Come to Pappy and Harriet’s, Pioneer Town, Saturday, April 23rd. Doors Open: 7pm. Tickets: $15.

By Lisa Morgan

There are two schools of thought when it comes to Americana and country music icon, Jim Lauderdale.  Some describe him as a founding father of Americana for his life’s work in roots music spanning the spectrum between bluegrass, blues, country and rock.  Others have called him a “country music preservationist.”  If you ask Lauderdale who he thinks he is, he’ll chuckle and say, “I’ll answer to ‘Hey you,’ most of the time.  I don’t know. I guess I just call myself a singer songwriter.”  And that he is; a prolific song writer with an incredibly deep well that many of the industry’s best have drawn from.

Lauderdale’s personal albums never quite launched him into the same stratosphere as his musical heroes, but his songs, his musicianship and his intense, life-long love for music have put him right next to many of them.  He has collaborated on Grammy Award winning bluegrass records with Ralph Stanley, written about 100 songs with Robert Hunter (lyricist who worked with the Grateful Dead and Bob Dylan), worked with Elvis Costello, James Burton and Lucinda Williams, and his favorite writer, Harland Howard.  In over 30 years in the industry and nearly as many albums under his belt, Lauderdale has penned at least 20 hits to date recorded by artists such as George Jones, Patty Loveless, George Straight, Gary Allan, Mark Chestnut, Elvis Costello, Lee Ann Womack, The Dixie Chicks and Vince Gill.

Co-host of the two hour award winning “Buddy and Jim Show” on Outlaw Country, Sirius Satellite Radio, Lauderdale joins long time friend and country music icon, Buddy Miller.  The veterans together introduce new music as well as interview and share stories behind the music with country and rock legends. Lauderdale’s own story is the stuff music documentaries are made of, literally (reference “Jim Lauderdale: King of Broken Hearts”).  Having followed the radio show and Lauderdale’s music for many years, it has always been clear that he is well loved and respected by his fans, his peers, as well as by his own idols.

When I asked who his earliest influences were, it was no surprise.  It wasn’t the first time I’ve had a seasoned and accomplished veteran of the music industry tell me how forever changed they were by the Beatles’ first national television appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.  But Jim Lauderdale was only 6, and he can replay the details of that moment in full color with the same boyish excitement as if it happened yesterday. “How do I describe it,” he asked?  “People remember where they were when they experience or hear of a natural disaster or a catastrophic event.  It’s the same for me, only to the same extreme, positive. It was one of the most culturally significant events in the world really.  There isn’t anything to compare it to.  It universally affected so many people in such a good way.”

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“I remember I was mad because I wanted to see this Walt Disney movie on TV called Scarecrow. My grandparents were visiting, and I was stewing because my sister and grandfather wanted to watch the Ed Sullivan Show.  When the Beetles came on, it blew my young mind. From that day forward, every time I’d hear them come on radio, my heart would just open up and I’d get so excited.  My sister and I would pretend we were one of the Beatles and play along with air guitar or drums.”

CVW:  “When did you actually start singing and playing real instruments?”

Lauderdale:  “I always enjoyed singing to things on my own, but it wasn’t until I was 11 and got into the school band that I started to play drums.  When I was 13, I had to move to a smaller school where they didn’t have band, so I played a little bit with some of the college students in the area.  I actually started to disc jockey on the college radio station then too, and got a lot of free records by doing that.  I started playing harmonica – I was really into blues stuff then.  Then I got into bluegrass and started playing banjo when I was 15.  I went through many fazes of music from psychedelic rock, country, to The Grateful Dead.  My path was formed by the time I got out of high school.  I learned as much as I could, playing and writing in all of those styles.”

“I had been striving for a record deal since I was a teenager, but it wasn’t until two years after I moved to LA, at age 32, that I finally got a record deal.  When it finally happened, the record ended up not coming out. I had a great band though.  Pete Anderson (Dwight Yoakam’s guitar player and producer) played in it for a while; the great Al Perkins played steel; the late Donald Lindley played drums. Buddy Miller, who I’d met in New York just after college, played in that band for a while as well.  Buddy had quit music for a spell, but then he called me and said he was going to move to LA and wondered if there was any work for him as a guitar player.  He started playing with me when Pete went back on the road with Dwight.  Then, a year or so later, Buddy’s career just took off.”

