It shouldn’t take an act of God to bring Jim Lauderdale back to hardcore traditional country; but when 32 inches of rain fell on South Texas, flooding the Brazos River, the double Grammy winner found himself with cancelled Lone Star dates, time on his hands and a stockpile of his classic country songs that fit together. Rather than scrap the trip, the affable North Carolina born and raised songwriter/Americana icon conferred with steel player/producer/friend Tommy Detamore and drummer/longtime friend Tom Lewis– and realized all his Texas bandmates were available.
“I thought it might be now or never,” laughs the prolific Lauderdale, who’s collaborated with Dr. Ralph Stanley, Buddy Miller, Buddy Miller, Elvis Costello, Robert Hunter, Donna the Buffalo, Rodney Crowell and the North Mississippi All Stars. “They’d been saying you need to come down here and make a record, but other things kept coming up. Suddenly, my schedule was open – and that’s right where I was supposed to be.”
It’s been a few years since Lauderdale focused on the hard stuff of North Hollywood’s Palomino Club – after sojourns into bluegrass, Southern soul, jam band bursts, lean rock and yes, Americana. Divine intervention or not, This Changes Everything shows Lauderdale as one of the dynamic forces who’s shaped the last thirty years of modern country – including 14 George Strait cuts (“Where The Sidewalk Ends,” “Don’t Make Me Come Over There,” “We Shouldn’t Be Doing This,” which appears here), a Patty Loveless/George Jones CMA Awards winner (“You Don’t Seem To Miss Me”), a Mark Chesnutt chart-topper (“Gotta Get A Life”) and a Dixie Chicks raver (“Hole In My Head”). – as well as this thing they call “Americana.”
Working with sometime Steve Earle & the Dukes and fulltime Masterson guitar Chris Masterson and Cory Morrow vet John Carroll on guitars, Asleep at the Wheel cornerstone Floyd Domino on piano, Willie Nelson & Family’s Kevin Smith on bass, Heybale and Whitney Rose regular Tom Lewis on drums and fiddle from Western Swing Hall of Famer/solo artist Bobby Flores and Faron Young to Lee Ann Womack regular Hank Singer, producer Detamore took almost a dozen songs and created a template for the kind of honest to God country people who know the difference from the first swinging note of “This Changes Everything.”
“The classic country style was something I really wanted to return to,” explains Lauderdale. “I felt a calling for it, and these songs felt right. It’s something a band could be playing when you went to a Texas dance hall like Gruene Hall, the Continental Club, or any country bar in the world. You could hear it playing on the jukebox, or the band. And it’s not something you hear a lot of these days.
“George Jones, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Johnny Bush, Ray Price,” continues Lauderdale, ticking off his foundation. “Emmylou, Loretta Lynn, Tammy… You know, steel guitar, Telecaster, fiddle. That era and those themes, to me, are what country music is.
“And in 2017, it can’t be just that one thing – the same way rock & roll isn’t just Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis, Little Richard. But those touchstones can still work. When you look at George Strait, he’s carried a lot of it forward. And for me, if you’re fluid when you’re playing it, the songs don’t have to be retro sounding, but hopefully transcend time.”
Beyond the Lauderdale cut by George Strait “We Really Shouldn’t Be Doing This” and the Derailers’ ironic “All The Rage In Paris,” also covered by the Randy Rogers Band with Johnny Bush, the songs on This Changes Everything have never been heard before.
“This records got four shuffles,” Lauderdale marvels. “Frank Dycus and I wrote ‘It All Started and Ended With You’ and ‘I’ll Still Be Around,’ as well as the title track with Bruce Robison and one I wrote with Odie Blackmon ‘Lost In The Shuffle.’ Plus Terry McBride and I wrote a Western swing thing ‘You Turn Me Around’ back in ’92, and I’ve always wanted to record it.”
Given that Lauderdale has moved through the bluegrass scene of the Carolinas, onto the New York City scene where he met Buddy Miller and Shawn Colin, then out to California where he fell in with the post-cowpunk Palomino crowd that included Dwight Yoakam, Lucinda Williams, Dave Alvin, Chris Gaffney and Rosie Flores, he’s lived his music through and through, Whether it’s the lost in the movement “Drive,” which opens co-writer Hayes Carll’s latest and closes Everything, the wildly romantic “The Weakness of Two Hearts,” or the promise “I’ll Still Be Around,” Lauderdale demonstrates his hardcore honky tonk chops tempered with the verve of unfettered Saturday night..
“I made an album in ’88 with Pete Anderson for CBS that never came out – and I didn’t know if it was too country for the time,” Lauderdale admits. “I remember Pete saying, ‘The way I see it you have two paths: a Bakersfield Buck Owens with a little John Fogerty thrown in, or a newer Creedence Clearwater (Revival) with a little Buck thrown in. I’ve always thought about that, the idea of bringing the one through the Bakersfield.”
If that record never saw the light of day, the Rodney Crowell/John Leventhal-produced Planet of Love cemented Lauderdale’s reputation as a post modern traditionalist. Though it failed to deliver him stardom of his own, eight of the ten songs ended up being recorded by others, including “Where The Sidewalk Ends” and “The King of Broken Hearts” for the Pure Country soundtrack by George Strait, will present the versatile artist with the 2016 Americana Music Association’s WagonMaster Award for his role in shaping the genre.
“A lot of times through the early days, I’d do solo gigs – and I’d take my banjo, my guitar dobro, and harmonica and play Hank Williams, George Jones, Gram Parsons and Ralph Stanley. It was country, bluegrass, blues and soul music, really… and it all fit together.
“I think when you do something straight up, those things bleed through in ways that really charge the music. It’s why I love Tommy and this band so much: they have such varied experiences, but they’re all guarded in the old school country. So they could make a record that was straight up country, but had the fire of those other elements.”
While he wears a Manuel suit like nobody else, has manners that would make his preacher daddy proud, writes with a dexterity that accommodates Donna the Buffalo, Dr. Ralph Stanley, Patty Lovelessand George Jones and sings like he’s sliding into one of those bespoke jackets, Jim Lauderdale is a relentlessly restless creative. If he’s not plotting the next record, he’s writing with someone by email or anchoring a festival, be it bluegrass, jam band, Americana or progressive country.
“When I was on a major label, I got grief that I was all over the place. Now I’m on my own, and it lets me do whatever I feel. That’s Americana – bluegrass, rock, soul and blues, and even something pure country like this.”