The tale of Andy Anderson is one of the great "could have been" epics in the history of rock & roll. The state of Mississippi honors him as a rockabilly legend, and a new spate of record producers, researchers, and just plain fans in each generation have repeatedly prevented the man from retiring from music.
His many decisions to quit were never based on a full belly or feeling of satisfaction; rather, his career is full of bad luck, frustrations, and worse, Anderson even lopping off one of his fingers in a tragic accident.
While this is hardly a pleasant event for a guitarist, other events overshadow the accidental amputation with their own incredible pall of career morbidity. Anderson's original band was called "the Rolling Stones" -- well before Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and the lads got together. This original Rolling Stones even released some of the first rock records in England in the mid-'50s.
Anderson and his Rolling Stones also cut an album for Sun records in the early days, but that album was never released, seeing as how the label manager had already outspent his budget putting out sessions by artists who went ahead and got much more famous than Anderson, such as Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, and Charlie Rich.
Anderson had the exact same influences as all of these early rock and rockabilly stars. As a teenager, he grew up listening to Mississippi's Delta blues, as well as the Grand Ole Opry country & western broadcasts.
Anderson's mother seems to have passed along a great deal of musical talent. She played piano and sang and encouraged her son's high school band efforts.
His early combos involved musicians that continued playing with the guitarist throughout his career, including his cousin and loyal sidekick Billy Anderson on piano. He also hooked up with drummer Jimmy Giles in high school, the trio gigging at fraternity parties on campus.
In the early '50s, the group took over territory in the college itself as the boys began practicing in the privacy of their new dormitory homes. Players such as Joe Tubb, "Cuz" Covington, Bobby Lyon, James Aldridge, and Roy Estes were all part of this scene, and all left an imprint on the state's early rock scene.
Anderson called the group the Rolling Stones based on their hours of driving from gig to gig.
By 1956, the group had signed a management contract with two business professionals, Jimmy Ammons from one of many independent labels to call itself Delta, and Mabel McQueen, who had made a fortune with the product Pine-Sol.
Sam Phillips at Sun in Memphis was the next business honcho to become involved. Jack Clements engineered the recordings Anderson and the Rolling Stones did for Sun -- none them released at the time. Although Anderson was not fond of claiming that he could have been another Elvis Presley, he did share the same voice coach, Zelma Lee Whitfield. In 1957, Anderson signed a new contract with several Nashville publishing agents, and had a new group featuring pianist Sammy Martina and drummer Jimmy Whitehead. The Felsted label, a subsidiary of London, recorded the tunes "Johnny Valentine" and "I-I-I Love You", the former an Anderson original. Like many rockers of this period, the group arrived at the studio to find out none of the members would be allowed to play on the record.
Andy Anderson was allowed to sing, but the instrumental backup was strictly Nashville pro: Hank Garland on lead guitar, Buddy Harmon on drums, Bobby Moore on bass, and the Jordanaires. This was still considered a rock & roll record, and as such was one of the first introduced to the overseas market. Nonetheless, it provides absolutely no indication of what this band really sounded like.
The frustrated band went on its own to cut "You Shake a Me Up" and "The Way She Smiled" at a little Nashville studio, one of the songs written by Anderson and Tubb in their car outside when they pulled up and realized they had neglected to prepare a B-side for the projected single. Both this independent production and the earlier single distributed by London did well, but shake-ups in record company management prevented the group from realizing any benefit.
In 1959, another Anderson biographical event occurred that would tempt the producers of television soap operas. The artist's nightmarish relationship with his father intervened in his career, prompting Anderson to abandon his band and career entirely in order to head back to Mississippi and run the family plantation. Howard "B.B." Boone took over the frontman position in the Rolling Stones. Anderson got home, only to find his father had changed his mind and was ready to throw him out again.
Anderson relocated in Jackson and began licking his wounds. He started up a new group called the Dawnbreakers by night and ran a wholesale electrical supply company by day.
"Tough Tough Tough" and "Gimme a Curly Lock of Your Hair" were regional rockabilly hits, leading to four other releases and a series of tours through 1965.
The following year, Anderson switched courses completely, moving to Los Angeles and beginning an acting career. He was also involved as a song co-writer with the group the Association, and eventually began working with a management company that signed bands such as the Seeds, Canned Heat, and Jefferson Airplane. In the early '70s, Anderson returned to Mississippi and a tax audit, neither a pleasant experience. In 1974, a new relationship with songwriter J.J. Hettinger signaled the next creative period, the pair cutting tracks under the name of the Eagle and the Hawk.
The duo moved to Santa Fe, NM in 1975and started up the Aerie label.
In 1976, Anderson lost his middle finger in an accident with a hydraulic lift; his resulting depression grounded the Eagle and the Hawk permanently.
Radio producer Don Filletti managed to track down Anderson in the early '80s, leading to new reissue and recording projects with the German label Bison Bop. By 1983, the once-retired Anderson was now working around Taos with local musicians.
Once again, what seemed like an important recording opportunity fizzled when a producer for United Artists began working on a Nashville demo with Anderson but then lost his position with the label, leaving four finished songs in limbo.
The Bison Bop releases were circulating, however, and the British Charley label came up with reissues of the Sun recordings.
This was followed by more releases on Red Lighting, Sun Jay and Go Cat Go -- all foreign labels.
Overseas, Anderson seems to be considered one of the important innovators in early rock & roll, but remains pretty much unknown in the United States outside of Mississippi. At least, when people think of the Rolling Stones, they don't think about this guy. ~ Eugene Chadbourne