Anderson recently fulfilled a life-long dream when he shared the stage with country superstars Vince Gill, the Gatlin Brothers, Jimmy Fortune, and Joanne Cash Yates and Tommy Cash at the third annual Johnny Cash Music Festival in Jonesboro, Ark. The following day, he performed with Fortune and the Oak Ridge Boys at the Kentucky State Fair.
“At 53, I’m finally meeting country stars and playing on stage with people I never imagined would come true at this age,” Anderson said. “I put that life on hold for so long. I took care of my parents and they’re both gone now, so I feel like God is blessing my efforts of honoring my parents and He’s finally giving me the desires of my heart.”
By the time he was 16, Anderson knew he wanted to make music his livelihood.
The youngest of Herman and Lucille Anderson’s five children, Anderson bought his first instrument, a ukulele, from Joseph’s Music Center on Broad Street in downtown Kingsport at the ripe old age of 7.
Using the music theory he learned from piano lessons, Anderson taught himself to play nearly two-dozen other instruments, practicing on the congregation at Victory Baptist Church, where his father was pastor for more than four decades.
“My dad didn’t make a lot of money back in those days, so I would borrow instruments from people in the church, and they would say, ‘Keep it as long as you need it to learn to play it,’” Anderson said. “After piano, I started at 11 years old with bass guitar. At 15, I started with acoustic and electric guitar, banjo and fiddle. I just kept adding instruments.”
Anderson was still in high school when he met Kingsport native Walter Haynes, a steel guitar player who toured with Little Jimmy Dickens in the 1940s and early ’50s. Haynes worked as a staffer at the Grand Ole Opry for more than a decade before going on to become one of Nashville’s most in-demand sessions players and producers, working with the likes of Bill Monroe, Jeanne Pruett and Cal Smith.
“His father and mother were still good friends with my parents,” Anderson said. “When his father passed away, Walter came into town. Everybody said, ‘You have to take your guitar out. Walter wants to hear you play.’ I sat with him and I played, and he told me stories of when Chet Atkins had given him a guitar. The wheels started turning and I knew this was what I wanted to do. He would call me and say, you’ve got a few years, but whenever you get out of high school, I’d like for you to come to Nashville.”
Life didn’t go quite as Anderson planned, however, and instead of moving to Nashville after graduation, he stayed in Kingsport and became a dental laboratory technician, a job he’s held for more than 30 years.
“I had those regrets of not going to Nashville, but during that time I’ve been blessed to be able to play in a lot of gospel groups,” he said. “I was a band director at Highlands Fellowship Church in Abingdon for a while, I played at Higher Ground Baptist Church for 11 years.”
He has performed with Sheriff Wayne Anderson’s gospel group Law and Grace, and accompanied local country singer Trey Hensley for a performance at the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis in 2008.
Anderson largely put his music on hold while helping care for his father, who died of Alzheimer’s disease in 2001, and to tend to his mother, who passed away last summer after years of suffering from dementia.
Anderson was caring for his mother in 2011 when he got a call from Kingsport’s Tommy Starnes, who toured with the Statler Brothers and now plays bass for local favorite Benny Wilson, asking him if he’d like to play pedal steel guitar at a benefit concert Jimmy Fortune, another former Statler Brother, was putting on at Highlands Fellowship in Abingdon to raise money for victims of the tornado that ripped through Glade Spring, Va.
“I remember the day I went to the church to rehearse,” Anderson said. “I went early because I was so excited. Jimmy Fortune wrote all the number one [hits] for the Statler Brothers and toured with them for 21 years. He and his manager walked in as I was rehearsing a steel kickoff on one of his songs. He and Tommy Starnes came over, and Tommy said, ‘Jimmy, this is Rick Anderson. He’s your steel player, he’s your fiddle player, he’s your guitar player and he’s your mandolin player for the night, along with singing background vocals.’ Jimmy laughed and put his hand out and said, ‘Hi, I’m Jimmy Fortune.’ He said this: ‘Would you be interested in going out on the road? It didn’t take me but just one moment to know that you knew what you were doing.’ Inside I started thinking, here’s Nashville calling after all these years, and then the other voice was saying, OK, he’s just saying that, you’ll never hear from him again.”
Two weeks later, Anderson got a call inviting him to perform with Fortune at a Song of the Mountains concert taping at the Lincoln Theatre in Marion, Va.
“I thought, well, that will probably be the last time I hear from Jimmy Fortune,” Anderson said. “During that time my mother was very ill. I was hiring caregivers to take care of her, and I was staying with her at night. I had resigned my position at Highlands Fellowship to take care of her. Jimmy would call me. He knew the situation, and he would pray for me over the phone and just became a very good friend. Occasionally I would do a show with him.
“My mom passed away on July 12 [of last year]. I was able to be with her and hold her hand, and that’s something I had prayed for. It seems like since that moment, doors have opened for me. I’ve been able to fly to Colorado and Nebraska and play shows with Jimmy and meet many of the national artists that I grew up listening to.”
That includes steel guitar player Paul Franklin, whom Anderson has looked up to since he began playing the instrument nearly two decades ago, and country legend Vince Gill. Anderson got the chance to meet them both at the Johnny Cash Music Festival earlier this month.
“I walked into the center and Vince Gill was on the stage doing sound check. I was like, wow, this is the guitar player and singer I always wanted to meet, so I thought, hey, I’m a part of this show. I walked right on stage and introduced myself and said, ‘I’m with Jimmy Fortune,’ ” Anderson said. “We started talking about music and guitar effects and he was just such an humble man. I asked him about a new effect that I knew he was endorsing, and he said, ‘Well, my steel player Paul over there is endorsing that effect,’ and when I turned around, there he was, Paul Franklin. The two people I had always wanted to meet were on this stage for a show that I was going to be a part of. It blew me away.”
Anderson said he’ll continue playing with Fortune on weekend shows and whenever else his day job will allow. He’s excited about what the future holds.
“In a couple of weeks we’ll be heading out to Illinois to do a big festival up there and we’ll be doing a big show in Kentucky, so there’s lots of things coming down. This allows me the best of both worlds. I can stay in Kingsport with my wife and my children and my grandchildren and can do a daily job here, but then I can still go out and do these shows that God has allowed me to be a part of. I have the best of both worlds.
“By putting what I wanted to do as a young person on hold to do what God knew down the road that I would have to do — that I would have to be the one to step up and take care of my parents — now that they’re gone, He’s letting me experience some of the things that I wanted to as a young man, and it’s amazing. Never ever, ever give up on your dreams. Stay in God’s will and He will give you the desires of your heart. That’s His word.”