Lee Greenwood Talks New Projects, Songwriting, Baseball and More — A CMM Exclusive Interview

Lee Greenwood’s iconic song “God Bless The U.S.A” is the perfect anthem for the Memorial Day weekend. Just in time for the great holiday, Lee is releasing a children’s book based on the song. We were blessed to get the chance to talk to him about the book and so much more.

CMM – Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us, we really appreciate your time and it’s an honor to talk to you. Have you got a lot of these interviews today?

Lee – Thank you. Yes, I have 6 of them. I’m actually in Winchester, Virginia where there’s a parade tomorrow and another parade Saturday where I ‘m the grand marshall. It’s called the Apple Blossom Parade.

CMM – I’ve loved your music for a long time, but in doing some research for the interview, I saw that you were born in Los Angeles?

Lee – Yes, born in South Gate and raised in Sacramento on a farm. My only time in southern California was in Orange County where I went to school one year in Anaheim.

CMM – I also saw that you passed up a baseball scholarship or career for music, is that true?

Lee – Yeah, I was a baseball player, played shortstop and outfield and just loved the sport and was pretty good. I was scouted by the Dodgers. I’m kind of short, so I thought that well…maybe music shoud take over. In my junior and senior year of high school, I was playing music 3 or 4 nights a week and you hear that immediate applause and don’t have to worry about getting from the farm teams to the majors, with music I could have this now. I left high school and went straight to Reno to play music.

CMM – Well, I think you made the right decision.

Lee – Well, it’s easy in hindsight. My baseball career would have been over long ago.

CMM – Are you still a fan, do you root for any teams or watch much?

Lee – Well, not so much I kind of like basketball and football better. But it is fun to watch baseball occasionally, it’s amazing how the hitters have gotten so much better.

CMM – Well, getting back to music, you won the ACM male vocalist of the year in 1983, did you watch the 50th anniversary ACM show earlier this month?

Lee – No, I was working! Had a job in Florida so I couldn’t go.

CMM – That’s good. Well, it’s always the topic it seems, but what do you think of country music today? Are you a fan of it still?

Lee – Absolutely, it’s fabulous. Singers like Jason Aldean and The Band Perry, Brad Paisley. I mean, it’s like the songs that come out are as good as they’ve ever been. I think my favorite singer now is Chris Young. He has such a wide range and great delivery.

CMM – Yeah, I love all of those artists. I just think it’s too bad sometimes that the older artists like yourself just don’t get any radio play or attention really.

Lee – Well, that’s ok. We had our time and that’s what it was for. I’m writing again so maybe I’ll have hits on the radio by some of the newer artists and that’s ok by me too.

CMM – Oh, is that something you’re trying to do, get songs to other artists?

Lee – Ya know, did you ever see the movie “Shakespeare in Love?” Remember when Shakespeare says “I’ve lost my muse?” It’s like every once in a while you just need a muse you know, something to give you passion about it, not necessarily a woman, I mean. I have a beautiful wife of 23 years and she can be my muse, but I just need to reinvent myself a bit. I have a 20 year old and a 16 year old son and that’s been the focus of my life for the past 10 – 12 years. As I turn myself back to music I’m starting to write again and I’m very optimistic.

CMM – Wow, that’s great. I’d love to hear some new stuff from you soon. Do you remember what you were doing when you wrote “God Bless the U.S.A.?”

Lee – Oh sure. Absolutely, like it was yesterday. I was at MCA for 14 years and I was signed on the label with George Strait, The Oak Ridge Boys, Barbara Mandrell, and Reba McEntire and we were all required to turn in 2 albums a year. So every 6 months we had to go through 100 songs or so, be creative and work 300 days a year on the road. So I was never home and a lot of my writing was done on my bus and “USA” was just one of those. “You’ve Got A Good Love Coming” which featured Patrick Duffy from the Dallas cast on the video for it by the way, and I got to play sax on it which is pretty cool because I’m a sax player, was also written for that album on my bus. So when I wrote “USA,” I had a passion for it, yes. And the years I spent in Vegas watching Elvis perform, you know I’m like, “I can write my own closer.” But when I first put it in the show, it was 3rd or 4th and the people went crazy and I’m like “oh my gosh” and I had to put it at the end of the show because there was nothing to follow it.

CMM – So did you ever imagine or picture it being what it’s become?

Lee – No, because it was a growing thing. I mean it was song of the year in 1985, so we got the acclaim from my peers and the community that I write, perform and record with and I thought that was it. And then we moved from MCA to Capitol Nashville and we recorded the album “American Patriot.” My producer Jerry Crutchfield and I said I think because “USA” has ran its course, let’s put it alongside “The National Anthem,” “America the Beautiful,” “God Bless America,” and just honor all the other American songs and put “USA” alongside them. And had we not done that, after the attack on America in 2001, there would have been no place to buy a recording of “God Bless the U.S.A.” So putting it on that album was just fortuitous for me. I worked for 2 years in America’s recovery and sang it anywhere I could and that album became double platinum and “USA” was on top of the charts again then and again in 2004.

