Lee Greenwood has had an illustrious career that has spanned more than three decades and is still going strong. He has written and recorded one of the most iconic songs in American history, “God Bless the U.S. A.” It has topped the country singles chart three times after major events in our country (1991, 2001, 2003) and the pop charts after 9/11. It has, in essence, become an anthem for our military.
AXS was able to catch up with Greenwood prior to leaving for his 4th of July tour. Here are the highlights.
AXS: We are excited about your upcoming show at the Fox Theatre in Tucson on July 3. Have you performed in Tucson previously?
Lee Greenwood: Of course, I used to live in Las Vegas. So, I’m a ‘West Coaster.’ I was born in California and I spent 20 years in Nevada. This is the first time in ten years that I’m taking my coach, trailer and band to the west coast from Nashville. Normally around the 4th of July, we work the east coast or east of the Mississippi, north or south. In this case, we are already booked to play the state fair in San Diego on July 4. So I elected to find someplace to play on the way there. That is how we ended up playing at the Fox Theatre in Tucson.
AXS: Can you give us a preview of the show you will be doing?
LG: I don’t know if you are a fan of my work, but my background is quite varied. I have played everything from jazz, R&B, and rock from my early years in Nevada. And of course, I have performed a lot of country music. When you get to country, over the last thirty-five years I’ve been playing country music because I live in Nashville. I play the Grand Ole Opry all the time.
I have enough hits that we are considered one of the mainstream country acts from Nashville. I accept that role so when we come to any venue outside of Tennessee, people may not be familiar with our music and our show. They will hear and see many of the hits that brought me to radio in the 80s and 90s. Of course, we will have a patriotic end at the show that you would expect.
AXS: During one of your interviews, you were playing the saxophone. Will you be playing the sax during the show?
LG: I don’t think a lot of people who know me as an artist, as a singer, recognize that I am a musician first. I played piano first in my preteen years. Then I went to the woodwinds and played saxophone for many years while I was writing and arranging for shows in Nevada. The saxophone is my main instrument now. I will be playing the saxophone during the show.
AXS: You used to do 300 shows a year. Are you still keeping that kind of schedule?
LG: No, we probably do a little less than 100 shows a year now. It’s a manageable touring schedule. We’ve got two boys in college now and not in high school. It required me to be at home more when they were in high school. I’m allowed to tour as much as I want. That’s about the number I’m comfortable with.
When I joined MCA records in 1979 and started touring in 1980 and throughout the 80s, all of MCA's artists did that number of shows. Barbara Mandrell, the Oak Ridge Boys, Reba McEntire and George Strait were all on the same label and it was just kind of what we did. I later hooked up with my friends Kenny Rogers and the Gatlin Brothers and they were all touring pretty heavily too.
Barbara and I had a duet album. We toured together for a couple of years. I toured with Alabama for a couple of years. It gave us exposure to every doghouse, outhouse, and roadhouse in the country where country music fans exist. That’s what built my career. I’m grateful that I put in the work. It was a grueling schedule and I wouldn’t want to keep that up now.
AXS: When was your last album released and are you working on new music?
LG: I think our last album is probably five or six years old. I think I wrote most of the songs on that. I have a new CD that I am working on that will be released later this year. It will have 20 songs, all originals. Some of the songs will be rerecorded that were released on earlier albums. The majority of the songs are songs people have never heard before. It will be an original album produced here in Nashville. The title will be somewhere along the line of “Lee Greenwood Originals.” I hate to say Lee Greenwood Exposed. That doesn’t sound very good. I think you get the gist of what the album will contain. I’m also considering making it two CDs as a packet. In front of each song or after I sing each song, it will tell when I wrote it, why I wrote it and what it's about. I think that would be interesting for the fans to hear.
AXS: You wrote a book a few years ago. Are planning to write any more books?
LG: I’m not planning to write more books. To tell you the truth, writing a book is one of the most exhaustive processes I’ve ever experienced. My first book came out in the early 80s. It was entitled “The Biography of a Song.” It explained the years before “God Bless the U.S.A.” and the time after and how it changed my life. And also how the song changed America. Then we released a book that my wife and I wrote together called “Does God Still Bless the U.S. A.?” It was a little play on words but we were investigating whether or not we are the same nation as when my father served in the Navy during WWII. Our most recent offering is a children’s illustrated book that turns the title “God Bless the U.S.A.” to “Proud To Be An American.” That encompasses more people that may not be Christian or believe in Christ. They would get to know that America is a free place that we can all live in and enjoy. Because it is aimed at children, they are able to learn what it is to be a patriot. That book is available on our website.
AXS: You’ve had seven number one hits, 25 single records on the Billboard charts. You’ve accrued five male vocal awards. How does that feel?
LG: I’ve received two vocal awards with the CMA (Country Music Association), one with the ACM (Academy of Country Music), a Music City Award called the New Horizon Artist. There have been several awards, four or five along the way, but the three most important are the two CMAs and the ACM and also the Country Music Association award for “God Bless the U.S. A.” in 1985. I don’t keep up with awards though. It’s a pleasure to know that the industry has given me recognition for some of the work that I have done. Basically, I am alive stage performer and I have been since I was 12 years old. I enjoy what I do and it’s not about competition or winning awards. It’s about pleasing my audience.
AXS: You have more than 200,00 Facebook followers. That’s a lot of fans who enjoy your music. Are you active on your social media?
LG: Yes, we have a staff that does that for me. We utilize Bands In Town, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. It seems like most of the older fans are on Facebook. Through Twitter and Instagram, we have captured a lot of the younger fans and most of the military as well.
AXS: Is there anything that you would like to discuss that we haven’t discussed?
LG: I’ve been a performer and a gypsy since I was 15 years old. I’ve always pursued my art. I’ve pursued excellence in music. I think that’s why I’ve been an achiever and even an overachiever. Our roadshow is a very entertaining roadshow and age appropriate. If you are a patriot and love America, you will love my show.
My wife and I have been married 26 years. Our boys are 23 and 19 years old. We are able to manage our lives a little bit better. We are very proud of our sons. I am most proud of being a father and a husband.