He's been called a bridge between country's past and its future. The New York Daily News dubbed him the "not-so-missing link between soul and country." Spin proclaimed him "the most gifted voice in alternative country." With accolades like that you'd think Jim Lauderdale would be all over the radio. Well, he is - and he isn't. Though his own records - 10 of them now - get airplay mostly on the growing genre of Americana radio, his songs can be heard on country stations via artists including Vince Gill, Mark Chesnutt, Gary Allan, Kathy Mattea, Dixie Chicks, John Mayall and George Strait, who alone has cut a dozen Lauderdale tunes, including "We Really Shouldn't Be Doing This" and "What Do You Say To That." "You Don't Seem To Miss Me," recorded by Patty Loveless and George Jones, took 1998's CMA Vocal Event prize.
Lauderdale's popularity as a songwriter no doubt has to do with a unique lyrical or melodic twist that unfailingly manifests from his pen and guitar. "Melodies, which are the first thing for me," says the five-time BMI Award winner, "just kind of . . . come out." But becoming a journeyman songwriter doesn't happen by divine inspiration alone. When he got his publishing deal 12 years ago, he approached songwriting as a job. He admits with unaffected honesty, "I made writing a real priority, to the sacrifice of some other things in life."
The North Carolina native grew up on the strains of bluegrass and country, along with soul and pop and blues and beach music. Bluegrass was his first love, however, and after college at the North Carolina School of the Arts, Lauderdale moved to Nashville in 1979 to pursue a bluegrass recording contract. When that didn't materialize, he headed off to New York where he performed in country stage musicals like Pump Boys and Dinettes, and then to L.A. where he perfectly fell into the burgeoning insurgent country scene. Though Lauderdale is a fully contemporary and unique product of all his influences, he never strays too far from his roots. It's little wonder then that the Best Bluegrass Album Grammy nomination for his 1999 collaboration with hero Ralph Stanley, I Feel Like Singing Today, was a gratifying nod of acceptance.
Lauderdale's love for traditional sounds is evident on the stone country The Other Sessions (Dualtone Nashville). The electric and steel twang of "Just To Get To You," the clever wordplay of "What's On My Mind" and the heart-wrenching ballad "You'll Know When It's Right" are all chock full of Lauderdale's typically rich imagery wrapped in inventive melodies. And like his vocal mentors, Otis Redding, Jones and Stanley, Lauderdale's soulful voice comes from somewhere so deep it's an inextricable part of the package.
Seemingly indefatigable, Lauderdale has four additional projects currently cooking: an acoustic/electric eclectic mix, another record with Ralph Stanley, a solo bluegrass album, and an album co-written with famed Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter.