Bobby Bare Joins Americana Stars Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale for Crazy Country Cocktail
On any given night in Nashville, the most densely populated musician center on the planet, you’re likely to find a wealth of musical variety. Typically, though, you won’t find it all taking place in one location.
On Thursday night (Feb. 25), the posh City Winery provided a Pu-Pu platter of praiseworthy proportion when Americana mainstays Jim Lauderdale and Buddy Miller took their SiriusXM Outlaw Country radio program, The Buddy & Jim Show, to the venue’s stage.
Fans of the show—or of either artist’s solo work—already know the breadth of their collective musical reach, and it’s just the tip of the iceberg known as Americana. The emergence and ongoing solidification of the Americana genre, a movement that stitched together the ragtag cadre of singer/songwriters who hug the far-left lanes of the country superhighway, was a necessary development, regardless of what one thinks of the individual smattering of hybrid styles it contains. It was necessary because music continues splintering into sub-styles and resisting simple commercial categorization, largely due to the high-speed exchange of musical styles on the Internet. But the pigeonhole-resistant nature of music is nothing new. That’s because the folks who create it have always been, well, creative, and for that we should be grateful, even if we don’t care for every dish on the table.
That said, there was some mighty good eatin’ to be had at the most recent Buddy & Jim Show taping, made momentous by the appearance of Country Music Hall of Famer Bobby Bare, whose considerable country credits—half a dozen Top 10 country albums and 33 country singles that reached No. 20 or higher—belie his surprisingly low-profile among country stars of his stature.
He began his set with “Detroit City”—a very early pop/country crossover hit that remains his best known song despite the fact it is one of his oldest—and wrapped it with 1974’s “Marie Laveau,” a hit single from his groundbreaking Lullabyes, Legends and Lies album, one of country’s first concept (as opposed to simply thematic) albums. Bobby Bare was, no doubt about it, one of the original outlaw types, back before there was a name for it.
This is one of several similarities between him and Johnny Cash, as is their shared penchant for blurring the boundaries between country, pop and folk (which, in the 1960s, was generally shied away from and feared by the country industry as being too political for country’s then-conservative listener base) and their influence on younger generations of country artists. Both Johnny Cash and Bobby Bare lost their Columbia record deals around the same time, after their sales and airplay began to decline—in tandem with their increasing reluctance to pander to commercial trends—as the 1980s dawned.
Bobby Bare isn’t quite as universal a name as Johnny Cash, but he seems to like it that way. He happily lived for 22 years out of the limelight, popping his head up only because his son Bobby Bare Jr. lured him out of retirement (and his preferred avocation of bass fishing) for the 2005 album The Moon Was Blue. His most recent album, the full-circle-encompassing 2012 release Darker Than Light, paired him for the first time with Buddy Miller and also featured contributions from son Bobby Jr. In an especially inspired bit of programming, the younger Bare also guested alongside his dad on this particular episode of The Buddy & Jim Show.
As the elder Bare took a seat with his son and the show’s hosts, the studio audience was treated to an excerpt of a mid-1970s TV appearance featuring father and son on the Grammy-winning 1974 single “Daddy, What If,” which paired the two generations on an uncharacteristically tender number from the elder Bare. The heartwarming clip prompted a recollection from Bobby, Jr. (who would have been around 8 at the time of the song’s success) that more than hinted at how that early experience drew him to a music career. “I would say it was like my dad was an astronaut, and one day he turned to me and said, ‘Hey, you wanna go to the moon? I have a song for you—jump in!’ Every kid wants to be like his dad . . . I still want to be.”
The same, in less personal and biological terms, could be said of the show’s hosts, who earlier in the evening gave testimony to the star’s imprint on them by performing Bare’s 1970 hit “How I Got to Memphis,” a song Buddy Miller says he’s been playing since the outset of his career, and a recent Jim Lauderdale/Bobby Bare co-write, “The Feeling’s Hanging On,” which Jim said he “jumped at the chance” to write with the country music elder.
Bobby Bare, Jr.’s segment of the show made it clear he’s pursued an idiosyncratic path. While neither his onstage demeanor or the sound of his music resemble those of his famed low-key father, it’s clear that the senior Bare’s longtime lack of concern for accommodating mainstream tastes during his lengthy career has rubbed off on Junior, whose output is marked by his knack for combining the strange stylistic bedfellows of hard rock and country with alternative/indie (whatever that really means) sensibilities.
His 2014 recording, Undefeated, has been heralded by critics for the artist’s ability “to cross all lines and maintain a cohesive sound that, most importantly, sounds like him and him alone” (Glide Magazine) and for “attaining maturity and classiness while retaining a rockin’ edge” (East Bay Express). To this first-time hearer, Bare Jr.’s sound seemed somehow both brash and warm, with ’70s-style electric piano and organ adding a rich, pleasing resonance against the startlingly distorted rumble of Bare’s amplified acoustic guitar. In 2015 Bare Jr. released Don’t Follow Me (I’m Lost), a soundtrack of live performance recordings from the 2012 documentary film that followed his life on the road as a touring musician.
If Bobby Bare Jr.’s offerings were the most arcane-sounding of the evening, his musical vocabulary proved no problem for blues guitarist and fellow guest Luther Dickinson to decipher while sitting in on Bobby Jr.’s explosive final number.
Such is the state of the musical language in the 21st century, ruled by personal digital playlists that can run the stylistic gamut and musicians whose knowledge of musical history is as sharp as—possibly sharper than—that of any previous generation.
Luther Dickinson, like Bobby Bare Jr., was raised around music. His father, acclaimed Memphis sideman, producer and roots-music-minded pioneer Jim Dickinson, would no doubt have exposed him to a wealth of sounds. Interestingly, Luther’s style of slide guitar playing hews closely to the sound of traditional blues, betraying only a relatively minor debt to its citified cousin, rock ’n’ roll.
Like many contemporary artists, Luther holds vintage music in high esteem. His just-released album Blues & Ballads, A Folksinger’s Songbook: Volumes I & II is audible proof of that. This is perhaps the key to incorporating vintage sounds into new work with artistic integrity without sounding like a dilettante. His set was a highlight of the evening, featuring guitar playing and vocalizing riveting in both their passion and execution.
Besides offering considerable entertainment value, the taping for the still-to-air episode clearly demonstrated the importance of legacies, both personal and universal. These legacies ensure the passing forward of musical threads, ultimately to be woven into new sounds that honor their forebears while building upon their contributions.
This, in a nutshell, is the story of popular music—something to keep in mind during the ongoing conversation about country music’s appropriation of elements formerly thought to be incompatible. The fact that it’s still happening so actively is reason to be enthusiastic about what remains to be heard.
A tip of the hat is owed to Jim Lauderdale and Buddy Miller for pulling together a production that keeps all the streams free to trickle in and out of one another at will. The Buddy & Jim Show reminds us why Nashville is known as Music City, USA.