CVW: “I’ve been told that you have a strong connection to Pioneertown.”

Lauderdale: “Dusty Wakeman produced a couple of records for me on Atlantic Records. The last one I did with him was called, Every Second Counts. We recorded that at the Sound Stage, the barn like building there near Pappy and Harriet’s in Pioneertown.  At that time, they didn’t have the recording equipment they do now, so we got ahold of a mobile recording studio that was in a truck and rolled that in there. I was in heaven.  I love writing in that area so much, and several of those songs were written there.”

CVW:  “When did things finally start turning around for you as a songwriter?”

Lauderdale: “Eventually I started going to Nashville more and more.  The Palomino had closed, a venue that was a home base for so many musicians.  Right around then, and kind of by accident, people started recording my songs. My big break was when George Straight recorded my songs on his Pure Country soundtrack.  There’s a song that I wrote as a tribute to George Jones and Gram Parsons called, ‘King of Broken Hearts,’ that is on there.  That really gave me a break as a songwriter.”

CVW:  “As an artist who had been striving since he was kid to make it as a performer, was it hard to let your songs go?”

Lauderdale:  “Yes and no… I was trying to get hits on the radio for myself, but for one reason or another, be it luck or timing or the business, that just never happened for me.  But I would get them through other people, so I just couldn’t complain.  But I’ve still been making records – I just love it so much.  Every year I try to put something out.  I’m in the process right now of writing something. The last record I put out is a double CD called, Soul Searching. One CD is called Memphis and the other is called Nashville.  The Memphis side is classic soul – I really loved that kind of music as a kid.  The Nashville side isn’t really a country record. It’s kind of all over the place – just whatever came out.  Both were co-produced by Luther Dickerson and Luther’s brother Cody.  They’re on that album as a group called Mississippi Allstars.”

“I keep my songwriting antenna open all the time in case I hear something or a melody comes to me. Then I sit with my guitar and stuff just starts coming out.  It’s just a combination of my life experiences and newer observations of with what’s going on in the world.”

“I think sometimes being a musician comes down to will and determination, because it doesn’t get any easier.  Even today, I feel like I’m struggling in some ways like a new act that’s out there. I’m constantly challenging myself writing wise.  Trying to improve and get better and better.  It’s not so much the result of what can happen – some of the bigger things like ‘success’.  The main thing to aspire to is get better and better at what you do.  Reach for higher creative goals.  That will keep things in check. We all have to make a living and sometimes you can’t support yourself on music alone.  If you’re very lucky, you can. As long as I can support myself doing music, that’s good enough – that’s a lot.  It is hard to do; I’ve had to work day jobs throughout the years.  But at the end of the day, when you’re really tired, you just have to force yourself to practice or write to keep things going.  It doesn’t matter if you’re playing in front of two people or you finish a new song, when you have moved somebody, that’s success.”

“I’m still absolutely trying to write ‘the’ song.  There have been a few that have come close, and there have been a couple of big ones, but every time I write, I’m trying to find ‘it’.  ‘King of Broken Hearts’ and ‘You Don’t Seem to Miss Me,’ have come close.  There are a couple on Soul Searching like, ‘There’s a Storm Out There’ that came close. But there always needs to be another one…TOMORROW!”

CVW:  “Who are you bringing with you to play at Pappy’s?”

Lauderdale: “This is my Allstar band – I really love playing with these guys in this configuration.  Dusty Wakeman will be on bass (Gram Parsons, Dwight Yoakam, Lucinda Williams, Buck Owens). Brian Whelan will be on guitar (Dwight Yoakam). Mitch Marine will be on drums (Dwight Yoakum, Smash Mouth, Tripping Daisy), and Greg Lease will be on pedal steel (Dave Alvin, k.d.lang, Mathew Sweet, Ray LaMontagne, Eric Clapton, Jackson Browne, Beck, Jayhawks and more).

Tickets can be purchased at pappyandharriets.com or at the door.  Tickets are likely to sell out so advance purchase is highly recommended as are reservations. Seating during the show is only available to diners with reservations from 7pm on.

Follow Jim at jimlauderdale.com