Interview with ‘God Bless the USA’ Lee Greenwood [classic article]

As first seen in GI Money magazine

Country/pop songwriter, musician, singer and author Lee Greenwood has been entertaining USO troops for several decades. He owes the USO as much of an emotional debt as it owes him: Lee and his wife, Kimberly, a former Miss Tennessee, fell in love on his 1989 USO/DOD tour. They were married in Nashville in 1992 and have two sons, Dalton and Parker, 18 and 14.

California native Greenwood was discovered in 1979 by Larry McFaden, when he was performing at the Nugget Casino in Sparks, Nevada. Larry was the bass player and bandleader for Mel Tillis. He brought the singer to Nashville and got him signed to MCA Records. Greenwood began working with producer Jerry Crutchfield, with whom he recorded his debut album “It Turns Me Inside Out.” The title track became his first hit, followed by “She’s Lyin”, Ain’t No Trick” and “Going, Going, Gone.”

Greenwood’s hits include “Ring on Her Finger, Time on Her Hands,” “It Turns Me Inside Out,” “Somebody’s Gonna Love You,” “I Don’t Mind the Thorns (If You’re the Rose)” and “Dixie Road.” He has won numerous accolades including, Male Vocalist of the year for the Academy of Country Music, two Male Vocalist of the Year awards from the Country Music Association and a Grammy for Top Male Vocal Performance in 1985 for “I.O.U.”

That year he also took home CMA Song of the Year honor as the writer of “God Bless the USA.” “God Bless the USA” has been voted the most recognizable patriotic song in America. It’s celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. God Bless the USA” went far beyond what Greenwood expected when he wrote it in the back of his tour bus in 1983. The song has been in the top five on the country singles charts three times (1991, 2001 and 2003), giving it the distinction of being the only song in any genre of music to achieve that feat. It was also #1 on the pop charts after 9/11.

Greenwood knows personally what it’s like to have loved ones fighting for the freedom of all Americans, as his father served in the Navy and the Merchant Marine in World War II.

Along with a live album, Greenwood has a new seven-song EP titled “I Want to be in Your World”. He wrote three of the seven songs, even pulling out his saxophone to lend a jazzy air to a couple of the original tracks, “Here Comes Love, There Goes My Heart”.

Tell me about the live album you’re working on.

We have a live CD that we made over the 4th of July, 9 shows, including a free show we did for the Army in Kansas. We offered fans choices of the songs they wanted us to play on the CD prior to the shows. We will let the fans submit their very own concert photos to be included in the cover artwork. It’ll be out this spring.

When did you first notice that God Bless the USA became part of the triumvirate of patriotic songs, including the National Anthem and God Bless America at sports events?

It was almost immediately. The song came out in 1983. In those days, the stadiums all wanted it live, but now it’s played at every game.

Do you have a song broker to get your songs on movie soundtracks, tv shows, etc.?

I have an agent at APA in Nashville. They do everything.

How has performing for USO shows changed throughout the years?

My first show was with Bob Hope. In those days, the WWII era, there was more money afforded to pay the bill on military transport. Bob Hope owned the films of his shows; USO itself didn’t benefit from it. Their motto is, “’Til they all come home.” I don’t think that’s changed.

How are the logistics different for an overseas USO show, opposed to your typical shows state-side?

State-side, we drive our own busses into the base. We just need a tractor trailer and a generator. Overseas, a lot isn’t available. It’s makeshift, we make do. When we go to remote sites, we play very little venues: NCO clubs, the O clubs. The commanders send you where there are the most people to be entertained.

In the military, there’s a mix of people; my music might only appeal to a small slice. It’s about connecting, I’m not there to be a celebrity. We always bring some pageant girls, because it can’t be an all-male show!

What changes have you noticed in the troops over the years?

In the days of the draft, people were staying in 4-6 years. It’s all volunteer now, they go the distance. It used to be young enlisted people, old officers. Now NCO’s, grunts: they’re all different ages. They’re more technologically aware now.

What are your feelings about the music industry these days? Has it affected what you do?

I’m not affected. Each artist tries to create what has never been done before or makes the category expand. Most of us like being able to be crossover! It’s not like it used to be, when record stores had trouble putting you in the rack.

Are record labels supportive of performers doing USO shows? After all, they don’t result in the financial intake they want.

Absolutely! To not be a patriot would be unthinkable. They know that if their artists said they have to take time off to do a USO show, they will sell an awful lot (of CD’s). The labels also know that there are no returns from the PBX. So, even if they can’t sell as many CD’s as a domestic concert, they’re guaranteed sales.

Tell me about your latest book.

It’s a new book, Does God Still Bless America: A Plea for a Better America. The worry of being politically incorrect seems to shadow what we do. I’m not over 9/11. Some of our problems stem from America and its posturing on the world stage.  It comes from my perspective, as a Conservative Christian. My wife wrote the prayers in the book. There’s a praise and worship song in it. These are posed more as my being an American than politically.

What should GI Money be covering to better connect with military families?

We have to start thinking of active duty military and vets the same as they do in the NFL and NBA. They need to realize that people in the service will only be there so many years and they want to know that the government will take care of them, take care of their families. They want to know that they will have insurance. They want to know that when there’s an end to it, they will be comfortable.



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