The country music icon recalls writing the song that has become an anthem.
Yes, it’s true: Lee Greenwood actually wrote his signature song “God Bless the USA” one night in the back of his tour bus in 1983. The country music icon confirmed that oft-told story about what has become a secondary national anthem when we interviewed him back in 2013, when the celebratory Lee Greenwood: American Patriot exhibit opened at Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
But as you can see in this excerpt from that 2013 Q&A, there’s a story behind that story.
Cowboys & Indians: Your muse sure must have been with you that evening.
Lee Greenwood: Well, it wasn’t overnight. I had thought about it for a long time. See, I lived in Las Vegas for almost 19 years. And while I was there, of course, I watched significant performers – particularly Elvis, who worked in the same hotel that I did. And I would see him perform “An American Trilogy” at the end of his show. I saw how moving it could be to have that kind of impact with that kind of a closer.
My other inspiration was to unite America, which was a goal of mine since I was a boy. I’d written a closer for a show I had in Vegas years ago called “America.” And it was kind of anti-government, because it was about Vietnam. I did not serve in the military, but I lived through that era. And like the rest of America, I thought, ‘We have to stop this war, and the killing of our young men and women.’ So that song was a forerunner to “God Bless the USA” – but it wasn’t very positive.
But after touring the United States for about three years, I got a really good glimpse of America, and how we’re all so much alike. Even though we have different dialects, and different cultures. So that’s when I thought, “Maybe it’s time I wrote a patriotic song that reflects that. And at the same time – maybe write something that I can close my show with.” That was the inspiration that got me started. And, of course, it came very quickly after that.
“God Bless the USA” received the 1985 CMA Song of the Year award, and returned to the country and pop charts after its resurgence in popularity and airplay during the 1990 Gulf War and in the wake of 9/11.
“‘USA’ is the song I always felt the need to write,” Greenwood said in 2013. “I wanted to have something that would unite Americans from coast to coast. I wanted to instill pride back in the United States. The song represents my family, my community and those men and women who have paid the price for the freedoms we all love and enjoy.”