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SXSW Interview: Jim Lauderdale

Jim Lauderdale and Buddy Miller. Photo by Michael Wilson.

Jim Lauderdale, left, and Buddy Miller – preserving everything that’s good about traditional country music. (Photo by Michael Wilson)

Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale have known each other for more than 30 years, and they frequently hang out both on- and offstage. Separately and together,  they create country music of the highest pedigree.  So whenever they want to tear into a wailer or a weeper – which is fairly often – it’s always good for the listener.

You can find some of these on Buddy and Jim (New West Records), the album collaboration between these two wonderfully talented music pros, and even more when the Miller-Lauderdale show comes to a stage near you.

Miller is a killer guitarist who’s toured with Elvis Costello, Steve Earle and Linda Ronstadt, and a hot producer for artists like Emmylou Harris, Patty Griffin and Robert Plant. Lauderdale has written hit songs for George Strait, the Dixie Chicks, Vince Gill, Patty Loveless, George Jones and others.  Both together and separately, they have helped to lay the foundation for the Americana music movement and preserve everything that’s good about traditional country music.

Buddy and Jim are gearing up for a handful of shows at SXSW in Austin, both official showcases and unofficial side performances, the kind that tend to take place in parking lots and back yards.

“Those things (shows in parking lots) may not seem like much but often they’re the most memorable,” says Jim Lauderdale, who has played SXSW shows from the festival’s beginning. “I remember a few years ago I was there and kept hearing this great buzz 1353512832_21b8wghniih5about a new act – Norah Jones. And she was playing outside at a Starbucks!”

Lauderdale is stoked about his new collaboration with Buddy Miller and loves being out on the road with his longtime friend. “We’ve known each other for about 33 years and have been part of each others’ albums on and off for much of that time,” he says.

But when the time felt right for the two to do an official album collaboration, they charged full speed ahead. They wrote some songs and picked out some choice covers, then convened at Miller’s home studio to cut the entire endeavor in three days.

“Yeah, it’s kind of unheard-of to do it that way, but once we decided to do it and wrote some of the songs, everything else just kind of came together fairly seamlessly,” Lauderdale explains.

The album is rich in its variety: Johnnie and Jack’s “Down South In New Orleans” has a Cajun spice, the Mississippi Sheiks’ “Lonely One In This Town” is gutbucket country and Jimmy McCrackin’s “The Wobble” retains its rockabilly fireball scorch marks.

Even a reach like Joe Tex’s “I Want To Do Everything For You” works, with banjos replacing the soulful horns. Lauderdale reveals he and Miller didn’t have to bend that one too much, because it’s sort of in their DNA.

“Buddy and I have a certain thread in our tastes that includes soul, R&B, rock and other stuff – we love to sing and listen to all of that. Buddy has a rich background … as a young teenager he went to Woodstock and knew someone who worked at the Fillmore so he was able to record gigs by Led Zeppelin, the Grateful Dead … he’s totally unique with his background and abilities, which is probably why he turned out to be such a great producer.”

Lauderdale himself is no slouch in the crossover department – he has toured and recorded with Elvis Costello and Hot Tuna, as well as written songs with Robert Hunter, the Grateful Dead’s longtime lyricist. “I’ve been very fortunate to be able to work with Elvis, it was like a dream,” he says. “And Robert … when I was in high school I used to listen to (the Dead) so it’s hard to believe we got together. We have one album we’ve done (Carolina Moonrise, from 2012) and another one in the can, written with Robert and recorded with the North Mississippi All Stars, David Hood and Spooner Oldham.”

A few years ago Lauderdale met a young film student named Jeremy Dylan, who followed the singer around and filmed some shows and interviews. The result is a documentary, The King of Broken Hearts, which should be widely available soon.

“It’s been shown a few times, and I think he did a really good job,” Lauderdale says. “It’s hard for me to be objective because I’m watching myself but I think it came out really well.”