Like many things in Jim Lauderdale’s life, it started with a song: “When Carolina Comes Home Again.” Next thing he knew, he was recording an album in North Carolina backed by musicians from his home state.
“When I found out it was the Year of Music in North Carolina, I thought, ‘Hey this would be a good song for that,’” Lauderdale said from his home in Nashville. “And I thought, ‘Well, while I’m at it, I might as well do a whole album.’”
Fans will have to wait till next spring to hear the entire record, but the title track is already streaming on Spotify and other platforms. Triad fans can hear Lauderdale in person Friday night, when he returns to Muddy Creek Cafe and Music Hall, Bethania Road, for a Fiddle and Bow Society concert.
Lauderdale spent his early years in Troutman, a small town about six miles south of Statesville. He is a frequent visitor to Winston-Salem, where he attended the UNC School of the Arts. He last passed through the city in July, appearing at The Ramkat with the Cosmic Honky Tonk Revue, which also featured Jason Ringenberg of Jason and the Scorchers and Chuck Mead of BR-549.
“Man, the downtown area of Winston has really got it going on,” Lauderdale said. “When I was at school, I was so busy all the time I really didn’t get to get out that much.” When he arrived downtown this summer, he said, “I took a good long walk.”
In the four decades since he earned a theater degree at UNCSA, Lauderdale has become a pioneer and ubiquitous figure in the world of Americana music. He has recorded more than 30 albums, co-hosts a show on satellite radio, and has toured with everyone from Ralph Stanley to Elvis Costello, who called him “a man of great style, an exceptional songwriter and tremendous singer.”
Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show has said Lauderdale is “my favorite part of Americana music.” Lauderdale was profiled in a 2014 documentary, “The King of Broken Hearts.”
Jewly Hight reviewed Lauderdale’s 2017 album, “London Southern,” for National Public Radio: “He’s an Americana ambassador who’s also written a slew of contemporary country hits and eased in and out of bluegrass, jam band and classic country circles at will, seeming to draw satisfaction from all of it.”
Lauderdale’s most recent album, “From Another World,” came out in June and features songs written in collaboration with several other artists, from country legend Melba Montgomery to Americana newcomer Logan Ledger. Other co-writers over the years have included North Carolina folk veteran Si Kahn and Robert Hunter, the longtime Grateful Dead lyricist who died in September.
“Usually with Robert, when he’d give me a lyric, I’d write a melody right away,” Lauderdale said. “It would just kind of jump off the page. And then when I’d give him a melody, it would take him anywhere from half an hour to an hour to come up with something really great.”
Lauderdale wrote “When Carolina Comes Home Again” with a more recent collaborator: John Oates, best known for work with longtime duo partner Darryl Hall. Although Oates became famous for pop, rock and soul hits such as “Rich Girl” and “Kiss On My List,” he came of age in the folk scene in Philadelphia. Oates met Doc and Merle Watson early in his career and performed at MerleFest in 2016.
“He had an idea about Carolina, and it kind of morphed into that song,” Lauderdale said. “He started off with these chords, and it was kind of a fast folk song.”
The N.C. Arts Council has adopted “When Carolina Comes Home Again” as part of its Come Hear NC initiative. Gov. Roy Cooper declared 2019 the state’s Year of Music. Lauderdale recorded his forthcoming album at Echo Mountain Recording in Asheville, working with entire bands or members of Steep Canyon Rangers, Town Mountain, Balsam Range, Cane Mill Road, Songs of the Road Band, and Hank, Pattie and the Current.
This will be Lauderdale’s last appearance at the original Muddy Creek. A new Muddy Creek Cafe is scheduled to open in Old Salem in November. The Bethania Road location is closing in December, eight years after it opened as a cafe and four years after the launch of Muddy Creek Music Hall.
“This is gonna be at least my third time,” Lauderdale said. “I just love it — it’s such a cool place.”
Although Lauderdale has lived in Nashville for most of his adult life, he now spends part of his time in Flat Rock, south of Asheville.
“The farther I get, sometimes, that’s when I miss it the most,” he said.