“Sometimes it’s hard for me to stay under the radar. I don’t know how I do it,” Lauderdale said recently via telephone from Nashville. “I’m just real philosophical about that. I’m just happy for what comes my way, just glad when it happens. In a lot of different ways every album’s kind of different and I’ll probably keep bein’ that way.”
For Lauderdale’s fans, keeping it different has always been the attraction. His songs feature unexpected melodic twists and smart, accessible lyrics. As those who attend his show this Thursday at Ashland Coffee and Tea will find, his performing style and gently rolling baritone are warm and welcoming. He’s a country singer with some snazzy duds, minus Nashville’s corporate trappings.
That’s not to say that Lauderdale was ever averse to a place in the recording industry. He started writing songs as a North Carolina School of the Arts student in the mid-’70s, and as a confident sophomore he cut a three-song demo.
“I figured by summer I would have a record deal,” he says. “It didn’t quite happen that way.”
After college during the ’80s, Lauderdale roamed from Nashville to New York City to Los Angeles. He continued honing his original writing and performing styles, while working with other up-and-comers such as Lucinda Williams, Dwight Yoakam, Shawn Colvin and Buddy Miller. Eventually returning to Nashville, Lauderdale knocked on doors until he secured a publishing deal in 1989.
George Strait caught wind of Lauderdale’s way with a melody and cut two of his songs for a movie soundtrack in 1992. Nashville publishing circles noticed and new doors opened. The ensuing years have brought the best of the best and the lowest of the low. But Lauderdale remains philosophical. It’s the nature of the game he plays with stubborn resolve every day.
“It’s been very discouraging along the way. In this business, it’s always discouraging. You just really cherish the high points when they happen.”S
Jim Lauderdale performs at Ashland Coffee and Tea, 100 N. Railroad Ave., Thursday, Jan. 22, 8 p.m. Tickets $15 in advance through www.ashlandcoffeeandtea.com. Call 798-1702 for more information.