Monday, February 9, 2015

Jim Lauderdale, Americana Treasure

Jim Lauderdale, winner of multiple Grammies and the first Americana Music Awards Performer of the Year, will be appearing at the Joe Val Bluegrass Festival at the Sheraton Framingham, in Framingham on Saturday, February 14th.  The Festival happens all weekend; Jim will be appearing onstage at 6:45pm.  Info can be found at Boston Bluegrass Union.  You can also catch him at Red and Shorty's in Dover, where he will be playing on February 15th. 

When Jim Lauderdale defines Americana music, you are getting it right from the source. 

“Americana- to me that's a ‘label’ that encompasses American roots music- blues, folk, rock and roll, rhythm and blues, country, soul, bluegrass. Anything that is ‘rootsy’ in nature, not over produced. An Americana radio station would be playing artists who cut across all categories.  The whole thing is growing,” as is Lauderdale’s status as the progenitor of the movement.

A legendary performer and songwriter, Lauderdale has released 23 albums and is featured in a 2013 documentary, whose title is drawn from one of his hit singles- (for someone else)- “King of Broken Hearts.” He has had a career that defies tradition. He’s worked with the legendary Ralph Stanley, and the equally legendary Elvis Costello- co-written songs with Robert Hunter of the Grateful Dead, Costello, John Leventhal, John Oates...
in fact, his songs are so unique and distinctive, they’re known in the music business as ‘Lauderdales.’  He’s toured with Costello, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Stanley, Lucinda Williams and Hot Tuna.  Oddly, ‘traditional’ success- defined by a major label contract, and the trappings of superstardom, elude him. In many ways, the trajectory of his eclectic career is a result of a different kind of success- the deep and abiding respect of his peers, and a committed fan base.

With a recent series of bluegrass albums released and in the works, his career has come full circle.

“I started off started in bluegrass, playing banjo. My dream as teenager was to make bluegrass records.  I had a lot of roadblocks to getting record deals.  Eventually, I was offered a country music deal, which I took. So I started doing something like country, alternative country.  Years later, I finally made my first bluegrass record with Ralph Stanley.  I’ll tell you, it was worth the wait to be able to do it with him.”
Lauderdale, who is a talented instrumentalist, a distinctive singer, has made his mark as a songwriter. He’s written hit songs recorded by other artists like George Strait, (“Where the Sidewalk Ends,” “Do the Right Thing;”); the Dixie Chicks, (“Hole in My Head”); Vince Gill (“Sparkle”); and Lee Ann Womack (“King of Broken Hearts”).

He was born in North Carolina, and before settling in Nashville, put down roots on both coasts.

“I started out in Nashville, and got a lot out of it, but couldn’t make a go of it the first time. and lasted about five months, the first time. I thought I could make my mark there, but when some folks listened to my songs, it was like ‘that’s good kid, but it won’t be a hit.  What else you got.’ That was pretty hard to hear, so I went up to New York and lived there after college. I had some friends there. Got my first gig at a place called Lunney’s, playing in between band sets.”

“It was a pretty interesting time.  Urban Cowboy had just come out, and all of a sudden, New Yorkers were wearing cowboy hats and pointy-toed boots, and country bars started opening up in the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut area. I started playing a lot; I met Buddy Miller back then, in New York, and we’ve been solid since then. New York City was a music center, even for country- there were some great players and writers that added to the folk and rock scene going on back there.  And there were so many country ex-pats living in New York who loved bluegrass and country.  Probably has something to do with appreciating the things from back home when you’re not around them even more than you do back home.”

After a few years, Lauderdale moved out to the West Coast, to Los Angeles, in pursuit of the next step in his career.

“In LA things started happening, more doors started opening for me.  I found it was a great place to write, meet people.”

Long a fan of the country rock icon Gram Parsons, Lauderdale admits that was part of the allure in moving to LA.

“I wanted to see some of the places that had been important to him.  I would go out into the desert, to Joshua Tree, and take it all in.  It seemed like a great place for me to write. I could go out at night, and look up at the stars, and walk around with my guitar, and the songs would just come to me. I began to take more and more trips to Nashville to work.  By then, Buddy Miller was living there, so I rented a place from him.  I got a record deal, and after all the work, the company decided not to release the album.  That was also disappointing.”

“I think when you aren’t living in the center of the business, like in Nashville, you sort of have to work a bit harder. But I love living here in Nashville now.  All the resources in the world exist here.  If I wanted to record tomorrow, I’d make a few phone calls, book a space, and then a few more phone calls to get the players- it would likely as not happen.”

For Lauderdale, his second move to Nashville was the charm.  He admits being a little hesitant.

“Well, it helped to come back here after already having success as a songwriter. I surely didn’t want to come back to Nashville and not have things happen.  Although, I suppose with technology today it is possible to be successful wherever you are.  But for me, there is such a big talent pool in this town, it’s where I want to be.”

When he isn’t playing with the likes of Jorma Kaukonen and Buddy Miller, Lauderdale draws from the talent around him.  He’s performed and recorded with Donna the Buffalo, The North Mississippi All Stars, and will be appearing at the 30th Annual Joe Val Bluegrass Festival with local friends Della Mae. Lauderdale is grateful he’s been able to join the event this year.

“It’s a real honor to be playing this festival, it’s so renowned. It’s been on my wish list for years, so I’m really glad they are letting me pay this year.  I get to play with some terrific friends, Della Mae.  I play a lot of different styles, so when I get to play bluegrass, at a festival like this, it’s very fulfilling. Bluegrass is the ‘roots’ of my roots.”

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