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A Producer With Vision--and Yoakam : Pop music: But guitar sidekick Pete Anderson has also produced Michelle Shocked and the Meat Puppets. Now he's released his first solo album, 'Working Class.'

November 04, 1994|RICHARD CROMELIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Maverick country star Dwight Yoakam . . . neo-folk singer-songwriter Michelle Shocked . . . alternative-rock trailblazers the Meat Puppets . . . L.A. oddballs Thelonious Monster.

What do these disparate acts have in common? Producer Pete Anderson, who has overseen at least one album by each. And Anderson will tell you what else they share.

"Songs. More than anything I'm attracted to songwriters," says the man who is best known as Yoakam's indispensable, guitar-wielding sidekick.

"I think what an artist should want from me is somebody that's gonna come in and really beat up the songs," he continues, sitting in the lightly furnished, Art Deco-outfitted living room of his Glendale home.

"Not rewriting, but just going through the songs--'You've got two. These three are junk. Now let's get it goin', let me hear what you're writing, let me make suggestions. Maybe you need to co-write. Maybe we should look for some outside material.' I think that is the song perspective."

Anderson's way with songs and the guitar--on stage with Yoakam, he frequently threatens to upstage the star when he steps forward for a jolting solo--has made him a good living, but at age 46 he's moving into new areas.

He just released his first solo album, "Working Class" (see accompanying review), and he's easing out of the producer-for-hire game to concentrate on Little Dog records, the small label he co-founded after hitting deadends while trying to get artists signed to established companies.

Little Dog's first release, the debut album by singer-songwriter Anthony Crawford, has already been well-received at adult contemporary and adult alternative radio, accomplishing Anderson's goal of reaching his musically disenfranchised baby-boomer contemporaries.

"Not enough of us have died to make a difference," he says with a smile. "We're still a very large segment of the population. I think the reason we stopped buying records is because we don't like any of the records out there. . . . It's like there's this blockage keeping really talented people from the public."

Anderson grew up in Detroit, the only child of factory worker parents, and was drawn to music when he saw Elvis on television and heard the sound of Scotty Moore's guitar behind him. But things didn't look great for his musical prospects shortly after high school. Married and the father of a son, he ended up for a time in the same Uniroyal tire plant where his father had worked.

"It was just bleak," he says. "But I always kept in the back of my head the idea that there's something better out there for me, and I persisted in that. I had a dream. I never knew what it was exactly. I just knew I was supposed to do somethin' else. I never could apply myself because I always felt that something was gonna happen, something to do with music."

Anderson eventually made his way to L.A., and after a few years of blues and rock-band work he met Yoakam in the late '70s, when they were both scraping around in the San Fernando Valley's country music bars. Anderson, older and wiser after a decade and a half in the trenches, heard something special in the green, intense youngster from Appalachia.

"His composition was really good," Anderson recalls. "He was writing traditional bluegrass and country songs that nobody was trying to do. And they sounded like real songs that could be on a Merle Haggard record."

When Anderson and Yoakam joined forces, the guitarist became much more than conventional sideman and record producer. He was a key force in shaping the songs and designing the hybrid sound that would become one of country's most commercially and critically successful.

*

Early on, Anderson helped Yoakam refine and simplify his showy vocal delivery. More recently he persuaded him to collaborate with country songwriter Kostas, a teaming that helped make 1993's "This Time" Yoakam's most successful album yet with sales of more than 2 million.

"Pete's very energetic, he's very focused, he's very direct," says Yoakam in a separate interview. "He'll challenge me if he thinks that I'm doing less than my best in terms of honing and developing a song, but he never contaminates the process that I go through.

"I think he's one of the most willing producers I've ever come across in terms of seeking out an individual artist's voice and allowing them to have complete control over musical identification of themselves."

Says Anderson, "I don't look back a lot, but I just really believed in Dwight and I committed to something. I don't think that if I hadn't committed it would have happened the way it did. Somewhere along the line you've got to commit to something and stick with it and give it a chance."

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