CMM – Wow. And that’s the only song in any genre to ever be #1 three seperate times, right?

Lee – Yeah, the only song.

CMM – I’ve always wondered this, I love so many of your other songs like “Dixie Road,” “I Owe You,” and so many others, do you ever feel like these and all of your other songs have been kind of overshadowed by “USA?” I mean, anyone who doesn’t really know a lot of country music knows Lee Greenwood as the “God Bless the U.S.A.” singer.

Lee – Well, that’s very true. After 30 albums there’s a lot of country music that I’ve recorded and I have more favorites than “USA” while it has been the most popular for me and done so well financially. You mentioned “Dixie Road,” and the 3 writers who wrote it also wrote “Ring On Her Finger, Time On Her Hands” the same afternoon and that kind of writing just astounds me. I’m just a one hit wonder when it comes to writing. I’ve written songs for Mel Tillis and Kenny Rogers, but “USA” is really the only known song that I’ve written. So it’s really cool when people come to see my show and I do an hour and a half show and people realize they remember other songs too.

CMM – It’s so great that you’ve done so much good work associated with “USA.” Are you still doing work with Helping A Hero?

Lee – Yeah, that’s really important. I’ve been the national ambassador for that organization the last 2 years. It’s a non-profit, we build homes for soldiers who have been seriously wounded and that’s why we call it Helping A Hero. We’ve given 100 homes in 22 states in the last 9 years. We will continue to do this, we have fundraisers twice a year. I go to many of the welcome home events and get to sing at the home and give the keys to the soldier and his or her family. It’s just an amazing outpouring of love from the community once they are designated as the recipiant of the home.

CMM – You were on an episode of Extreme Makeover Home Edition once, weren’t you?

Lee – Yeah, that’s how we got started. We did the last episode and we gave 10 homes away that afternoon. It is pretty cool to watch their expressions when they get the keys. When you know a soldier has been seriously wounded , one disfigured in his face, a beautiful red-headed girl had lost a leg, a handsome soldier had lost an arm and a leg, some double, triple amputees – it kills you to see that, but then if you can give them help and make sure they get on into the future with their life it just makes you feel so good inside.

CMM – Wow, it’s amazing to think that the song you wrote in the back of your bus so many years ago would allow you to do so many great things.

Lee – Well, yeah, I’ve sang for presidents and I didn’t think I’d ever get to do that.

CMM – You’ve written a couple books so far, right?

Lee – My first book was called “The Biography Of The Song.” I thought people would like to know my task and I have pictures of my father and mother when they were married and of course my father joined the navy after World War II and then they divorced, so I never knew my father very well. Then we had a second book my wife and I finished last year called “Does God Still Bless The U.S.A?” It is an inquiry about how the nation feels about itself. So if I go back a little ways, my wife and I have been married for 23 years, and we taught our kids to read by getting these little illustrated books with simple lines about your community and about friends and family and how love is important and taking care of your life is important. One day we thought about having a patriotic book, so we went to my publisher and said why don’t we just put the lyrics to my song (God Bless the U.S.A.) and let’s get some real pretty pictures of Americana and teach kids about how to be a patriot from the beginning of their life, from 2 years up, so that’s what we’re doing.

CMM – I saw that you want to instill patriotism in kids and pride in America. With all the things going on these days, that seems like a great thing that we need to do.

Lee – I think people are patriotic, maybe they just don’t know how to show it and maybe you can call it endoctrination if you will, but if you’re a citizen of America, you need to know why we have the red, white & blue and why the eagle is our mascot and why you stand up and salute the flag when it goes by. I think this will help teach kids at a very early age why they stand and recite the pledge of allegiance.

CMM – Definitely, that sounds great. I know you said too, that a lot of people, kids and adults, need to remember that this is still the greatest country in the world.

Lee – I believe that.

CMM – Well, I really hope that the book does well. I know so many people love the song and I think they will really enjoy the book too and it’s certainly a great time for it to come out.

Lee – We also put a download code on the book so you can download a new version of “U.S.A.” never heard before.

CMM – Oh wow, did you go in and re-record it?

Lee – Yeah, it’s a new recording. So once they have the book they can download the song and play it for the kids.

CMM – Oh great, that’ll get the kids interested in your voice and your other music too, because you have a new cd out too, don’t you?

Lee – Yes, I do. It’s called “I Want To Be In Your World” and I wrote three of the songs in the last couple years. There’s also a song from Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins called “You Can Let Go Now” which is kind of in my wheelhouse, it’s a ballad. It’s pretty cool having Michael McDonald play piano for me. It’s available on Amazon and on my website.

CMM – Well, great. I want to let you go, but I really appreciate your time and it was great to talk to you. You’re still touring quite a bit still, right? I’d love to see you get out here to where you were born in southern California.

Lee – Well, I’m doing Paso Robles. I’ve got one kid in high school and one in college, so I’m probably going to tour for a while still!

CMM – Great! Well, thanks so much again and I wish you the best of luck with the book. I really hope it does well. And the new cd, too!

Lee – Thanks. I just want to remind people to take time to read to their kids.

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