Today’s Guest: Lee Greenwood, country singer, “God Bless the USA”
(NOTE: This interview with country singer, conducted by Bob Andelman, was first published on October 11, 1985.)
Tonight at 8 in the USF Sun Dome, country singer Lee Greenwood will perform his first of 12 nationwide concerts in support of the Coors Veterans’ Memorial Scholarship Fund, Fifty cents will be donated to the fund from every ticket sold.
Established earlier this year, the fund provides $500,000 a year in education scholarships to dependents of veterans, servicemen and women killed in the line of duty. missing in action or taken as prisoners of war.
“I think it’s a very worthy cause,” Greenwood said in a recent telephone interview. “A lot of the veterans who’ve come back don’t get established in business real good, still suffering, a lot of them, from disorders of one kind or another. It makes it real difficult on the children.”
THE SINGER says his involvement with veterans goes back to the release of a spirited song he wrote in 1983, “God Bless The U.S.A.” Like Charlie Daniels’ “In America” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S,A,,” “God Bless the U.S.A.” captured a national fever and emotion.
“(It is) pretty much a statement about the United States’ posture as far as veterans are concerned,” Greenwood says. “There’s a crisis every month, somewhere, and the United States is involved in many of them. When there’s Americans involved, they look for songs, they look for spirit. That’s what helps lift Americans, the songs we put on the radio, whether it be emotional, personal or us a country. I’m very proud to have added to that feeling.”
LEE GREENWOOD interview excerpt: “I don’t want to change my country image. I’m satisfied with that, But I need to have more people contacted to let them know Lee Greenwood exists. And the only way you do that is by being played on a different network of radio stations. Duets is the answer. Like Willie and Julio, for instance. Kenny and Olivia, or Kenny and Kim Carnes. You expand those barriers that way.”
The song won an Americanism Award for Freedom from the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Greenwood also has done a series of recruiting spots for the Air National Guard, which will air later this month.
Greenwood’s involvement with the Coors brewery extends, of course, to his appearing in television commercials for Coors – although he says he doesn’t drink. “I don’t see that it makes a difference,” he says. “They (Coors) don’t have any trouble with that, and neither do I.”
DESPITE HIS popularity, Greenwood, 42, is still a rookie in country circles, having not moved to Tennessee until 1980. For 18 years, he toiled as a lounge act in Nevada before hitting it big. The Nevada years were not unhappy for the singer, just undistinguished.
“It’s more or less a factory-type existence up there,” he says. “There is no such thing as a five-day week, at least for an entertainer. Most of the casino life is very rough, and people usually (have) bad attitudes because they lost money, travel plans have been upset by not having enough money to get out. So you tend to avoid most of the tourists as much as possible to keep your attitude fresh when you go in to the casino.
“Maybe that’s one reason why it took so long to become successful. I had to change my attitude always to make people happy. They would try to bring me down. People would be negative, so I would become negative after a while. It’s very difficult to become positive when you’re surrounded by negativity. Las Vegas, Reno, Lake Tahoe are not built on winners. They’re built on losers.”
Greenwood’s first album for MCA, Inside Out, was released in 1982. “The first date I did for my record company was in Tampa at the fairgrounds,” he recalls, laughing. “We drew 22,000 people to try to find out who this guy was who sounded like Kenny Rogers. I was very flattered at that comparison because it took me from a nobody to a somebody.”
NEXT YEAR, incidentally, Greenwood will do 100 concert dates with Rogers and expects to write, record and perform a duet with his sound-alike.
Singing with a top-flight country talent won’t be anything new for Greenwood. A year ago, he recorded an album with Barbara Mandrell, Meant For Each Other. Greenwood also says he expects to team up with a British pop singer soon, one with whom he could have a hit in Europe that might translate into crossover success in the United States.
“I don’t want to change my country image,” Greenwood says. “I’m satisfied with that, But I need to have more people contacted to let them know Lee Greenwood exists. And the only way you do that is by being played on a different network of radio stations. Duets is the answer. Like Willie and Julio, for instance. Kenny and Olivia, or Kenny and Kim Carnes. You expand those barriers that way.”
Greenwood, who tours about 280 days a year, released the album Streamline last month. And this week, a holiday collection, Christmas to Christmas, is due in the stores.
Aside from the title song, Streamline is mostly a selection of ballad oriented songs.
“WE FELT ‘Streamline,’ the single, could be conceived as a direction change for my career,” he says. “I want to be careful with that, again. The fans grasp one single, and they say, ‘Uh-oh, they’re off to the races with this one.’ … When I give people the album, I say, play the B side first. Then, when they work up to ‘Streamline’ (first track on the A side), it seems to fit more in context. It sticks out a bit when you start on the Aside, and it goes downhill from there, as far as tempo, but I usually put the B side on first. Then it makes sense.”