The Americana legend performs at Fogartyville on Friday
When Jim Lauderdale came to Nashville as a young man in 1979, he had two goals: meet country singer George Jones and bluegrass mandolin master Roland White.
While the Possum proved elusive, Lauderdale did get to meet and make music with White, who was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Association Hall of Fame in 2017.
“It more than made up for it to get to make music with Roland,” Lauderdale, 61, said in a recent phone interview.
The two collaborated on a bluegrass project that was recorded in the basement of banjo player Earl Scruggs’ home. Great pickers like Marty Stuart, who played lead guitar, collaborated on the album. But Lauderdale was unable to get a record label to pick up the project since he was not a regular on the bluegrass circuit at the time.
A discouraged Lauderdale put the project aside, hoping to get a label to pick it up later, only to misplace the master recordings. When White was sitting in with Lauderdale at the Station Inn in Nashville last year, he shared a revelation.
“As he was leaving the stage he said, ‘Oh, by the way, my wife found the tape at the bottom of a box with our name on it.’ “
The independent label Yep Roc released two of Lauderdale’s albums in one day earlier this summer: one was the Roland White bluegrass project and the other was a progressive Americana album called “Time Flies.” The title track, co-written with Texas songwriter Mando Saenz, is a haunting Southern rock ballad that reflects on the full-circle moment in Lauderdale’s life and career.
“This is where I was on that first record, and that’s where I was at the time,” Lauderdale said. “And now fast forward almost 40 years and this is where I am now.”
While his bluegrass career bloomed later in life, Lauderdale made his mark as a prolific songwriter. He has penned hits for the likes of Patty Loveless, George Jones, Mark Chesnutt and the Dixie Chicks. And he’s written over 100 songs with Robert Hunter, who wrote the lyrics to numerous Grateful Dead classics.
In 2016, George Strait presented Lauderdale with the Americana Music Association’s Wagonmaster lifetime achievement award at the Ryman Auditorium.
“I know him mostly as a songwriter; a really, really, really good hit songwriter, and I've been very fortunate to cut a lot of his songs over the years," Strait said at the AMA awards show.
It was Strait who gave Lauderdale his first big break, recording two of his songs on the “Pure Country” movie soundtrack. “The King of Broken Hearts” became a classic and launched his prolific songwriting career.
“That really opened the door for me as a songwriter and that really enabled me to make a living,” Lauderdale said of Strait, who has recorded 15 of his songs. “I’m glad it’s something I enjoy and I feel like in some ways even after all these years, I feel like I’m getting better and better at it.”
Lauderdale is a two-time Grammy winner for the “Bluegrass Diaries” in 2008, and “Lost in the Lonesome Pines,” recorded in 2003 with Ralph Stanley. He cites Stanley as a major influence, saying he once tried to play banjo and sing like the Virginia mountain music legend.
“I got to perform a lot with Ralph Stanley,” Lauderdale said. “He was a really wonderful guy and had a great sense of humor. He was just a really kind person. His voice, there’s nobody like him. He was one of a kind.”
Lauderdale returns to Fogartyville in Sarasota on Friday night. He said he enjoys the venue and is looking forward to playing new and old tunes in a solo show.
“I will be doing several songs off of ‘Time Flies,’ and a few new ones that I’m just now starting to perform. And so it’ll be kind of a mixture of bluegrass, country, soul rock, just little bits of things I do.”
Vicki Dean is a freelance writer based in Venice.