John Oates, legendary pop star of Hall & Oates fame and founder of March’s 7908 Aspen Songwriters Festival, recently collaborated with musical chameleon Jim Lauderdale. Considered one of the best studio musicians in the industry, Lauderdale’s new album, Carolina Moonrise, is a collaboration with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. Oates and Lauderdale will perform at this year’s 7908 festival.
JOHN OATES: You’ve worked with Elvis Costello, George Strait, Buddy Miller, North Mississippi Allstars, Robert Hunter of the Grateful Dead, and Gwyneth Paltrow—a broad spectrum of Americana music. What in your early influences enabled that?
JIM LAUDERDALE: Listening to a lot of music at a young age. My mother was a chorus teacher for high school, the choir director, and the piano teacher. My dad was a minister who had a very good singing voice. When the Beatles came along, that kicked things up a notch. There was this explosion of rock. I got interested in bluegrass, country music, and the blues when I was 14. All that ear training really helped.
JO: Were you heavily influenced by the British invasion, Motown, and other pop music of the ’60s?
JL: The ’60s was a great musical time for the world. We moved to a little town in South Carolina when I was 13, and right before we moved I saw my first concert, Led Zeppelin. My folks were very nice about letting me go to concerts in Charlotte. I got to see the Who, the Allman Brothers. A big rock concert was only $5.
JO: Did you start your career as a solo performer?
JL: I started playing the banjo in South Carolina and I played alone a lot, also playing blues harmonica and drums, but the banjo started taking over. It wasn’t until I left home at 16 and finished my last few years up at a North Carolina high school that I started to get to jam with other people acoustically. I had a duo and a trio at different times.
JO: You also spent time in New York?
JL: I was a messenger at Rolling Stone, working in the mail room. Oddly enough, there was a thriving country scene in New York and that’s where I met Buddy Miller. I eventually moved to California in ’86, to LA. Things started taking off for me, with my own country band, and I eventually got a record deal, finally!
JO: Do you enjoy the collaboration process with any cowriters in particular—someone who has the initials J.O., for instance?
JL: I’ve enjoyed writing very much with a guy whose initials are J.O. My cowrites with [you] are a prime example of how you can go from nothing to a song you really love within a space of a couple of hours.
JO: What are you currently working on?
JL: A bluegrass record that I wrote with Robert Hunter called Carolina Moonrise [just recently released]. As we speak, I’m about to go over to Buddy Miller’s studio to finish a duo project we’ve been talking about for 20-something years. And, another writing collaboration with Robert Hunter, recorded with North Mississippi Allstars bass player David Hood and piano player Spooner Oldham.
JO: What was your impression of your first 7908 Aspen Songwriters Festival?
JL: I really fell in love with Aspen. It’s breathtakingly gorgeous. I found the people really nice. I love the space at the [Wheeler] Opera House, and it was a great lineup. I haven’t been able to come the last two years due to scheduling, but one way or another, I’m going to be there!