Jim Lauderdale can’t say enough good things about Buddy Miller, and vice versa.
It seems like only yesterday – actually it was 1980 – when two struggling singer-songwriters first met at a country music club in New York City. Today, both remain uncompromising and fiercely independent but also commercially accessible with their own albums – Lauderdale’s second Atlantic LP, “Every Second Counts,” was released Sept. 5, and Miller’s HighTone debut, “Your Love and Other Lies,” was issued earlier this summer.
“I used to go see Buddy play at a club called City Limits,” Lauderdale said recently. “I was kind of struggling and Buddy was kind enough every time I’d come to hear him. He’d always say, ‘You want to come up and sing a couple?’ To me, that meant a lot.”
Miller said he felt an immediate kinship with Lauderdale.
“He had deep roots in bluegrass and the blues, and both still come across in his singing and writing,” he said.
While Miller carved his own niche on the club circuit in San Francisco, Austin, Los Angeles and eventually Nashville, Lauderdale finally came into his own with his Rodney Crowell-produced debut album “Planet of Love” (on Reprise) in 1991. By then, he was establishing himself as a go-to songwriter for other artists. George Strait and Mary Chapin Carpenter, among others, have recorded his songs.
Through it all, Lauderdale never forgot Miller’s friendship. They maintained a writing partnership and Miller has contributed vocals and guitar work on Lauderdale’s albums.
“Playing guitar with Jim over the last seven years has been a real treat,” Miller said. “He allows a considerable amount of creative freedom but at the same time knowing very specifically what he wants to communicate to an audience.
“He is the nicest guy to work and travel with and has been a real creative inspiration and has helped me with my own music.”
No one is more proud of Miller’s accomplishments than Lauderdale. Miller’s long-overdue debut album is as unpretentious and genuine as you will find in the blossoming Americana genre. Recorded mostly in his Nashville living room, Miller’s “Your Love and Other Lies” features such guests as Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams, Dan Penn, Miller’s wife Julie, and of course, Lauderdale.
“They broke the mold with him,” Lauderdale said of Miller. “First off, more importantly as a human being, he’s so generous, sweet and kind, gracious and everything. And then as a musician, he’s a monster as a singer.
“I’m so proud of him right now because people don’t realize what a great singer he is. When he’s touring with me, they hear a lot of great harmony singing from him, but he’s also a great guitar player.”
Lauderdale’s “Every Second Counts” could well be the one that takes him from just being a critics’ choice to well-deserved mainstream success. A recent stint opening for Hootie & The Blowfish sure didn’t hurt matters.
“That was great,” Lauderdale said. “I really enjoyed that. I got to use a whole band. Donald (Lindley) played with me on drums. I got a couple of guys from Radney Foster’s band. It was great to play in a packed room, packed to the walls. Their crowd was really receptive to me.
“Hootie, those guys actually love country. Darius (Rucker) was telling me that one of his favorite artists was Nanci Griffith, which I thought was real interesting.”
Miller looks back on his 15-year alliance with Lauderdale with nothing but fond memories.
“He’s always thinking about songs and always has a little cassette recorder with him, singing stuff into it all times of day or night,” he said. “He works real hard on his music, but he’s not as concerned about making ‘hits’ as he is with just making great music … which is real refreshing in this business.”
All the hard work has been worth it, Lauderdale said.
“Who knows what will happen with this record,” he said. “This is a building process, then along the way you discover what’s really important anyway.
“It’s not how many records you sell, it’s ‘Are you happy with it and what did you learn from it?’
“I’m very happy and I’ve learned quite a deal.”