A little over a week ago, I had the privilege of jumping on a phone call with two-time Grammy winner Jim Lauderdale. He took a brief moment of respite from his touring schedule to spin a couple of yarns and talk about the music culture he had a handsome hand in building.
His latest album Soul Searching is one of my recent favorites. Take a listen to “There’s No End to the Sky” down below and we will donate to charity every time you do. Then be sure to pick up a copy here.
MC: When did music first become a part of your life?
Jim: Ever since I was real young. I remember just singing around the house. My folks were very musical, so there was a lot of music going on.
MC: Your latest album Soul Searching is a double disc set. One tracking the sounds of Memphis and the other tracking the sounds of Nashville. How did you choose those two cities to focus on?
Jim: I started a few things in Mississippi several years ago when I was with Luther and Cody Dickinson, Spooner Oldham and David Hood. We were recording an album of songs I’d written with Robert Hunter. That record turned out to be called Black Roses, but while I was finishing up that album I cut a few tracks that leaned more to the soul side of things. Then Luther Dickinson – I ran into him in Nashville last May – he’d just moved and relocated to Nashville. I had some studio time booked at RCA studio A. I was just feeling him out, because I was going to do a follow-up record from last year called I’m a Song. So Luther was available and I thought well…I’m just going to go ahead and do this other thing. So we went in and started that. It went so well I booked another day, then started working on another batch. Luther said we should book some time at Royal Studios in Memphis. I just sort of dove in and didn’t know when I was going to put them out, but as I was finishing up Luther recommended I put them out as a double.
MC: I love that. With so many albums there is an this endless process of planning. It sounds like this project just came about very organically.
Jim: Yeah! I actually have another record that’s been in the can with Nick Lowe’s band and I’ve just been waiting to put that out. But this other stuff was so immediate and so fresh to me still. I just wanted to get it out. It was actually released about three weeks after I finished it. That was a bit of an experiment for me.
MC: At this point in your career you’ve worked with some of the greatest musicians in the world. What is it like to have this bank of musicians to just call on at any moment and say, “Hey! Let’s hit the studio and record something”?
Jim: That’s kind of what happened with this last one. It’s challenging and I enjoy that, because I’m not a very good planner. My next unwritten record will probably be like that as well. I’ll do it very spontaneously.
MC: If the formula ain’t broke, why fix it?
Jim: Yeah! *laughs*
MC: I believe I read somewhere that Soul Searching is your 28th album. I hate using the word favorite, but is there one album or song that stands out as most meaningful to you?
Jim: Well there’s not just one, but one song I just worked up is a song I wrote with Robert Hunter. Talking about unplanned, after I finished Black Roses I dove into trying a solo acoustic album of songs I wrote with him. There’s a song on there, the title song, “Blue Moon Junction.” It’s a lyric that Robert had sent to me. A lot of times when I get lyrics from him, a melody will come immediately, but this one I had to file it away. I couldn’t come up with anything I thought was worthy of the lyric. Then as I was working on the solo acoustic album I revisited this lyric. I’m just amazed at what a great lyric it is.
MC: As a two-time Grammy winner, you’ve set the bar pretty high for yourself. What defines an album’s success for you now?
Jim: If the music exceeds your expectations and it’s just rewarding to listen to. To me that’s all. It doesn’t matter about sales or anything like that. It’s whether the right things got laid down.
MC: Are there any young up and coming artists that you think will drive music forward?
Jim: That’s a good question. I host a show once a week called Music City Roots that there’s a podcast of. We have a lot of new artists come in along with a lot of veteran artists. I’d be afraid to start naming some of my favorites because I would leave somebody out. But let’s put it this way – there are people in bluegrass, country, rock, blues, and soul that are really high quality. Our listening future is safe with all of the great stuff coming. I really am so pleasantly surprised with new people that are great that I hadn’t heard of before.
MC: If you could co-write a song with anyone, who would it be? You can choose a few. I won’t put you on the spot twice!
Jim: Robert Hunter really filled that big space already. We did a lot. We’ve done almost a hundred songs and I hope we keep going. I got to write a couple with Elvis Costello and that was really great too. One guy that I wished I could have written with was Doc Pomus. I lived in New York for a while and he lived in my building. Doc wrote things like “Viva Las Vegas” and “Little Sister” and “Save the Last Dance for Me.” I just love the stuff he wrote and I never got to write with him.