Originally published in the August 31, 2015 issue of Country Weekly magazine.
The feisty “Rose Garden” singer helped open the doors for future female artists.
They didn’t come much more genuine than Lynn Anderson. Or feistier and more honest, either. The world first came to know her as the voice behind one of country music’s iconic tunes, “Rose Garden,” in 1970. But perhaps more important, her indomitable sprit and willingness to speak up for her beliefs—she actually had to fight the big shots at her label to even record “”Rose Garden”— helped pave the way for future generations of female artists.
Lynn Anderson died certainly much too young on July 30 at age 68 from a heart attack, while recovering from a bout with pneumonia at a Nashville hospital. She was coming off rave reviews for a gospel album she had released in June, Bridges, which featured collaborations with The Oak Ridge Boys and other artists. During this past CMA Music Festival in Nashville, Lynn seemed youthfully energetic as she signed autographs, greeted fans and performed on the WSM stage.
Born on Sept. 26, 1947, in Grand Forks, N.D., and raised in California, Lynn was practically destined for a life in music. Her parents, Casey and Liz Anderson, were successful songwriters who penned Merle Haggard’s first-ever No. 1 single, “The Fugitive,” among other classics. Liz died in 2011 from complications of heart and lung disease.
Growing up in the Sacramento area, Lynn developed some impressive equestrian skills and won more than 700 trophies, including the title of California Horse Show Queen in 1966. But singing always took top priority. As a teenager, Lynn performed on the local Sacramento program Country Caravan and would occasionally accompany her mother, who had landed a deal with the RCA Victor label, on trips to Nashville.
Lynn was still a teen when she made her chart debut in 1966 with “Ride, Ride, Ride,” which peaked just inside the Top 40. She garnered her first big hit in 1967 with a song written by her mother, “If I Kiss You (Will You Go Away),” landing at the No. 5 spot. The same year, Lynn became a featured regular performer on Lawrence Welk’s national TV variety show, mainly to sing a weekly country music number.
The hits, as folks like to say, kept on coming. A 1967 song co-written by her mom, “Promises, Promises”—not the pop tune recorded by Dionne Warwick, by the way—peaked at No. 4, while “That’s a No No” fell one spot shy of No. 1 in 1969. By that time, Lynn felt confident enough in her career to leave the Welk show cast. About a year later, Lynn found the song that would eventually prove the career game-changer, but not without a little resistance from the folks at her record label.
Lynn was struck by a tune by pop writer Joe South called “Rose Garden” on one of Joe’s early albums. In a 2014 interview with Country Weekly, Lynn recalled the battle of wills between herself and the record label over cutting the song.
“I really wanted to record ‘Rose Garden’ but I was told over and over again that it was a man’s song,” Lynn explained. “The people at the label just insisted that a woman wouldn’t say a line like, I could promise you things like big diamond rings. And I kept saying, you know, what difference does it make? In the end I got to record it, and it sure worked.”
Truer words were never spoken. “Rose Garden” shot to No. 1 in December of 1970, barely two months after its release. It topped the country charts for five straight weeks and became a simultaneous crossover smash, peaking at No. 3 on the pop charts.
Lynn always credited the song’s arrangement as playing an important part in the success of “Rose Garden.” Her version was vastly different from Joe South’s, which utilized the Eastern Indian instrument the sitar on one passage. “The musicians in the studio changed the tempo dramatically,” Lynn pointed out. “They came up with what they called the Rose Garden Shuffle and that just caught on with the audience.”
But certainly just as crucial to the “Rose Garden” phenomenon was Lynn’s determination to cut the tune in the first place. Lynn stood up to the male execs at the record label in an era when female artists didn’t necessarily wish to rock the artistic boat.
Perhaps that’s one reason why contemporary artists like Reba McEntire credit Lynn for her part in helping shatter the glass ceiling for women. “She did so much for the females in country music,” Reba said after hearing of Lynn’s passing. “She was always continuing to pave the road for those who followed.”
Indeed, Lynn, unlike many of her peers, supported younger artists, female singers in particular. She often professed her admiration for Taylor Swift, Martina McBride and Jennifer Nettles, among others. “I try to stay familiar with what is going on,” she once noted to Country Weekly. “I think the younger kids have given the music some new life.”
Generally, as history has often proven, it’s difficult at best to follow up something as huge as “Rose Garden,” which marked Lynn’s first No. 1 single. But Lynn was able to score additional chart-toppers including “You’re My Man,” Keep Me in Mind” and “What a Man, My Man Is,” all written by her husband, top songwriter Glenn Sutton. The two were married from 1968–1977.
