Orpheum goes country with John Anderson, Old 97’s

05/16/2013 5:04 PM

05/16/2013 5:06 PM

It’s a big, varied week for country music at the Orpheum Theatre, with John Anderson and the Old 97’s appearing within a few days of each other.

Anderson is a classic country artist with five No. 1 hits to his credit, while the Old 97’s were in the vanguard of the alt-country movement. The latter show is a benefit for brain cancer research.

John Anderson

Anderson is bringing an acoustic show to Wichita: He’ll be joined onstage by Nashville veteran Glenn Rieuf, who plays steel guitar and dobro.

“We started doing this three years ago, just a couple of them, and we got such a good response that we kind of made a thing of it,” Anderson said by phone from his home in Tennessee. “It gives the fans a chance to hear the songs kind of up-close and how they were written. It’s a little more intimate than the band shows. Of course, I love playing with the band, too.”

Anderson grew up in Florida, switched from rock ’n’ roll to country and moved to Nashville while still in his teens. He had his first hit in 1977, his biggest success in 1982 with “Swingin’,” then experienced a career resurgence with his “Seminole Wind” album.

“It doesn’t really seem that long (since “Swingin’ ”) until you start thinking about all the things that have happened since then,” Anderson said.

Anderson has recorded 22 albums and isn’t done yet. He’s got an acoustic CD with the working title “Solo” mostly finished and another, with his regular band and several well-known musical friends, underway. He hopes to release both by the end of the year.

A video of “Willie’s Guitar” that he made with Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard should also be making an appearance before long.

When not writing and recording, he said, “I don’t think we’ve ever taken a real long break from the road, just because we don’t want to. I love playing.”

Anderson, known for his distinctive voice, said he actually had a few people suggest he change the way he sings — advice he fortunately ignored.

“A lot of folks say nobody else sounds like me. Sometimes that’s a blessing; sometimes it’s a curse. I’ve been able to sing my stuff pretty much the way I want to sing it. I didn’t want to change.”

Old 97’s

The Old 97’s almost had a very different sound from the one their fans love, bassist Murray Hammond said.

Known for their energetic live shows, the band was nearly a drummer-less acoustic trio consisting of Hammond, chief singer-songwriter Rhett Miller and guitarist Ken Bethea.

“I kind of fought off having a drummer, but as soon as Philip (Peeples) showed up, it was really back to having a drummer and a band,” Hammond said from his home in Pasadena, Calif. “The four of us have been together for 20 years.”

The Old 97’s started as a Dallas bar band, releasing their first CD in 1994 and drawing comparisons to fellow alt country bands such as Uncle Tupelo and the Jayhawks. They’ve released a dozen CDs and plan to return to the studio soon to work on another.

Hammond joked that the group’s name reflects both a respect for folk music — “Wreck of the Old 97” is a famous ballad — and the band’s approach in general.

“We just though it sounded cool,” he said. “We felt like a bit of a train wreck. We still do. We thought, ‘We will always sound like a train wreck.’ ”

That partly stems from the fact that the band is loath to practice.

“We know each other’s moves,” Hammond said. “It’s like a sports team or something.”

But that doesn’t mean the Old 97’s are done creating.

“The joy of coming up with new songs is really the fuel that keeps this band going,” Hammond said.

Fans should expect a mix of old and new songs at Wednesday’s show, he added.

“We play everything we’ve ever written,” he said. “We’re equally comfortable with the very first album we put out and the last album we put out. We don’t have to section them off. They don’t have a significantly different sound.”

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