Soul Searching with Jim Lauderdale

Nashville song whisperer needs a deadline

Late afternoon, that’s when Jim Lauderdale calls. Appearing at Strange Brew on Thursday, he’s out promoting new LP Soul Searching. Talking to one of Nashville’s most experienced singer-songwriters – covered by George Strait, Dixie Chicks, and Elvis Costello to name three – feels like reconnecting with an old friend. You can hear the smile in his voice.

“I got into music just listening to all sorts of records,” begins Lauderdale, 58.

He grew up in North Carolina and got into music at a very early age, first playing drums in the school band. That was around the age of 10, before his family moved to South Carolina three years later.

“There was no music in the school where we moved, so I started playing blues harmonica,” says the multi-instrumentalist. “Then I started playing the banjo, which got me really into bluegrass and country music.”

His parents were involved with the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, where Lauderdale’s father was a preacher before becoming an administrator. His mother was a choir director.

“They both loved music, so I inherited some of my love for music from them.”

In September, Soul Searching came out on Sky Crunch Records.

“I had two records that weren't quite finished, and that’s when a friend of mine named Luther Dickinson, from the North Mississippi Allstars, suggested I do a double record – Volume 1 Memphis and Volume 2 Nashville.”

Lauderdale says the project was partly a test to see how fast he could actually put out an album.

“Working with different labels in the past was kind of a waiting game,” he says. “You would wait to get a record deal, and then you would wait to get the approval to record it, and then wait for it to come out. So I thought, ‘I’m going to try and put this out as fast as humanly possible.’

“It was only about three weeks or so after I finally finished mastering the record that it came out.”

Hard not to fixate on Lauderdale when he’s onstage. He walks the line between country, rock, and singer-songwriter. And he can write a hell of a song.

“The first time I got to play at the Grand Ole Opry was in ’99. I was a guest during Ralph Stanley’s set, and that was really special.

“Another really memorable show for me was that I used to be in Lucinda Williams’ band during the Car Wheels on a Gravel Road tour. I had sung on the record, and I would open up the gigs on tour. When we played at the Backyard in Austin, I had my Austin band play with me, which is Tom Lewis on drums, Tommy Detamore on pedal steel, and David Carroll on bass.

“That was a really great show.”

In 1995 and 1996, Lauderdale opened several dates for Nick Lowe. They got on well enough that the two wrote a tune for the headliner while traveling together. Following the tour, Lauderdale recorded a yet-to-be-released album with Lowe’s band.

“Nick Lowe was opening for Wilco in Nashville, and I went out to the show to see them. Nick’s sound engineer Neil Brockbank and I had breakfast together, and I said, ‘Do you think Nick would produce an album for me if I came to England?’ He said he would check, but the way they did it is that he, Nick, and Nick’s drummer Bobby Erwin would all three produce it together.

“Nick said okay.

“As the time was growing nearer to the recording date, Neil was saying, ‘Nick really needs to hear some demos of the songs.’ And I kept saying, ‘Yeah, I’ll send you some stuff.’ I ended up only having one song for him.”

Lauderdale had four shows booked before he was supposed to go into the studio. He wrote five more songs in that same time span.

“Setting a deadline helps me to focus,” he says. “A lot of the time, song titles or melodies will just come to me at unusual times. The challenge is to finish them, because I have tons of ideas and scraps, but to really finish something is the hard work for me.

“[Ultimately], it didn’t work out with Nick, because for his method of producing he really has to have the stuff in advance. So I just started recording with Neil Brockbank, Bobby Erwin, and Nick’s band. Nick stopped by the studio a couple times, and that inspired me.

“Some day I hope I’ll be able to deliver those songs in advance and work with Nick.”

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Jim Lauderdale, George Strait, Dixie Chicks, Elvis Costello, Lucinda Williams, Nick Lowe, Ralp Stanley, Luther Dickenson, North Mississippi Allstars, Tom Lewis, Tommy Detamore, David Carroll, Bobby Erwin, Wilco

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