Country talk with Jim Lauderdale

Country music’s behind-the-scenes man reflects on the endangered state of honky tonk. Lauderdale will appear at the State Fair later this month.


Photo courtesy Jim Lauderdale

The eclectic strummer will perform at the Minnesota State Fair this year.

by Mark Brenden

In the Internet-sustained chaos of our times, one of the great relics that has been lost is the uniquely American art form of country music. Instead of the pride of ol’ glory that it once was, it is now an oft-scoffed pejorative, pigeon-holed into the “I’ll listen to anything but country” conversational chestnut. Rather than mendin’ broken hearts like it was meant to, it gets scorned on Facebook music preferences. Toby Keith put a boot in its ass; Tim McGraw liked it and loved it to death; and in turn names like Waylon and Merle got lost on the iGeneration. Thank god for people like Jim Lauderdale, a veteran of the Nashville scene whoâÄôs been a longtime collaborator with such revered titans as (among others) George Jones , Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson and Elvis Costello. Lauderdale takes his country/Americana/bluegrass amalgam to MinnesotaâÄôs State Fair later this month, toting a true sense of country music in his gee-tar case. âÄúWhen I think of country music I still think of George Jones, Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn , Emmylou Harris,âÄù Lauderdale said. âÄú âĦ And think thatâÄôs still what country music is.âÄù With seemingly every worthwhile artist a few bottles past his or her prime, the genre is entering âÄúendangeredâÄù status. As we know, when a language dies not only is the language lost, but a unique way of thinking about the world goes with it. In a way, we are not losing country music, it is losing us. Lauderdale, however, believes in the hardiness of the craft. âÄúI donâÄôt think it will [die]. ItâÄôll keep having revivals,âÄù Lauderdale said. âÄú âĦ ItâÄôll keep evolving or changing as a genre. But it wonâÄôt die.âÄù Aiding Lauderdale with the preservation effort is adept lyric scribe Robert Hunter, best known for his work with the Grateful Dead . Hunter and Lauderdale just released their second collaboration, âÄúPatchwork River,âÄù with the latter laying down melodies and the former filling in words. Lauderdale said HunterâÄôs Grateful Dead roots are still alive, and that they thrive well under his genre, which requires hardy storytelling and pastoral witticisms. âÄú[HunterâÄôs] roots are deep, I tell you. His range is so broad,âÄù Lauderdale said. âÄúHeâÄôs just such a totally realized artist. ItâÄôs perfect, what he does for country and bluegrass.âÄù As for the future, Lauderdale said he plans to continue recording, continue collaborating and never veer from the olâÄô dusty road of country music. âÄúI donâÄôt think [IâÄôll ever retire]. Some of my heroes like [George] Jones, heâÄôs still touring, Willie Nelson, too. T-Bone Burnett , those guys,âÄù he said. âÄúI hope to keep singinâÄô when IâÄôm old.âÄù