Goin’ Down Hill (John Anderson)

In the early 1980s there was a decent country radio station in the Boston area and I kept my radio tuned to it, with the result that I picked up on Rosanne Cash, Lacy J. Dalton, and John Anderson — also lots of other people, but those are the three that inspired me to buy their LPs and learn some current hits. Anderson became a brief but fierce passion, thanks to his hardcore country voice and some unusual songs.

The first Anderson album I bought was All the People Are Talking, which had a hot rocker called “Black Sheep” and a mournful ballad called “Mama, Look What Followed Me Home” that is my nominee for the most horrible C&W lyric ever written — which I know is quite a claim, but it’s truly dreadful, and I know it by heart and sing it in appropriate circumstances:

Mama, look what followed me home.
Ain’t she so pretty, and mama, she’s all alone.
I’d love her forever if she was my own.
Aw, Mama… Can I keep her?
Look what followed me home…

(I know you hope he was singing about a dog, but he wasn’t.)

So anyway, I then bought Anderson’s previous album, Wild & Blue, which had spawned three top ten singles: the title track, “Swingin’,” and “Goin’ Down Hill.” The first two were fairly generic and hugely popular, but this song is a quirky oddity built on a pop-ragtime chord progression with an onomatopoeic chromatic descent underpinning the protagonist’s downhill slide. It’s a fun tune to pick, and I particularly like to pull it out when I’m playing with people who are comfortable on ragtime and swing-era standards, because the music and lyric are so perfectly matched and I think more people should be doing it.

This is co-credited to Anderson and his touring bass player — which usually means the sideman did most of the writing, and I particularly want to believe that because the bassist was named Aries X. Lincoln, known to his friends as X. I just spent a pleasant half-hour researching him, and find he was born with the more prosaic name of Billy Lee Tubb, in San Antonio, and worked for a while as a guitarist for his uncle Ernest — yup, that one — as well as in a rockabilly trio with his brother Glenn and cousin Justin, later notable for writing “Waltz across Texas.” Then he went solo and cut some rocking singles as Ronny Wade, including an answer song to Hank Ballard’s “Work With Me Annie,” called “Annie, Don’t Work.” None of them took off, so he signed on as a sideman to a long list of Nashville stars, changed his name to X Lincoln, cut a few more singles that went even less far, and spent the last twenty years of his life playing with Anderson. He apparently wrote some other songs along the way, but this is the only one I can find… which is a pity, because it’s damn good.