Over the course of the past 20 years or so, Jim Lauderdale and Buddy Miller have both experienced a certain rise in their respective rootsy Country profiles.
Miller has become one of Nashville, Tenn.’s hottest speed-dial numbers, as an artist, a guitarist-for-hire (a role he has performed for Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris and Robert Plant, among others) and an intuitive producer (he’s currently working with T Bone Burnett to provide the soundtrack for ABC’s Nashville television series).
Lauderdale’s success as an artist has been more of the cult variety but he has just as surely become one of Music City’s most dependable songwriters and collaborators, notching high-charting hits for the likes of The Dixie Chicks, George Strait and George Jones, earning a couple of Grammys for his work.
It’s not terribly surprising that Lauderdale and Miller’s friendship stretches back to a time when neither one of them was a known entity. When both were New York-based in the early ‘80s, they frequently backed each other up on different club dates, finding a mutual affinity for their talents and strengths.
“We did some gigs together,” Lauderdale recalls via phone from his Nashville home. “There were a lot of thrown-together gigs we’d get offered, individually and together. People would be getting bands together and say, ‘Hey, can you play tonight?’ And I was a big fan of Buddy’s ever since I heard him the first time. Buddy moved away from New York and then, several years later when I moved to Los Angeles, he let me know he was going to move to Los Angeles and I embarrassingly hired him as a guitarist. I should have been hired as a harmony singer for Buddy.”
Miller ultimately relocated to Nashville and Lauderdale followed shortly thereafter. Miller’s reputation as a songwriter and guitar-slinger grew exponentially and Lauderdale continued to write great songs for other artists while toiling away at his recording career.
Eventually, it occurred to them that they should pool resources and work on a project together.
“I ran into somebody recently that said they had seen footage of me after a gig in Germany and they were asking me what I was up to and I said that I was getting ready to do a record with Buddy Miller,” Lauderdale says. “It turned out that was in ’95.”
Nearly 35 years after their personal and professional friendship began and more than a decade and a half since Lauderdale formally announced their intentions, he and Miller finally sealed the deal with the recording and release of Buddy & Jim, a quietly stunning testament to their various skills.
“I was always hoping that it was going to happen, but I wasn’t sure we would ever actually be able to get our schedules aligned,” Lauderdale says. “But with this Sirius (satellite) radio show, The Buddy & Jim Show, which we started last summer, I think that was kind of a catalyst. I think his record company (used that) as sort of a springboard for us.”
For an album that’s been talked about since the mid-’90s, Buddy & Jim didn’t take a whole lot of time to actualize.
“Buddy jokingly says we did it in three days, but it sounds like four,” Lauderdale says. “It’s funny that after all those years, we had to do it really quickly. We had some pre-production meetings; I knew that Buddy should produce it, without question. He’s a true master. We discussed song ideas and we had some similar songs in mind and Buddy also suggested several. At first we were going to do a covers record because he thought it would be quicker and easier, but I really wanted to do some songs we wrote together. So Julie (Miller) wrote one alone (‘It Hurts Me’) and I wrote one alone (‘Vampire Girl’) and we wrote two together just for the project and we revisited an older one (‘Lookin’ For a Heartache Like You’).”
He adds, “With duet singing, we wanted to cover the Johnny & Jack/Louvin Brothers thing (‘South in New Orleans’) but then go over to the Sam and Dave style of Soul (on Joe Tex’s ‘I Want to Do Everything For You’), which we’re both big fans of.”
Recorded at Miller’s famed home studio with a crack band (bassist Dennis Crouch, drummer Marco Giovino, fiddler/mandolinist Stuart Duncan, steel pedalist Russ Pahl, keyboardist Patterson Barrett), Buddy & Jim is an amalgam of its creators’ musical gifts. From twang-laced Country traditionalism to rootsy Americana revivalism, Lauderdale and Miller balance their vintage perspectives with a contemporary energy, but its ultimate success lies in the fact that the album is a natural by-product of their long friendship and the similarity of their obscurely famous/famously obscure careers.
“If we were brothers, and this is not an age thing, he is the wiser brother I look up to,” Lauderdale says. “He’s just oozing with musical knowledge and he has great taste. We have a lot of the same influences, but Buddy has just soaked in so much music at such an early age. He was light years ahead of me. I just can’t say enough good about him.”
Lauderdale has an album in the can that he recorded with the North Mississippi Allstars, which he had planned to release late in 2012. Before he could move on it, New West came to him with the idea of putting together the Buddy & Jim album, and so Lauderdale moved the Allstars album to the backburner to concentrate on the Miller project.
“I put everything else on hold and we went ahead and recorded (Buddy & Jim) the last part of August,” Lauderdale says. “I’m glad we did that, because I’d been anxiously waiting for Buddy and I to do something and it was a pleasure to do it.
“I’m kind of a last minute writer; I write well under pressure. We didn’t have much time to take more time and it turned out to be just the right amount,” he says. “We didn’t overthink it or have too much time on our hands to prepare or make it. It was real smooth and there wasn’t any drama. I’ve labored too long on records in the past and it was great to just get in there and do it.”
BUDDY MILLER AND JIM LAUDERDALE perform with their band Thursday at the Southgate House Revival. Click here for tickets.