The more astute AUK reader may know what we’re a Liverpool based website, a city which doesn’t come up too often in americana circles so it’s nice when it does. RS Country report this morning: “Jim Lauderdale may have started playing country music and bluegrass when he was 15, but he first became an instant and early fan of rock & roll when he saw the Beatles perform on Ed Sullivan in 1964. Since then, he’s crafted a career that transcends genres. He’s done traditional country, old-school R&B and became a paragon of the Americana movement. Now, on his new album London Southern, Lauderdale revisits his fascination with the Fab Four, channeling the spirit of the Liverpool-era Beatles and paying fitting homage to the country- and soul-centric American acts that influenced the young rock band.
“I was in the first grade when they came on Ed Sullivan,” says Lauderdale, recalling his favorite songs at the time before the Beatles’ debut. “One was ‘Can’t Get Used to Losing You,’ by Andy Williams, and the other was ‘Cotton Fields.’ There was something about those two songs, when I was in kindergarten, pre-Beatles, that I really loved. Then radio exploded when the Beatles came out and turned things around.”
For London Southern, the singer-songwriter’s 29th album, Lauderdale worked with the late Neil Brockbank, Nick Lowe’s longtime producer, and Lowe’s touring band, recording the LP in two trips to London’s Goldtop Studio. But it wasn’t a recent project: the prolific artist cut the album four years ago and couldn’t find time to release it. “One of the problems I created for myself was I could put out two records a year, or two in a day or whatever, and it’s really hard for the business part of things,” he says. “It’s hard to get those properly marketed and sold. I think I released seven records [between recording and releasing] London Southern.”
Lauderdale spoke with Rolling Stone Country about the wide-ranging inspirations for the album, what it was like collaborating with writers John Oates and Odie Blackmon, and how magical the streets of Liverpool remain, decades after the Beatles first played the Cavern Club.
The Beatles were influenced by R&B and, of course, country. How did your own musical experience dovetail with theirs?
Their influence is Carl Perkins and Buck Owens, and then American rock, R&B, soul and country. It seemed familiar to me when I heard it because I had heard traces of it with the Beatles and their covers like “Act Naturally,” “Matchbox” and “Roll Over, Beethoven.” I first started playing drums when I was 10 in the school band. I’d play along with Paul Revere and the Raiders, the Beatles, or whoever, just on a snare drum, for hours. The Beatles were just so important to me. It was like magic. Melodically, they created something so different, with their influences of American music mixed with British dancehall-type songs that they heard, skiffle and everything like that, which was an influence on their music. [There was] this kind of bouncing back and forth from America to England, and England to America, with both sides absorbing the influences from one another and taking it somewhere else.
The song “If I Can’t Resist,” with its moody vibe and “bésame,bésame” refrain, sounds like something the Beatles would have gravitated toward.
I wrote that with John Oates. We really clicked as people and became friends. For an artist with as much success as he’s had, he’s probably more hungry than most guys that are on their way up. He’s constantly writing, making his own records, and he just really has an unquenchable thirst for music. It’s really inspiring for me to be around him. I think, subconsciously, hearing the Beatles’ influence on that song, on that bridge, that that definitely came from my knowing I was going to go [to London] and record. I loved playing with those guys that are on the record because we really had a lot of the same influences. And it was kind of a romantic thing to me to go there and record in the home of where so many sounds that I loved came from.
What did the experience of recording in London bring to the album?
It is so different environmentally over there, just the atmosphere, the sounds, the city of London itself. When I’ve traveled to other countries and some of the people that I meet that are musicians or just the audience, I’m really amazed at the knowledge they have about the musicians’ records, the writers and things like that. I know that for all of the musicians that I met from England, they really have a great appreciation for what we have and sometimes take for granted.
When did you make your first trip to Liverpool?
It was right before I started the record. That was my very first time and I played at a club. It was a downstairs-type situation. After the show I just walked around a lot and it was pretty late. I saw a plaque where the original Cavern Club was. They kind of replicated it and had a band playing Beatles songs in there. I had a ways to travel the next day, so I didn’t get to look around too much. I just kind of walked around as much as I could in a short bit of time and tried to soak in the vibe. This is where the Beatles walked – they walked down this street!
You mentioned John Oates still having a hunger for songwriting. What about you?
I was in my early thirties before my first record ever came out, so since I’ve been a teenager, that has been a goal of mine, to get a record deal. I didn’t really realize how difficult it was going to be once you [were signed], because then there’s sustaining those deals and having success with radio and touring and things like that. I still feel as though I’m in a growing process as far as my audience. Musically, I just feel real passionately about writing an album’s worth of material and getting it out there and doing it and then going and doing it again and again. I’m constantly thinking in those terms, and it helps me to write. The songs just come out anyway, and they don’t necessarily have to fit some kind of a thing I’m working on. I’ll just put ’em away until later and use them when it’s time.
You’ve written for George Strait, Patty Loveless and the DixieChicks, among so many others, but we don’t see your name in mainstream country credits as much lately. Have you continued to actively pitch songs to country acts?
I haven’t been doing that. I probably should, but I’ve just been preoccupied. I’m not opposed to it at all. I think my publisher sure would be glad for me to turn in some stuff. I feel like I’ve got a big catalog of old potential things, but… I don’t know, maybe my style of country is not what’s going on for people recording. But I think it’s coming back around, so I hope so.
In terms of the Americana scene, who’s out there now that you’re really excited about?
I come across so many. I hear so many great things working with Buddy Miller on the radio show [for SiriusXM]. Buddy’s one of my best friends, I love him. The Americana format is just packed to the gills with great music. Most radio formats there will be a Top 40 or Top 20. In Americana, it’s got to be over a hundred things at any given time, and there’s not enough time on the airwaves. [Like pop music] Americana can almost have, like, four different charts just to accommodate all the great stuff out there. There’s more than can be absorbed. It’s a good problem. It’s just growing.
London Southern was recorded four years ago. What else do you have in the archives?
When I first came to Nashville back in 1979, I stayed for five months. My goals were to hang out and sing with George Jones and [bluegrass great] Roland White. I didn’t get to do it with George, but Roland and I became friends. During my last few weeks there, we recorded a duo record. I couldn’t get a deal for it. I wasn’t on the bluegrass circuit and was unknown. I was discouraged about it, and then we could not find the masters – but a few months ago, Roland let me know he had found a tape. That might be the next record.”
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