Chatting up Jim Lauderdale is like a talk with a long-time neighbor who is so easygoing and tuned in, you regret not having the chance to do it more often. Speaking to him makes you wish you could set your clock back to when people had time to truly connect. Hearing his music will take you there. It is why Pioneertown, and Pappy & Harriet’s have always welcomed him like family, and why the reunion on Friday, May 13th is one you’ll not want to miss.
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 songwriter 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, lifelong 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 Strait, Gary Allan, Mark Chestnut, Elvis Costello, Lee Ann Womack, the Dixie Chicks, and Vince Gill.
Co-host of the award winning “Buddy and Jim Show” on Sirius Satellite Radio’s Outlaw Country, Lauderdale joins longtime 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”). On his birthday, the Buddy and Jim show aired birthday wishes and accolades from the who’s who of country music.
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. “There isn’t anything to compare it to. It universally affected so many people in such a good way.”
Lauderdale’s connection to Pioneertown began with Dusty Wakeman. Wakeman has worked with Dwight Yoakam, Buck Owens, Lucinda Williams, and more, and is the owner of the famed Mad Dog Studios, and president of Mojave Audio. “Dusty 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, 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.”
The Palomino in Los Angeles was an amazing gathering of musicians in its day, and Lauderdale was at the heart of it. When it closed, he made his way to Nashville. That’s when things started taking off for him as a songwriter. “I went to Nashville more and more after the Palomino 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 Strait 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.”