Keith Anderson seems to be startled slightly when I drop by to visit him at the SeaGate Convention Centre in Toledo.
But he recovers quickly, jumps to his feet, and offers a firm handshake.
He is dressed from head to toe in Oklahoma State clothing. Not surprising since that s where he graduated from with a 3.9 GPA in engineering. He played baseball for the Cowboys and was a professional baseball prospect before injuring his shoulder. He s still close friends with members of Oklahoma State s baseball staff and Sean Sutton, the university s basketball coach.
"They send me a lot of stuff," he says a bit sheepishly.
One thing that immediately strikes you about Anderson is that he s solidly put together. Despite leaving his college athletic career behind more than 15 years ago, he s in great shape. At one point, he placed second in the Mr. Oklahoma bodybuilding competition. He fits in a workout at the gym four to five times a week, even though he s on the road, what seems like, most of his life these days.
Whereas he was looking for bulk when he was bodybuilding competitively, he s got other goals now.
"You kidding? I don t need to get any bigger," he chuckles. "It s a lot of cardio now, high reps with the weights, a lot of circuit training."
It s a busy time for Anderson. That night he was opening for Dierks Bentley, one of several dates he s playing with his longtime friend. Before either of them got a record deal in Nashville, they d hang out at the city s Tin Roof, a popular bar for aspiring artists.
"He d be playing video games every time I walked in - the Golden Tee, I think, was his favorite. I ve been a big cheerleader for him, even way back then," Anderson says.
But there are other things going on in Anderson s life. He spent most of that morning talking on the phone, trying to work out the details on a house he s trying to close on. But more importantly, he s been putting the final touches on his sophomore album. His debut album, "Three Chord Country and American Rock & Roll," went gold for sales of more than 500,000 copies and contained two Top-10 hits, "Pickin Wildflowers" and "Every Time I Hear Your Name."
"We started writing for this project in the fall and started cutting tracks in November or December," Anderson says of the new album, which does not yet have a release date.
He s recorded nine tracks, and he was scheduled to do five or six more this week before cutting it down to the final 11 or 12 that will be on the album. He s not sure what the first single will be, but it should be shipped to radio stations next month.
It s tough to imagine there could be a lot of pressure on a guy coming off a gold album, with a couple of Top-10 hits in his portfolio, but Nashville is an unforgiving place. Record deals are lost with one disastrous song, and Anderson has had about six months since he s been on the radio regularly. That was when "Every Time I Hear Your Name" was peaking near the top of the charts. However, he followed that up with the title track to the CD, which was pulled because it wasn t getting enough radio station adds. His label, Arista, then released "Podunk," which was a popular choice with radio station executives, but the single languished on the charts, eventually peaking at No. 34.
"That was very frustrating. When we played that song for radio, that s the song they wanted," he says. "Podunk was big in certain markets. It was big in Chicago. We haven t had that huge radio presence for a while, but it will just take that first single off the new album to pop, and we ll be right back at it."
And he s right, of course. Nashville really is a "What have you done for me lately?" kind of place. In his favor is the fact that he s an extremely talented songwriter.
Besides the songs on his debut album, he wrote the Garth Brooks and George Jones duet "Beer Run." His own version will be on the upcoming album. Gretchen Wilson put his song "The Bed" on her debut album. He co-wrote Big & Rich s current single, "Lost in This Moment," with John Rich. He also has a great stage presence and one of the more energetic shows in the business. It helps that he has a legion of loyal fans. But, that doesn t mean he isn t worried about recapturing his early magic.
"There s always that pressure. This is what I want to do for the rest of my life," he says. "Sometimes I just have to shut off the computer and get away. I can get caught up in studying the numbers and charts. Sometimes I ve just got to shut it off and have a beer."