- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 28, 2002

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Simultaneous release of two albums is a marketing gimmick generally reserved for performers such as Guns N' Roses and Bruce Springsteen.

Country music journeyman Jim Lauderdale has joined the club with the release of "The Hummingbirds" and "Lost in the Lonesome Pines," a collaboration with Dr. Ralph Stanley & His Clinch Mountain Boys.

Mr. Lauderdale tried to persuade Dualtone to release a third album of tunes he has written with Robert Hunter, lyricist for many Grateful Dead songs "but they wouldn't go for that," he says with a laugh.

"I have got 40 songs I wrote with Robert Hunter, which is old-timey-sounding stuff," he says. "Then I've got half a record written for an album with Donna the Buffalo, which is a kind of Cajun country jam band. "And I've been meaning to do a solo bluegrass record, and Buddy Miller and I have been talking about a duet album."

Mr. Lauderdale, 45, was born in Troutman, N.C. He wanted to be the next Ralph Stanley or Earl Scruggs on banjo. His family moved to Due West, S.C., when he was 13, and he started playing the banjo and working as a disc jockey at a college radio station.

"My show was very eclectic," he says. "I'd play bluegrass and follow it with country, Frank Zappa, the Allman Brothers and John McLaughlin."

He was a theater major at the North Carolina School of the Arts "but I really wanted to do music." After college, he moved to Nashville and cut an album.

"I couldn't get a record deal for it because I was an unknown," Mr. Lauderdale says. "That was my first taste of music biz rejection, or just obstacles the first of many times."

Deciding he didn't have the chops to be an innovative banjo player, he began performing in stage musicals such as "Pump Boys and Dinettes" while writing songs on the side.

"I thought I was going to be discovered in one of these shows and offered a record deal," he says. "That's not the way it works."

In the early 1990s, Mr. Lauderdale again tried to make it in mainstream country music, but he had some bad business breaks, and radio programmers were indifferent. Then George Strait recorded "Where the Sidewalk Ends" and "The King of Broken Hearts" from his 1991 album "Planet of Love."

"All of a sudden, I became accepted as a songwriter. That kicked open a lot of doors," says Mr. Lauderdale, whose songs have been recorded by Patty Loveless, Kathy Mattea, Mark Chesnutt, the Dixie Chicks, Vince Gill and Gary Allan.

He has continued to record his own albums, which range from hard-core bluegrass to honky-tonk to more experimental to mainstream.

"I'm kind of in the place where I can follow my own agenda of putting out records and projects," he says. "I know eventually that all my songs will be released, even if it's just me doing them."

Last year, he played George Jones in the musical "Stand by Your Man: The Tammy Wynette Story." Critics said he nearly stole the show. "I turned it down a few times," he says. "Then I realized how great it would be to work in the Ryman Auditorium [in Nashville], which is so rich with history."

He parlayed the job into a series of appearances on the Grand Ole Opry radio show, a songwriting partnership with Harlan Howard (who died earlier this year) and an invitation to dine with Mr. Jones and his wife.

"Just to sit next to George Jones, it was kind of like sitting next to the Beatles and Elvis and Hank (Williams) Sr. all of these idols of mine rolled into one person."


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