Jim Lauderdale: It’s true, This Changes Everything

by Amy Kenna

If it weren’t for 32 inches of rain in south Texas, multi-Grammy winning country artist Jim Lauderdale might have never recorded his 27th studio album, This Changes Everything.

But as fate would have it, flooded roads and cancelled tour dates allowed the longtime Americana champion to cut the steel-heavy, Lone Star State-influenced album in little more than a day.

“We’d been talking for years about doing a record in Austin, and I thought, here we are,” Lauderdale said. “So I dug back into my catalogue of unrecorded songs I had co-written with Texas songwriters.”

The celebratory title track was co-written by Texas hero Bruce Robison, and the album includes Lauderdale’s version of “We Really Shouldn’t be Doing This,” made famous by longtime friend George Strait.

Lauderdale has written 14 songs for George Strait over the years, and has penned hits for dozens of other artists as well, including the Dixie Chicks, Patty Loveless, Lee Ann Womack, Elvis Costello, Vince Gill and Blake Shelton.

From the barroom weeper “Drive” to the swing number “All the Rage in Paris,” the tracks on This Changes Everything would fit right at home in a Texas dance hall such as Gruene Hall or the Continental Club. Lauderdale said he had George Strait, Johnny Bush and Willie Nelson in mind when putting the album together.

When not recording and touring, Lauderdale co-hosts the annual Americana Music Awards in Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium, the original home of the Grand Old Opry. Last September, Lauderdale received the WagonMaster Lifetime Achievement Award from the AMA, presented by George Strait.

“It was surreal for me, I had to think twice to believe it was happening,” Lauderdale recalled. “Being a host, it was also hectic and busy. There were so many people I wanted to thank that I didn’t get a chance to.”

Despite his skill as a traditionalist, Lauderdale has a long history of defying genre restrictions and handily ventures into Bakersfield honkytonk, bluegrass, southern soul, jam bands and sophisticated countrypolitan. His longtime collaborators include Dr. Ralph Stanley, Buddy Miller and Donna the Buffalo.

“I like to push the envelope a bit stylistically, and get back to traditional country every three or four albums,” Lauderdale said. For traditional country, “I like to write songs that WSM or the Grand Old Opry band could play, carrying on a tradition of country from the 50s-70s.”

Lauderdale’s upcoming set at the Green Frog Acoustic Tavern will include songs from This Changes Everything as well as London Southern, which he recently cut in Europe with pub rock pioneer Nick Lowe’s band. (London Southern will be released June 30.)

When home in Nashville, Lauderdale co-hosts the weekly Americana variety show Music City Roots, which is broadcast live from The Factory in historic Franklin, TN each Wednesday night.

“It’s a rewarding experience just to be a part of the show. It exposes me to up-and-comers and veterans as well,” Lauderdale said.

Lauderdale also hosts “The Buddy & Jim Show” with Buddy Miller on SiriusXM Outlaw Country. His love of music radio began at age 13 in Due West, South Carolina, when he hosted a weekly show at the Erksine College radio station, WARP.

One of Lauderdale’s monumental achievements is the song “The King of Broken Hearts,” which was recorded by George Strait for the 1991 movie Pure Country. Lauderdale said the song was inspired by a story he read in a Gram Parsons biography while living in California.

“There was a story about Gram having a party and playing George Jones music, and he started crying and said, ‘That’s the king of broken hearts!’ When I read that, a melody started coming,” Lauderdale said.

Despite his many achievements, Lauderdale carries a sense of humility about his accomplishments and still considers himself a newcomer to the industry.

“I still feel like I’m a beginning artist or a new person out there, in the same boat as someone just starting out,” he said. “I remember the early days in Nashville, writing as if so much depends on it, writing songs that make a difference. The thrill of songwriting hasn’t lost its luster.”

In the competitive edge of today’s modern country, however, Lauderdale is comfortable with his niche.

“When I was trying to get a record deal, I felt competitive because I wasn’t taking off with number one hits like everyone else,” Lauderdale said. “As the years have gone by, I’m just glad to be in a place where I can appreciate other people’s music.”

As a preserver of the traditional sound of country, Lauderdale wonders if shows such as American Idol and The Voice haven’t dampened our culture’s ability to appreciate music in the moment.

“There’s a place for all that stuff I guess, but at the end of the day, music is there for the enjoyment of the listener,” Lauderdale said. “It isn’t competitive.”

Catch Jim Lauderdale on Tuesday, April 18 at the Green Frog. Doors open at 7 p.m. For more about his music, see www.jimlauderdale.com.