Multi-Grammy award winning Country singer/songwriter Jim Lauderdale recently released his brand new studio record, London Southern.
The album was recorded alongside Nick Lowe’s band and engineer Neil Brockbank. London Southern is Lauderdale’s own nod to “The Fab Four” who influenced and kickstarted his love for music at an early age.
Throughout his three-decade career, Lauderdale has helped pave the way for the current Americana movement, recording albums and writing songs that cross genres from country, rock, folk and bluegrass.
National Rock Review recently caught up with Jim Lauderdale whilst at home in Nashville to talk about his latest album, his current recording projects, his thoughts on the UK country scene and his plans going forward into 2018.
NRR: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us today, we really appreciate it.
Jim: My pleasure.
NRR: Last year you were honoured at the Americana Awards Show in Nashville with the Wagonmaster Lifetime Achievement Award – which is only the second time ever that the award has been given out in its history. I was just wondering how did that make you feel?
Jim: Oh I was very overcome with emotion. George Strait … is a country artist over here that really kind of turned things around for me as a songwriter and started recording my songs. That really allowed me to have a career as an independent recording artist and make a lot of demos and records and to just be able to afford to tour and things like that. So he sang a song of mine, it was one of the first he recorded of mine called “The King of Broken Hearts” and that is a tribute I wrote to Gram Parsons and George Jones. So it just had so many different layers of meaning for me and I was really happy and grateful.
NRR: I know that you grew up in a musical family, your parents were both singers. You started to learn your craft at a very young age. Did you always know that being a musician was your chosen path or did you ever want to do anything else?
Jim: I wasn’t absolutely sure, I loved singing and listening to music and then playing drums and harmonica. But I think when I started playing the banjo when I was 15 for bluegrass music was when I really started to want to make records. Then when I was 18 and 19 and started writing songs and demoing them – they were kind of more a hybrid of rock and country and soul that I started kind of around then – it was clear that I wanted to make records and tour.
NRR: As a songwriter, you’ve written songs for a whole raft of artists from Elvis Costello and Blake Shelton, like you just mentioned George Strait through to the Dixie Chicks and Patty Loveless and pretty much everyone in between. I just wondered when you are writing a song, what is it about a song which makes you want to decide to pass it on to another artist rather than use it for yourself?
Jim: Well that comes in some different circumstances. Sometimes I get asked to write something for someone or with someone and so there’s that instance. With any song, I do on my own it’s always out there for general consumption for another artist to do. Sometimes …. in the past – I’ve written with other artists in mind.
It’s funny Nick Lowe – I used Nick’s band and engineer on this last record and I remember giving Nick cassettes of songs after seeing him perform. I’d wait with fans and just introduce myself and I would give him a cassette. One time he called me back in the States, I guess this must have been about 1983 or so and he called to tell me that he liked this country song I’d demoed. That meant so much to me, just that really gave me a big boost and some real encouragement, because I was really struggling and I wasn’t very confident.
So I would sometimes write different things with artists in mind and try and get them to those people…I don’t think that ever happened until later when George Strait started recording some of my songs. But then I could write something knowing he was going in the studio and they’d ask me – interestingly enough a lot of – I would say probably only a tenth of those songs that I wrote with him in mind actually made it through the process, the final end recording. So you never know what another artist is going to actually like and accept and record even if in your mind you think it’s perfect for them.
NRR: I just wanted to talk to you about the country scene in the UK because obviously there is a real groundswell in country music here right now, especially with festivals like Country to Country. I actually saw you play here a couple of months back at the Sage Gateshead at the SummerTyne Americana Festival. I just wondered have you been surprised by the growth and popularity of country music in the UK?
Jim: Yes, I’m really glad to see that and I think that it just goes to show you that you know you can be anywhere and as long as you love the music it comes through. Loving the music and making it, that’s the important thing and that moulds you as you develop and go along through your life.
I came to Nashville for instance when I was 22 and only stayed five months – I just couldn’t make a go of it. I felt like well that seems to be the place to go and then I tried to move to Austin Texas, which was another great country town, but a great singer/songwriter town and I couldn’t make a go of it there. Then I ended up in Los Angeles where there was more of a country scene and it has that traditional Bakersfield and the Los Angeles country scene since the 50s. But for a while, I was in New York City and that was where I met Buddy Miller and there were a lot of country writers and really good musicians and there were several clubs to play. I remember thinking at the time how unlikely it was in New York City, but to be trying to make a go of it as a country artist. But, that was a really important time musically for me, as far as my writing and just kind of forging a sound and playing.
So I think you can be in New York City, or the UK or wherever you are as long as you are really striving to create and perform. So I think that you can just as easily live in the UK as Nashville. I don’t think, especially in this day and age with everything at our fingertips, you don’t have to live in Nashville. I mean Nashville is a great place to live to have the accessibility to the studios and musicians and it’s a central location for touring, but if you live here and you are doing music you are going to be on the road a good bit of the time anyway.
So I’m a firm believer you can live anywhere in the world, but if your heart is in your music then that’s where the country music capital is (laughing), it’s right where you are.
NRR: Following on from that, your new album London Southern was actually recorded in the UK like you mentioned earlier with Nick Lowe’s band. I was just wondering could you tell us a little bit about that album/project and the inspiration behind it?
