In many ways, Lee Greenwood has had an unusual career in music. Born in 1942, Lee was only a month shy of 39 years old when his first chart single was released on September 19, 1981. This was preceded by a five year run as a blackjack dealer in Las Vegas and as a lounge singer. Older folks in the Orlando (FL) will remember television commercials that Lee did for a local Toyota dealership, although I don’t believe that he ever lived in the Orlando area.
Lee had been knocking about the music business for nineteen years before his big breakthrough, forming his own band in 1962, later working for Opry star Del Reeves. In 1979, Lee was “discovered” by Larry McFaden, bandleader and bassist for Mel Tillis. Greenwood was signed in 1981 by the Nashville division of the MCA label and McFaden became his manager.
Lee’s voice is reminiscent of Kenny Rogers, and while he never became a superstar like Rogers, he did have substantial success for a little over a decade with seven #1 records between 1983 and 1986, and with thirty-three chart records during the 1980s and 1990s. According to Billboard, Lee Greenwood was the 25th most popular country artist of the 1980s. He was an excellent singer and an excellent musician.
Lee’s first single, the Jan Crutchfield-penned “It Turns Me Inside Out”, reached #17 on Billboard’s country charts. Apparently Crutchfield (best known as the writer of “Statue of A Fool”) had initially offered the song to Kenny Rogers, but Kenny rejected the song. The next single “Ring on Her Finger, Time on Her Hands” reached #5, starting a string of eighteen consecutive top ten singles.
Like Martina McBride, Lee Greenwood is best known for a song that was not initially one of his bigger hits. “God Bless The USA” only reached #7 on its initial release in May 1984. The song has endured, however, and continued to sell over the years, eventually selling over a million copies. These days the song has become a standard, performed at events held on holidays such as Memorial Day, Independence Day, Veterans’ Day and numerous other occasions. The song has been covered numerous times including by Dolly Parton, Beyonce’ Knowles and many country and A/C artists. I suspect the song will retain its popularity for a long time to come.
This month we will examine the career of Lee Greenwood, a talented singer, musician and songwriter, whose music has held up well over the years.