On the Edge: Jim Lauderdale and Buddy Miller

“Listening to Merle Haggard was as important to me as psychedelic music,” says Buddy. “I wasn’t the weird kid doing that, though. A lot of folks liked a lot of different kinds of music until it all got separated out.”
photo by Michael Wilson/New West Records

The music of Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale may be shelved under Americana, but its true roots are in traditional country.

Buddy, most recently known for his work with Robert Plant, Richard Thompson and the Carolina Chocolate Drops, and Jim, whose collaborators range from jam-band stalwarts Donna the Buffalo to Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, credit much of their musical prowess to their lifelong exploration of classic country.

The songs on their recently released album, Buddy and Jim, back up that claim. Even the originals—“I Lost My Job of Loving You,” “That’s Not Even Why I Love You” and “All My Tears”—slip seamlessly into a set list that includes George Jones’ “The Race Is On” and other tunes made famous by the pioneers that built the great country music nation.

Those lucky enough to catch the duo’s tour in support of the album were treated to personal reflections about how the music of George, Porter Wagoner and Kitty Wells caught their attention as kids and still resonates with them as they create their own music.

And the stories . . . well, it seems that Buddy and Jim are just letting the audience members eavesdrop as they continue a conversation they started in the ’70s, when they made music with mutual friends Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell.

Looking back, it seems only natural that Buddy and Jim would make an album together. The two had always promised they would, but as the years moved along and schedules became increasingly filled, the time was never right. Then, suddenly, time opened up. After some talk about what songs to record, which wasn’t difficult with Buddy married to songwriting ace Julie Miller, the guys started the process.

After three days in Buddy’s much-lauded home studio, plus two days of mixing, Buddy and Jim’s album was born.

“Jim and I have that in common,” says Buddy of their shared passion for country. “When we were growing up, I know we both developed a love for classic country music. Listening to Merle Haggard was as important to me as psychedelic music. I wasn’t the weird kid doing that, though. A lot of folks liked a lot of different kinds of music until it all got separated out.”

That appreciation for the format rang true the night the duo and their band arrived for a show in Alexandria, Va., just outside of Washington, D.C. After a sushi dinner, the group settled down near the stage for a little pre-show karaoke. Prodded by their dinner companions, members of the “Buddy and Jim Band,” Jim himself took the stage, singing George Strait’s “Don’t Make Me Come Over There and Love You,” which one audience member mistakenly assumed was written by George.

It was the fellow onstage, however, who wrote the song, as well as dozens of other hits by George, Patty Loveless, Vince Gill and other Nashville royalty.

“Buddy and I have both played our lion’s share of honky-tonks in our careers, so [karaoke] seems pretty natural,” says Jim with a laugh. “I still get a little nervous, though, whenever I play a show.”

Not that you can tell. After sharing stages with everyone from Willie Nelson to Elvis Costello, performing seems to come as easily as breathing to both men.

“Today’s country is also very influenced by contemporary music of all genres,” Buddy says of the sounds coming out of country radio. “Today’s generation is discovering music 10 years and farther back. They’re discovering the classic rock that we grew up with.”

But both Buddy and Jim said they see classic country resurging and growing stronger as time moves along.

“Today’s country artists have an appreciation for classic country as well. That is why I am encouraged when I meet contemporary country artists,” says Buddy. “It’s going to keep growing and expanding and progressing and evolving and I am heartened whenever I hear the steel guitar and fiddle in country music recorded today.”

Pick up the album Buddy and Jim as a download on iTunes and as a download or CD at Amazon. Keep up with Buddy Miller at BuddyMiller.com and Jim Lauderdale at JimLauderdale.com.

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