Jim: Yes, that record is – while touring with Nick …one of my big breaks was in 1994 when Nick heard a record I had out and invited me to open up dates with him and that time Buddy Miller was playing the guitar with me and so he did a lot of those dates, and I did some of them solo.
So we travelled around the US and then I came over to Europe with him. So that was a real inspiration for me and I really loved Neil Brockbank – his sound engineer and his band, so I’d always wanted to record with those guys.
So finally a few years ago when Nick was in town with Wilco touring I talked to Neil Brockbank about it, so he arranged things. So that finally all worked out and I think with my records they tend to be kind of eclectic.
My first record deal finally, which was late in life for me – I was in my 30s, but I’d been wanting to do it for a long time. So finally it happened and I was in making country records, and my taste tends to be more towards the honky-tonk side and traditional country side and heavy pedal steel and Telecaster. Then when I wasn’t getting my own songs on the radio, on country radio I had some other deals in between my country deals and so those records I guess these days you would call them Americana – they are more eclectic. Then I’d make some more country records and back and forth and start making bluegrass records finally. Then through the years some different kind of blues/rock records and solo acoustic and more hard country.
So this record I felt like was – it’s not a hard country record, it does have some country in it, but it was more of a kind of a nod to the early Beatles because they influenced me so much. Through seeing the Beatles on television when I was 6 and letting their music kind of take over for me while they were around, it was through them that kind of that opened my ears to things like country music and being open more to great music that had been influences on them like rockabilly and soul and RnB stuff.
So this record is kind of …there’s no skiffle on there and I really kind of just discovered that through reading this book that Billy Bragg wrote – which is a great book, but that’s a missing element for me – that was something that I had missed that part of their influence. But these other things yes. So on this record too there are some things that kind of sound a little bit Beatle-esque but not too far into their career. So that’s kind of in a nutshell the story behind this record.
NRR: On this record, you also worked with Dan Penn, who again is another heavyweight songwriter who co-wrote many of the 1960s soul hits at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals. I just wondered what was it like working with Dann this time around?
Jim: Oh it was great, he is really still very vital. As a songwriter, he was just right on the money, I was keeping up with him and he had great ideas and was really, you know I was just kind of hanging along for the ride with him writing-wise. It was just so great to work with him and watch him work. Yeah, I hope to write some more with him someday.
NRR: Like you mentioned previously, this record it’s a bit different from some of your other material. I know that you have a lot of different kinds of albums that you want to make. Do you find that by constantly pushing your own creative boundaries that helps to keep things both fresh and interesting for yourself?
Jim: Oh definitely, yes. I look at myself as a … I don’t really think about it ….I’m always just thinking of the next record. I just got back from Memphis yesterday, I was there for a couple of days – I’ve started on a record a few weeks ago down there and I recorded there a few years ago. Then I’m going to be doing some recording here in Nashville this evening and I’ve got some more dates booked here in November and December. Then in Memphis to finish up a bunch of things and I’ll kind of decide at the time what to do with it.
I’m kind of behind on recording another bluegrass record and I’d like to also …I’ve done several bluegrass records now to try to catch up with things since wanting to do them as a teenager and so eventually I’d like to do some acoustic stuff that’s kind of more progressive and I’ll see. So there’s never a shortage of ideas to kind of follow through on.
NRR: Obviously besides your performing and your songwriting career you also host the annual Americana Awards and have been doing so since 2002. I just wondered as you are so in tune with the music scene out there in Nashville, I just wondered if there are any new or emerging country artists that have caught your attention recently that maybe we should be watching out for over here in the UK?
Jim: Well I know there’s a young lady who is on a song of mine that I recorded here in Nashville a few weeks ago that will probably make it onto one of these next records and her name is Lillie Mae. Jack White produced her debut record and she’s been performing since she was a child and that’s when I first saw her play the fiddle and sing.
So she’ll be over in the UK in a few weeks with her band, and she sat in with me at a gig I had last Saturday here in Tennessee. So I will probably do some more stuff with her, but I think people ought to be looking out for her. She’s just in her early 20’s and she really is a phenomenal singer, player and writer.
NRR: In terms of your own musical taste what’s the one album in your record collection that you couldn’t live without?
Jim: Oh boy, gosh – it might have to be Meet The Beatles because it was so influential on me.
NRR: We are fast approaching the end of this year, 2018 is just around the corner – what are your plans going forward?
Jim: I’m really going to have my hands full finishing the Memphis record and the Nashville record … I still have several live dates out of town. I just know realistically how busy that is going to keep me to finish those records. I’ve recorded several songs, but I want to keep recording and then keep the best of them. There’s a country artist over here for instance named Doug Seegers who is about to go in the studio and I am overdue getting him some songs and so that’s another artist that I need to write for and they are going into the studio real soon. My plate is really full with projects.
NRR: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us we really appreciate it and good luck with the new album and the albums you’ve got in the pipeline and good luck with all of the touring and we’ll catch up with you again very soon.
Jim: Thanks so much I appreciate it.
London Southern by Jim Lauderdale is out now. Jim can also be seen on tour in the UK this month with Brandy Clark.
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