Nearly 30 years ago, in 1984, Lee Greenwood released a song that would go on to become one of the most recognizable patriotic anthems ever: "God Bless the U.S.A."
Lee Greenwood has since been known as the Patriot, and his pride runs deep. He has never slowed down as a recording artist, and continues to fill his life with new music and projects while simultaneously spending time with his wife and two sons. He has sung proudly about the American dream, and feels very blessed to be able to live it.
On Saturday night, Greenwood will perform at Comerica Theatre for a show aptly titled "Hands Off Our Guns." Up on the Sun spoke with Lee Greenwood to get his opinions on America, talk about his new music, and learn about a day in the life of the Patriot.
"God Bless the U.S.A." has helped people through some tough times. How did your career change from that song? What are your thoughts on it today? I guess it has changed some, inasmuch as I'm kind of known as the Patriot now. I accept that and try to live it. I am proud to be an American.
I still try to write music all the time. [But] when I look at my overall career, you can't ignore the elephant in the room and that is "God Bless the U.S.A." It is a huge umbrella for my career, but it is not a parachute. I don't rely on it for what I do. I continue to pursue music as an art and as my artistic outlet.
My career did change, though. When I released that song, it was powerful, and it only got stronger as the years went by. That's through the influx of events such as Hurricane Katrina and the attack on America in 2001. With my USO tours and campaigns, it has gotten to be the closer of the show -- not just my show, but the closer of any show. When I was asked to appear with other artists, I generally became the closing act regardless of the size of any of the other acts, because they wanted "God Bless the U.S.A." as the closer of the show.
You recently had a spotlight exhibit open at the Country Music Hall of Fame. I was there at the opening, and we still go every week. I have guests come into town and I make an appearance there. It's a press event. It's called the Spotlight Exhibit of the American Patriot. It was opened May 10, which is the same day I released "God Bless the U.S.A." 29 years ago. So for the next year it's the 30th anniversary.
And an EP titled I Want to be in Your World. I'm excited about it. There is a four song selection by various artists, including Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald called "You Can Let Go Now". My favorite is probably "Here Comes Love, There Goes My Heart". The title song I wrote last year. We only put seven songs on there because after years with MCA when we were required to have ten songs on every album and turn out two albums a year--it was a waste of music and a lot of people never heard it. I could only release one or two off of the album. It's a little disappointing when you have so much music that goes through you and radio doesn't play them.
What projects are you currently working on? I have a new pop standard album that we are finishing. I have a rhythm and blues project coming up with some guest artists in Nashville. I have my hands in all of that, plus my touring schedule.
You do stay busy. Yes, and I have reason to stay busy. I have a ninth-grade son named Parker who is at a private academy, and his brother graduated from the same academy valedictorian last year and is now a freshman in college. My wife is a full time business woman and a former Miss Tennessee--and is still hot and sexy by the way. We've been married for 21 years. She is the director of Tennessee Georgia and the Pacific pageants for Miss U.S.A. We have a juggling schedule, but I have my time in my office every day and in my music room.
How has your book, Does God Still Bless the U.S.A.? been received since its release? Really well. It's an echo of the song, and that's the best way I can put it. It's a little bit of a play on the title, but I think the proverbial question on everybody's mind in the last decade has been-- are we still the same nation we were when we started? As we look toward illegal immigration and toward political correctness. Why is it getting more difficult to say I am proud to be an American?
There are two songs in the book that I wrote for download, and also there is a 30-day prayer calendar in the back that my wife wrote. Is change better? And how much change is better? That's the question. We obviously evolve as a country, and we still have our Constitution and Declaration of Independence. I know that they are being manipulated a little bit, but that's okay as long as it's a majority choice. Does the majority still speak for America?Being known as the Patriot, do you take a hard political stance in America today?
Not so much. I'm an open-minded person. There are things I do draw the line on, and that's why I'm doing this show in Phoenix called Keep Your Hands Off Our Guns. One of the quotes from Japan during World War II was, "We could never attack America, because every person in America has a gun." I think that's the point of it. Guns don't cause people to die; people cause people to die.
Some of the recent things in the news that have been so tragic, where a kid gets his hands on a gun, the parents have obviously been negligent and left it loaded somewhere. I think there is a responsibility there, and it's not with the person maybe handling the gun, but the people who have sold it to them, or the person that loaded the gun and left it laying around.
You know, any campus needs to be gun-free, but at the same time you have to have people on the campus to protect it with guns. So, it's not to take the guns away from us, but to use them smartly.
What kind of firearms do you own? We have several shotguns. Both of my boys, my wife and I all shoot trap and skeet. I have two or three handguns, but limited, and a rifle. I use to have more weapons around the house, but it became evident to me that if I had a break-in then people could find them and steal them. I keep them safe and locked up with the ammunition never near the gun.
I gotcha. So you're a trap shooter, huh? My dad and I try to do that as much as possible. Oh yeah. I haven't shot in about six months now. With the one boy off in college, we used to shoot quite a bit. We belong to a gun club here in Nashville; I think my wife is probably a better shot than I am. [laughs] I don't know why, but she has a very steady hand with a 12-gauge.
The show in Phoenix has some interesting factors to it. It's the 30th anniversary of "God Bless the U.S.A.", its right after Veteran's Day, and called Hands off Our Guns. What can an audience expect that night? Well, we will be doing a tribute to those that are veterans in the audience, which we always do at every one of our shows. We will acknowledge the fact that many of our World War II veterans are now gone, and as we honor the next group of veteran's from the Korean War and Vietnam.
We will also address the situation that we are supporting the Second Amendment. That's a big deal for the veterans. They know how to handle a weapon, have done it in war, and understand that if proper training is given to anyone that it is a good defense.
What made you pick Phoenix to do the Hands Off Our Guns show? I didn't pick the city. As a matter of fact, we're filling in for Charlie Daniels, who was originally contracted to do the show, but his health did not permit him to fly. We were a second choice.
You mentioned your USO tours. I started working for the USO when I was 13 in Sacramento, California. I became familiar with what the military does very early on. When I got to Nashville, I started doing my international tours. Many of the Air National Guard units will fly us around on tours. When I come on the USO tour, I'm bringing the fiber of the United States with me. I'm giving information to soldiers who have maybe been away for a year or more. I'm letting them know the support that we bring to the troops and give them a reason to be proud and to fight. The exchange is wonderful.
As a performer, all we can do is give them the best that we can on the limited time that we tour. We don't have anything scheduled right now for the next eight months or so.
As the man that is known for one of the most patriotic songs in American culture, what is your favorite thing about being an American? Freedom. Everybody has freedom of choice. As my boy goes to college, he recognizes the amount of freedom he has and said, "I can do anything. I have so much freedom, but what I've figured out is the one thing that I can't do is make the clock more than 60 minutes an hour. Time is so precious."
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With freedom comes responsibility of choice, and I think a lot of people abuse that. Anyone who recognizes and gains freedom will understand that in a very short period of time. We are a free nation.