The Boot caught up with Lee at his home in Nashville to talk about the inspiration for this enduring hit.
I wanted to write it my whole life. When I got to that point, we were doing 300 days a year on the road, and we were on our fourth or fifth album on MCA. I called my producer, and I said I have a need to do this. I've always wanted to write a song about America, and I said we just need to be more united.
"I'm from California, and I don't know anybody from Virginia or New York, so when I wrote it -- and my producer and I had talked about it -- [we] talked about the four cities I wanted to mention, the four corners of the United States. It could have been Seattle or Miami but we chose New York and L.A., and he suggested Detroit and Houston because they both were economically part of the basis of our economy – Motown and the oil industry, so I just poetically wrote that in the bridge.
"When I put it on stage ... I think it was the fall of '83, I put it in the middle of the show just as a brand-new song. Wow, it was like the audience jumped up, and they were applauding. It helps to have a career that is really exploding to bring a song to bear that is palpable. I did it for about two weeks like that and then I had to put it at the end of the show as an encore. I couldn't follow it.
"It keeps having a different kind of life. I mean during the Gulf War, it was a song of the war for General Schwarzkopf. After Hurricane Katrina, it was a song for life and hope, and then after 9/11, it was a song of unity and rebuilding. It just makes me really proud that I've done something for the country and for my family. It's my family's heritage.
"I recorded the 'American Patriot' album. That album was a way to embrace 'God Bless the USA' with all other American songs including 'God Bless America,' 'America the Beautiful,' 'The National Anthem' ... even the 'Battle Hymn of the Republic.' The 'American Patriot' album really was the one that solidified 'God Bless the USA' in a time capsule, if you will, for all time."