Lee Greenwood first moved to Nashville in 1979. He later penned the iconic "God Bless the USA" in 1983 in the back of his tour bus. It later won "Song of the Year" at the 1985 CMA Awards, which began its long legacy as the go-to patriotic song. He also possesses a long string of other hits, including “Ring on Her Finger, Time on Her Hands,” “It Turns Me Inside Out,” “Somebody’s Gonna Love You,” “Holdin’ A Good Hand,” “I Don’t Mind the Thorns (If You’re the Rose)”, “She’s Lyin,” and “Dixie Road.”
As "God Bless the USA" turns 30 this year, he's commemorating the milestone with a spotlight exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum, displaying artifacts from his many years of music-making. Nashville Gab had a chance to chat with the singer on-site last week about 30 years in the business, his new EP "I Want to Be In Your World" and how Hunter Hayes has impressed him the most among today's stars.
Nashville Gab: Can you talk about your Country Music Hall of Fame exhibit?
Lee Greenwood: Well this is called a spotlight exhibit. When this building first opened, basically, it had artifacts from artists who started Country music and got the Opry started. You’ll see individual sections. They started doing spotlight exhibits on artists who are living and who’ve had long careers. I came to Nashville in 1979, and many of the things you’ll see behind this glass represents more than one decade. I’d say three or four decades of my performing. I don’t intentionally save things, but it’s just been my own personal reason for keeping something, either I like it. I wore it. It just kind of got more and more and more and more. In addition to what you see here [out front], behind the scenes, there’s about 50 times that. A lot of it was saved only because, I had a theatre for five years and kind of [had it] in the theatre. Many of it was displayed. I have 200 framed gold pictures of celebrities and presidents and military. They could pick and choose what they wanted throughout the year. It’ll run for a year here. After that, we get all this back.
NG: Your song “God Bless the USA” turns 30 this year. Did you ever think it would become some an iconic song?
LG: Well, I think it was kind of a growing consensus because when I first put it on stage — I wrote it in 1983 and it was on stage a month or so after I wrote it — and in ‘84, the recording hit the radio, and it became Song of the Year in 1985. It was within that two-year period that it became evident that “USA” would live a long time. It’s been given honor, and I’ve been given honor for writing it and singing it. I’m glad I could contribute something to America and to all those veterans who’ve served for our freedom. It’s not just about the military. The very first line of the song “if tomorrow all the things were gone I’d worked for all my life” was about me being raised on a farm in Sacramento, California. I watched my grandparents suffer because they couldn’t make a great living. There’s lots of things wrapped up in the song, lyrically, that represent my life and my attitude about everything.
NG: You also have a book out called “Does God Still Bless the USA?” What exactly is it about?
LG: Well, we talk about the success of the song. Over the past 10 or 15 years, there has been a decline in the feeling that America is the same country we were 100 years ago. My father served in World War II, and I can remember the attitude as I was growing up about servicemen and the war we fought. Many times, our culture and our history is shaped by war. We look at the events America has had over the past years, and we’ve always been referred to by other nations as a Christian nation. My relevance for writing the new book is just posing the question: Are we the same traditional Christian nation we once were? You look at the monuments in Washington, DC and you see everything that has God displayed on it. You look at the Mayflower and the people that come here as immigrants. They come here because this is a Christian nation, and they have the freedom to display their own faith through that. The book as a lot of things in it. My wife Kim and I powered over these chapters for about a year. There’s prayers for our patriots in the back with a 30-day calendar that my wife wrote, and also, two songs in the back of the book, which I recorded just for download for the book. One is a praise and worship song called “Show Me the Way,” which I’m very proud of.
NG: In addition to all that, you have an EP out, “I Want To Be In Your World.”
LG: Yes, it’s a seven-song EP, which has four Country songs. I wrote the other three that represent three decades of my music. One of the four songs was written by Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald — who lives here in the Nashville area and I asked him to come into the studio and play the song he wrote, and not sing it. So, he did, and I sang it. It’s a nice cut, “I Can Let Go Now.” The album is an approach to Country music.
NG: As you know, earlier this year, Country music lost the incomparable George Jones. Can you talk about his impact on the genre today?
LG: George Jones lived around the corner from me in Franklin. I’d see him occasionally up the street at the cleaners where we both frequented. I got the chance to sing with him on stage two years back, and when I first came to Nashville, I knew there were two great singers that I wanted to get to know, Ronnie Milsap and George Jones. As [he’s] left us, he’s left us a legacy, a career [as] one of the greatest singers ever. His control, his ability to deliver a song that had heart and soul and vocal finesse is garnered by very few artists. We’ll miss him greatly. He’s a legend in the business like many before him. I’m proud that I knew him personally.
NG: Are there any current artists that have impressed you?
LG: Well, certainly Jason Aldean is a hard worker and chooses great music. He knows how to entertain. He reminds me of me when I was much younger. I think one of the greatest singers to come along in a long time is kind of like the Justin Timberlake of Country music, and that’s Hunter Hayes. His vocal control is unbelievable. I hope he doesn’t get derailed by anything because he has a lot to give.
Read the full interview here.
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