John Anderson had a long, hard road to his new album, Years.

The classic country star and singer of hits including "Swingin,'" "Black Sheep," "I'm Just an Old Chunk of Coal" and more, had to fight his way back from a serious illness that derailed his career for years and threatened to end it entirely, he tells Taste of Country in a recent interview by phone from his home in Tennessee.

Anderson's health woes began  in 2017, when he canceled a festival appearance in Alabama citing "serious medical issues." An update a week later said he was "on the road to full recovery," but that turned out to be premature. Anderson says he spent most of 2017 and much of 2018 dealing with a grave illness that doctors feared was brain cancer, though a tumor turned out to be benign.

Multiple issues including heart trouble were also at play, and Anderson first lost his hearing, and then nearly lost his life before he turned the corner toward real recovery.

"Needless to say, I did a whole lot of praying, and the good Lord saw fit to it that I get better, and even get my hearing back to the point where I thought, 'Man, maybe I can play and sing again," he recalls. He says his hearing was at half capacity "at best" when he received a phone call from Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, who was a longtime fan and had a friend in common with Anderson. He got together to write with Auerbach and Dave "Fergie" Ferguson at Auerbach's Nashville studio in June of 2018, and the meeting turned into unexpected magic.

"We sat down, and the first song we wrote was 'Years,'" Anderson recalls, adding that they completed three or four songs that first day. "I remember calling Dan that night and saying, 'That's a pretty damn good song,'" he adds with a laugh.

The sessions kept up from there, with Anderson bringing in other "old friends and Hall of Fame-class writers" including Paul Overstreet, Pat McLaughlin, Dee White, Joe Allen, Bobby Wood and Larry Cordle. Their original intent had been to write for other artists, but on the third day, Auerbach took Anderson aside and said he wanted to talk to him about making a record together.

"I said, 'I don't know if I'm up for it,'" Anderson admits, laughing. "I said, 'I don't even know if I can do it.' And he said, 'We think you can.'"

Anderson agreed to give it a shot, and the result is Years, which marks the first time he has not co-produced his own work in years. He left that in Auerbach and Ferguson's capable hands so he could concentrate on the job of singing, and Years is, among other things, a reminder that Anderson owns one of the truly signature country voices of his generation, still instantly recognizable decades after his first hits.

The album focuses on themes of faith, with Anderson naming "Celebrate," "You're Nearly Nothing," "Years" and "I'm Still Hanging On" as some of the key tracks.

"I hope that some of these songs may touch people however they may, and I hope that's a good thing," Anderson says.

One of the key tracks on the album is "Tuesday I'll Be Gone," a duet with Blake Shelton that came about after Shelton reached out about Anderson joining his 2019 Heroes & Friends Tour. The call could not have come at a better time.

"Just the same time I went into town to write with Dan and Fergie, my agent got a call from Blake's management, and they said, 'Would John go out on tour with Blake?' And that was like prayers being answered, because I had had to let my band go for about a year, and I didn't have a band," Anderson relates. "I said, 'I don't have a band,' and they said, 'His band's gonna back you up. You're only gonna have to sing three or four songs.'"

"I must say about Blake Shelton, I have never been treated any better by anybody, and his organization," Anderson adds. "I made some great friends out there."

He was especially thrilled when Shelton asked him back for a 2020 leg of the tour, which had to be cut short in light of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Anderson is philosophical about the fact that his new album is arriving on Friday (April 10) during such an uncertain time.

"It's kind of a different time to be having out a new record, but nevertheless ... timing is everything, I guess," he reflects. "It's just the way it is, and I have a whole lotta faith in the Lord, and I believe everything's going to be all right. We'll deal with it. And if we're not here to deal with it, that's probably okay, too."

Country Stars Who've Suffered Tragedy