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Keep it real: A conversation with Jim Lauderdale

Jim Lauderdale. (Simon Simontacci photo) Jim Lauderdale. (Simon Simontacci photo)

A pillar of the Americana, country and bluegrass realms, legendary singer-songwriter Jim Lauderdale is one of the few artists who has been able to seamlessly drift between three distinct, sacred genres of music.

With his latest album, “Game Changer” (Sky Crunch Records), Lauderdale offers up a tongue-and-cheek reference to a term that gets thrown around carelessly and frivolously in the music industry. There is no formula or secret to success, where what it really comes down to is the old adage, “a good song is a good song is a good song.”

And that’s something Lauderdale has had in spades throughout his extensive career, which includes two Grammys, 34 full-length albums, and the Americana Music Association’s storied “Wagonmaster Award.”

In conversation, Lauderdale radiates a humbled tone, where one could surmise that he’s sincerely and genuinely happy to still be able to navigate the often-choppy waters of Nashville and beyond. 

For Jim Lauderdale, it’s always been about career longevity, to always seek and present authenticity, creative truths, and a hardscrabble work ethic, onstage and off — the true hallmarks of timeless music.

Smoky Mountain News: You’ve always been a workhorse, whether as a performer or in the studio. Where does that work ethic come from within you?

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Jim Lauderdale: Well, a couple of different things. My mom was a choir director and high school chorus teacher. And then, she had all these extracurricular activities. She was a girl scout leader, on all these committees, and did volunteer work. She was always doing something. 

And my dad had a church in Troutman, North Carolina, until I was five. After that, he had a job where he was the director of church extension for the Presbyterian church. He was overseeing new churches and sustaining churches that were out there. He traveled a lot. He was also in the Air Force Reserves and had to travel one weekend a month for that. So, I kind of got the traveling thing from him. 

SMN: And that work ethic plays into songwriting, where there’s a spark of inspiration and you write one melody in five minutes. But, at the same time, you have to put in the blood, sweat and tears of just sitting down and doing it.

JL: Yes, that’s right. You know, usually I have to work pretty hard on a song. Occasionally, those very effortless songs come through. Melodies usually are very effortless for me. Lyrically, I really have to do the serious work. 

SMN: The album title, “Game Changer,” is such a funny term. It gets tossed around a lot. And the artists that stand the test of time, they try to avoid that term.

JL: Right. Usually when I make a record, I think which one of these songs would be a good title. And I just felt like “Game Changer” would be good. You know, a lot of times when you’re doing stuff these days, there needs to be some kind of handle or moniker for your “whole thing,” your theme or whatever. But, there isn’t really one for this. I’m not going, “Okay now, for everything I’ve ever done, this one is the one that’s going to change everything for me.”

SMN: Playing devil’s advocate here, maybe if you had big success early on, you might not have ended up with the career longevity and artistic authenticity later on in life.

JL: Well, I think so. At the time, I felt really old because I was about 33 when the first record came out. And that was after the false start of a bluegrass record I did with Roland White not coming out when I was 22. On [my first] record, “Planet of Love” (1991), the ingredients were there. It really did have songs that could have been hits, but it just didn’t happen. 

So, that was really disappointing. But, I wasn’t ready. At times, I’ve thought back about it. Hearing [“Planet of Love”] recently, it’s like, “Gosh, that should have really taken off.” But, because of this, that and the other, it didn’t. Things gets really kind of complicated in that world of major [record] labels — why this happens, but that doesn’t happen [kind of thing].

Anyhow, I think if I would’ve had the success I was hoping for back then, I don’t know if I could have handled it, both personally and professionally. And I think with the ups and downs, the hard knocks and things after that, it really just kept making me want to do more. 

In some ways, I feel like I’m just going, just starting.

Want to go?

Acclaimed singer-songwriter Jim Lauderdale will be headlining the upcoming “Songwriters Camp” on Aug. 12-13 at the Smoky Mountain Heritage Center on the property of the Meadowlark Motel in Maggie Valley.

A two-day event of songwriting instruction with world-class musicians, a demo tape produced for each participant, a concert by the Songs From The Road Band on Friday night, and a barbecue dinner and all-star concert on Saturday night. This is a unique event. Space will be limited to ensure individual attention is given to all participants.

There will be a limited amount of tickets available for the concerts Friday and Saturday night. Concert admission is $30.

The price of the camp is $675 dollars per person, which includes all activities, the demo tape, both concerts, and Saturday’s dinner. Special room price packages are offered to include lodging for Friday and Saturday night as well as concerts and all other activities.

To reserve your spot or for more information, call 828.926.1717 or click on meadowlarkmotel.com.

Leave a comment

1 comment

  • Nice article Garret.....looks to be a talented and interesting person. Like his photo also.

    posted by Kathy Woodward

    Thursday, 08/11/2022

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