watching that show, you can raise a boy with the lessons from ‘The Andy Griffith Show.’ ”
“Waitin’ on a Woman” was not initially released as a single when it first surfaced on Paisley's 2005 album, “Time Well Wasted.” But Paisley said he always envisioned doing something special with it.
“I thought it was an important song, and I knew I’d come back to it somehow to get it on the radio,” he said. After discussing the idea of making a video for the song with his friend and longtime radio DJ Peter Tilden, who co-produced and co-directed some of his videos, Paisley said Tilden mentioned it to actor-singer Billy Bob Thornton. “Billy Bob said, ‘You’ve got to get Andy. Andy’s your guy for that video.' ”
Paisley reached out to Griffith’s agent, who advised him to write Griffith a letter outlining what he had in mind. “I wrote the letter and said, ‘This song epitomizes your character as well as the values and things you celebrate, and I wonder if you wanted to be in a music video.’ His wife, Cindy, was instrumental in this. It’s typical: When a woman likes something, we listen, and that’s the point of the song in some ways.”
Griffith agreed, but before moving ahead, Paisley brought his wife and son, Huckleberry, out with him from Nashville to meet with the retired actor at his home in North Carolina. “We just hung out and had the best afternoon,” Paisley recalled. “I have pictures of him holding Huck in his arms.”
The video shoot, he said, is one he’ll treasure for the rest of his life.
“He was a total pro,” Paisley said. “He was so serious about getting it right. Cindy said to me once, ‘This might be the last thing he does,’ and I think it pretty much was. That crossed our minds as we were singing about him going on and waiting for his wife” in the afterlife.
“I remember the moment he walks up to me the first time. I’m sitting on the bench, and he’s got his lines down, and he wanted us to play the track and he would talk his lines over the lyric. I’m sitting there on the bench and I’m supposed to be looking around and acting like I don’t know where this woman is I’m waiting on, and I’m a little annoyed.
“Here comes this legendary actor and he sits down and says, ‘You waitin’ on a woman?’ I look over at him and I never in my life had a more surreal moment than that first take.”
Paisley said the last shot in the video, in which Griffith’s mentor character walks down the beach into the sunset, was equally moving at the time they shot it.
“He couldn’t walk very well -- he had bad knees -- so the director asked him, ‘Would you walk off into the distance?’ He said, ‘Sure.’ The sun was setting and he walked about 100 yards. It was unbelievable. You’re seeing him in a white suit walking off into the sun. Jim [Shea, the director] said to me, ‘I didn’t expect that. I thought he’d go about 20 feet.’ Capturing that image, I’ll never get that out of my mind.
“It’s almost a celebration today,” Paisley said. “There are very few people in the history of the world who have affected the world in a positive way as much as that man did. It’s something to be celebrated. They’re going to keep playing that show for the rest of our lives. My kids are already familiar with it and I can tell by the way it affects them that their kids will be familiar with it too.”
“The best time we ever had was about a year and a half ago. I called Cindy and asked how he was doing, because he’d been in the hospital with pneumonia and had just gotten home. She said he was a little weak but doing better, and said she was glad he was still with us.
“I said, ‘We’re playing not far away, in Virginia Beach, in a couple of weeks and we have a day off after. Would he like a free jam-session concert in the living room?’ She said, ‘You’re kidding me? That would be about the greatest thing you could ever offer.’
“So we brought all the acoustic instruments and set them up in the living room -- just like the Darlings,” he said, referring to the fictional band played on the show by the real-life bluegrass group the Dillards for several years. “We did all the songs he liked -- ‘You Get a Line, I’ll Get a Pole,’ ‘Whoa Mule,’ and he sang and played with us.
“We spent the whole afternoon there, then we got back on the bus and went home,” Paisley said. “I know what that meant to him. His favorite part of that show was the music. To be able to sit in his living room like that -- there are not many things you can give Andy Griffith, but fortunately we were able to do that for him.”