By Michael Swanger firstname.lastname@example.org
Americana music icon Lauderdale sought-after by Nashville kings and queens
The most talented artists in Nashville are not necessarily the most famous, though often they are sought after by those who are famous.
Case in point — with all due respect — multi-talented Jim Lauderdale, who plays the Temple for Performing Arts in downtown Des Moines on Saturday, May 15.
He may not yet be a household name (and he’s OK with that), but his resume is impressive: Two-time Grammy Award winner; “A-list” Nashville songwriter having penned hits for George Strait, Patty Loveless, The Dixie Chicks and Vince Gill; recording and touring member of bands for Elvis Costello, Lucinda Williams and Mary Chapin Carpenter; Americana music icon and host for seven consecutive years for the Americana Music Association’s Honors and Awards Show in Nashville (he won “Artist of the Year” and “Song of the Year” at the first event in 2002); host of three radio shows (WSM, “Music City Roots,” “Tennessee Shines”); and a successful solo artist.
“I couldn’t pick just one thing; I like doing them all,” said Lauderdale when asked to choose his favorite activity — writing, performing, singing or producing.
Lauderdale and I spoke on the eve of his performance last week with Willie Nelson on the “Late Show with David Letterman.” It marked his third time playing with the country music legend, one of many over the years, including Dr. Ralph Stanley and George Jones. The 53-year-old North Carolina native said he is honored to work with such artists.
“It’s kind of hard to believe when it happens because these are people I’ve enjoyed so much, and I’m a fan,” he said. “I enjoy being a part of their music at that time, whether it’s writing, recording or playing. Sometimes I have to pinch myself.”
Last year, Lauderdale might have had welts if he pinched himself for each Grammy nomination he received. The versatile musician, who is adept at bluegrass, folk, rock and soul, earned Grammy nominations for “Best Bluegrass Album” for his album “Could We Get Any Closer,” as well as one for “Best Country Album” for George Strait’s “Twang,” for which he co-wrote two songs (including the title track), and “Best Contemporary Folk Album” for “Secret, Profane & Sugarcane,” by Costello.
What’s more, Lauderdale co-wrote Strait’s latest single, “I Gotta Get to You,” which recently reached No. 9 on Billboard’s top country songs list. The hit song also allowed Strait to set a Billboard record as the first act to reach the top 10 on any Billboard chart for 30 consecutive years.
“I feel like because George and Patty Loveless have had hits with my songs that it has given me a lot of freedom to create what I want musically,” Lauderdale said.
As a banjo-playing teenager, Lauderdale dreamed of one day becoming a bluegrass star. But as he integrated country, rock and soul into his sound, he became known for his versatility.
“A lot of things have happened in my career that were unplanned,” he said.
His latest album, “Patchwork River,” released May 11, is as eclectic stylistically as his 1991 debut recording, “Planet of Love,” which netted eight songs that eventually were covered by other artists. “Patchwork River” is a collaboration with lyricist Robert Hunter, who is best known for his work with the Grateful Dead and for having penned its song “Truckin,’” which spawned that band’s iconic slogan, “What a long strange trip it’s been.” The two men, who previously worked together on an album for Stanley, together wrote “Patchwork River” during three songwriting sessions at Hunter’s home in California.
“He’d give me a lyric, or I’d give him a melody. It was a spontaneous thing,” Lauderdale said. “He’s a grandmaster lyricist.”
Lauderdale hopes his fans connect with his new album the way he connects with those of musicians he admires.
“That undefinable enjoyment you get when you’re moved by a song and you want to hear it again and again,” he said. “That would be the ultimate reward.” CV
Caption: Jim Lauderdale performs Saturday, May 15 at 7:30 p.m. at the Temple for Performing Arts. Tickets are $32.50 through Ticketmaster. Carrie Rodriguez opens the show. Read a review of her album in this week’s “Sound Check.”