On the evening of February 9, 1964, 73 million Americans raced to the nearest TV sets to witness history — the Beatles live from New York on the Ed Sullivan Show.
A six-year-old Jim Lauderdale was one of them.
That night, earsplitting screams from the predominantly female audience broke out throughout the Ed Sullivan Theater as George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr kicked into their first song, “All My Loving.” Before the hour-long program ended, the Fab Four had entertained with “She Loves You,” “I Saw Her Standing There” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”
At the time, some criticized their sound (and their mop top hair), but Lauderdale remembers the start of Beatlemania in America as being a pivotal moment in history that unified the world. It definitely made a lasting impression on the young artist, and looking back, he agrees big bangs in music like the Beatles’ first Sullivan appearance will likely never happen again.
“It was just so magical that it really was a whole different thing,” Lauderdale said over the phone for our CMT.com interview. “As much as traditional country by George Jones, Merle Haggard and bluegrass music has been such a big part of my sound, when I saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, that really influenced me so heavily and the whole way of listening to music in my mind. They were a big part of my roots, which also led me to appreciating other artists.”
Being raised by a mother who worked as a teacher and choir director, music has always been part of Lauderdale’s life. But it was the Beatles that ignited a deeper musical curiosity in the rising musician.
His latest album, London Southern, is made up of 12 new originals that invoke the early American R&B, rock ‘n’ roll and country that shaped the Beatles’ first albums before psychedelia started creeping into the band’s sound.
“This record is the shared influences that we have,” Lauderdale explained, “and that is people like the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Elvis, Chuck Berry, Arthur Alexander and Buck Owens. Since I have the same influences and the Beatles influenced me, I just thought it would be a really interesting to write music that could fit in with that mix.”
Hitmaker Odie Blackmon co-wrote the soulful “We’ve Only Got So Much Time.” The jazzy, John Oates-co-written “If I Can’t Resist” has sonic similarities to the Beatles’ “And I Love Her.” Horns accent the Kendell Marvel-co-written song “I Can’t Do Without You,” while Dan Penn co-wrote “What Have You Got to Lose” and “Don’t Shut Me Down.”
Tracked a few years back in Balham, a southern neighborhood in London, the new collection marked Lauderdale’s first time recording in England’s capital with Nick Lowe’s respective engineer and drummer, Neil Brockbank and Robert Trehern. Lauderdale first connected with Brockbank and Trehern when Lowe toured the U.S. with Wilco in 2011.
“I had seen Nick, who is one of my favorites,” Lauderdale said. “Tragically both Neil and Robert had passed away since the record was recorded. Neil just died about a month ago. And I was so sad about that. They had both been with Nick for a long time, and they were a big part of his sound in the studio. So I had been such a fan of Nick’s, and I just thought it would be neat to go over there and record.”
As one of the most prolific music makers, Lauderdale is a two-time Grammy winner and Americana Music Association lifetime achievement honoree who has written more than 1,000 songs. Having worked some of the world’s most popular acts including Ralph Stanley, George Strait, Lee Ann Womack and many others, he says his creative process has remained consistent throughout his career. Most of the time, music comes to him first before the lyrics.
“Sometimes I will record full songs with all the instruments, and I don’t fill the lyrics in until later,” he revealed. “Sometimes I hear different guitar parts or horn parts, and I’ll know the general mood or tone I want a song to have. That’s helpful, but sometimes the lyric ideas do come simultaneously. Sometimes a title will just come to me and then the music starts coming from that title.”
So, how does he know when he’s onto a good story in a song?
“You have this sense,” he said. “I guess one thing that I try to keep in mind, is most things have been said already, so I challenge myself to either say it in a different way or with a different kind of slant so that it’s not too repetitious for people.”
Lauderdale will start a two-week tour of Ireland, the UK and the Netherlands on Friday (July 14) in Cork, Ireland.