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Music

Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale team up at last

Jim Lauderdale (left) and Buddy Miller became friends while playing country music in New York in the early 1980s.

Paul Moore

Jim Lauderdale (left) and Buddy Miller became friends while playing country music in New York in the early 1980s.

It took Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale almost 20 years to get around to making a record together, and once they finally did, it took them three days. The pair, each a leading light in the burgeoning Americana genre, released that record, “Buddy and Jim,” late last year. They’ll be playing one of the few dates they’re doing together this summer on Sunday at the Green River Festival in Greenfield.

The two have been friends and musical collaborators for almost the entirety of their careers — 33 years, reckons Lauderdale in a recent phone conversation that took place as he made his way from his Nashville home to the Grand Ole Opry, where he was scheduled to play that evening.

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The friendship began when both were part of the country music scene in New York in the early 1980s. “I was doing my own gigs and had a band, and he and Julie [Miller, Buddy’s wife] had their band,” he explains. “I would go hear him any night that he was playing and I wasn’t, and he would very graciously let me sit in with him. We realized then that we had a lot of the same influences and favorites.”

BUDDY MILLER, JIM LAUDERDALE

Green River Festival, Greenfield 413-773-5463. http://www.greenriver festival.com

Date of concert:
July 21 (festival runs July 20-21)
Ticket price:
$75/day

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The relationship that began in honky-tonks and pickup gigs endured, and it was facilitated over the years by the fact that the two spent significant amounts of time in the same locales — in the Los Angeles area after New York, and then in Nashville, where the pair currently do a satellite radio show and tag-team on the annual Americana Music Awards, with Miller leading the house band and Lauderdale serving as host.

As it happens, Jim Olsen, the man responsible as the festival’s talent buyer and music supervisor for bringing the pair to the area this weekend, had his first contact with Lauderdale and Miller when they were working together. “Jim did a guest spot on my radio show in 1993, and he brought along his friend Buddy to play guitar and harmonize,” Olsen says. He was struck by their musical bond: “They had such strong chemistry both musically and vocally that it felt like they’d been singing together for years.”

‘We know each other so well, from such a long time ago. Because of our common influences, it just made it easy. Buddy is probably the closest person to a brother out there that I have.’

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At some point, Miller and Lauderdale began to talk about making a record together. So why did it take so long to do it? It was simply a matter of finding time in both their schedules, Lauderdale says. It’s not hard to see why that might have been a problem; in the course of our conversation, he mentions an exhausting list of projects he’s working to finish up or has in the can, including collaborations involving the likes of the North Mississippi Allstars, Spooner Oldham, and James Burton.

When the record finally happened, it happened quickly. The two were both off the road, and there weren’t any huge conflicts in the way. “We started it around the end of August [2012] and just did it in a few days,” says Lauderdale. “But now that I think of it, that little window of the three days we recorded it and the few days that he mixed it, I guess that was the only time that we had. But at least we had that.”

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The album was conceived as a duet record. Miller originally wanted it to be a tribute of sorts — a cover record of songs by the 1950s country singing duo Johnnie & Jack — but Lauderdale wanted to include some original songs. “I thought,” Lauderdale continues, “and Buddy agreed, that it would be neat to do this mixture, as far as duo singing, of Johnnie & Jack, the Louvin Brothers, the Everly Brothers, and Sam and Dave, and have it run a pretty wide gamut, but still be not too diverse stylistically.” That’s where it ended up, as a country-soul mix of sorts, with several covers (Joe Tex, the Mississippi Sheiks, Jimmy McCracklin, and, of course, Johnnie & Jack) as well as originals specifically written (and written quickly) for the project.

For Lauderdale, this is only the latest in a series of musical collaborations, following records with Ralph Stanley, Robert Hunter, and Donna the Buffalo. When asked how this project differs, he returns to the history he shares with Miller.

“We know each other so well, from such a long time ago,” he says. “Because of our common influences, it just made it easy. Buddy is probably the closest person to a brother out there that I have, so in some ways that makes the brother harmony and thought process work out.”

And while he’s not sure when it will happen, Lauderdale is betting that the first Buddy and Jim record won’t be the last.

Stuart Munro can be reached at sjmunro@verizon.net.

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