She turned another Joe South composition, “How Can I Unlove You,” into a No. 1 hit in 1971. That same year, obviously sparked by the ongoing “Rose Garden” effect, Lynn copped the Country Music Association award for Female Vocalist of the Year.
By the late 1980s, Lynn’s chart career began to wane, with her last Top 10 hit coming in 1983 with “You’re Welcome to Tonight,” a duet with Gary Morris. But she continued to record albums, mostly consisting of Western-themed material. Lynn’s 1992 album, Cowboy’s Sweetheart, featured guest performances by Emmylou Harris and Marty Stuart and included Western classics like “Happy Trails” and “Red River Valley” along with a cover of the Eagles’ “Desperado.”
Lynn didn’t record another album until 12 years later when she cut The Bluegrass Sessions, comprised of several of her earlier country hits reworked in a bluegrass style. The Bluegrass Sessions was nominated for a Grammy award for Best Bluegrass Album in 2005.
Lynn’s final album, the gospel-tinged Bridges, was released this past June to wide critical acclaim. Included on the album was a gospel version of Dobie Gray’s pop smash “Drift Away,” written by Mentor Williams, Lynn’s partner for the last 26 years. Lynn also selected a song composed by her mother Liz, “My Guardian Angel.”
The record proved somewhat significant for taking on heavy subjects like redemption, faith and acceptance. It emerged from both the trials and triumphs that Lynn had experienced in the last several years. “My life has seen many changes, both positive and negative, and this project reflects those emotions,” Lynn said upon the album’s release. “If a single soul is renewed by finding comfort and inspiration in these songs, then I have accomplished my goal.”
Lynn was no doubt referring to a series of personal setbacks that first surfaced in December 2004, when she was charged with driving while intoxicated in Denton, Texas. She opened up to a problem with alcohol but was arrested again less than two years later on a second DUI charge following a traffic accident in New Mexico. After another arrest in September of last year in Nashville, again involving a traffic accident, Lynn admitted to drinking alcohol and taking prescription medicine. She apologized to her fans and later went through a rehab program.
All had been certainly forgiven when Lynn appeared at the CMA Music Festival in Nashville this past June. She greeted fans, signed autographs and performed on one of the festival stages, to the delight of the crowd.
Lynn and Mentor Williams divided their time between Nashville and Taos, N.M., where she continued to raise quarter horses. In addition to Mentor, Lynn is survived by her father Casey Anderson, three children and four grandchildren.
Lynn Anderson never made it to the prestigious Country Music Hall of Fame, although there has been a strong push for her induction during the last several years. But she’ll be remembered as one of country’s first female superstar acts, mainly due to that previously little-known tune by Joe South, “Rose Garden.”
“My life has been intertwined with that song,” Lynn told Country Weekly in a past interview. “I’ve sung it at the White House and so many other places. They asked me to sing it at the one hundredth anniversary of the Rose Society. Very few artists get a career song like that. I know it changed my life forever.”
In her 2014 interview with Country Weekly, Lynn acknowledged that performing “Rose Garden” was a “must” for any concert. “I always have to play that in my shows. I think people would get very upset if I didn’t,” she said, pausing for a twinkling smile. “Goodness knows what they’d be yelling at me.”
An open mind, a willingness to share an opinion and a genuine sense of humor—that was Lynn Anderson. It was definitely our pleasure.
Garden of Memories
Fellow stars share their remembrances of the late Lynn Anderson.
Upon hearing of the passing of Lynn Anderson, several of her fellow stars and friends took to Twitter and other outlets to share their memories of the “Rose Garden” singer.
BRENDA LEE: “I’m reminded of a lyric from ‘Rose Garden’—along with the sunshine, there’s got to be a little rain sometime. For all of us in the creative musical family in Nashville that loved her, as well as Lynn’s fans around the world, this is that rainy day.”
MARTINA McBRIDE: “I was lucky enough to sing [“Rose Garden”] with her once on the Opry. Rest in peace, Lynn.”
DOLLY PARTON: “Lynn is blooming on God’s ‘rose garden’ now. We will miss her and remember her fondly.”
TRAVIS TRITT: “She was not only a legendary country music artist, but she was also a very sweet lady. She was extremely nice to me and always a pleasure to talk with.”
ASHTON SHEPHERD: “Lynn Anderson sure made her mark in country music. Watching her sign for fans at CMA Fest showed the devotion she continued to have with her fans.”
BILL ANDERSON: “She and I had so much fun over the years teasing people, telling them that we were brother and sister or sometimes even man and wife when they would ask. I could always get a rise out of her when I would say, ‘Actually, Lynn is my mother.’ Trust me, she always had a sharp comeback! Rest in peace my talented and special ‘kin.’ Love you always.”