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Jeff Bridges on His Lifelong Passion for Music

Aug. 19, 2014
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Jeff Bridges will always be best known as an actor, iconic for his roles in films including The Fischer King, Tron, True Grit and the Coen Brothers’1998 cult comedy The Big Lebowski, where he played the White Russian-sipping pacifist known as the Dude. Since winning an Academy Award for his performance as a fallen country singer in Scott Cooper’s 2009 drama Crazy Heart, Bridges has dedicated much of his time to his other passion: music. He followed that movie’s soundtrack with a 2011 self-titled album for Blue Note Records, which he recorded with veteran roots-rock producer T Bone Burnett, and has since performed regularly with his backing band, the Abiders (the group’s name, of course, is a reference to one of the Dude’s many catchphrases). In advance of his concert with the Abiders on Saturday, Aug. 23 at the Pabst Theater, Bridges spoke with the Shepherd about his lifelong love of music.

When was the first time you started considering playing music professionally?

I remember back when I was a kid, my dad was so gung ho about show biz, he loved acting so much and he really encouraged all his kids to go into acting. I had resisted that. I wanted to make my own life, so for a long time I would play music at home. I wanted to make that my career. I’m talking I was 10 years old, something like that. And my dad said if you do acting then you can do both, you’ll be able to play as a musician. And that turned out to be true. But I’ve been interested in music going back 50 years.


How did you learn to play guitar? Were you self-taught?

Well, the great thing about the guitar is the chords. You see the pictures of the chord and they’re just dots where you put your fingers. You can really teach yourself. I think my dad had a guitar that he never played. So I learned on that, and then my brother had a guitar, and I played on his guitar. And also just writing songs. That was how I learned three or four chords.


Who were some of the artists you were taking inspiration from when you first started writing those songs?

I mentioned my brother. He’s eight years older than I am, so I got to listen to all the older rockers, like Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and all those guys. But you know, when I started writing I was listening to Bob Dylan and The Beatles. I was 14 or so when The Beatles came out, so those guys were very inspiring.


By the time you released your first album [2000’s Be Here Soon], you were an established actor. Were you worried your music would face more scrutiny because people knew you as an actor?

I don’t know. I kind of expected that people might put me in a slot. That’s just something people do; I’m sure I do that, too. But I didn’t worry about it too much. It’s something I really wanted to do. I didn’t care how successful I was gonna be as far as getting people to buy the records and stuff. The music business is so different now than it was when I was growing up, as far as selling records goes, that just to put it out there was wonderful.


Were you treating music kind of like a hobby, then?

I don’t know. What is a hobby? Is a hobby something you do for love, that you don’t do for money?


For most people.

Then I guess so. But I try to approach everything that way [laughs]. I approach acting as a hobby, too.


The last two years you’ve dedicated a lot more time to music. What made you shift your focus to it?

It was when Crazy Heart took off, and because of my dear friend T Bone, who played a huge part in making that a success by getting all the music together. I thought, “Oh, this would be a great time to work with T Bone on something else.” So I got a bunch of songs together, and threw them T Bone’s way and he said, “Yeah, let’s do this.” So we put an album out called Jeff Bridges that came out after Crazy Heart, and we’re putting the final touches on a live album now that we recorded this summer.


Do you plan to dedicate more of your time to music going forward?

It seems that way. With the group, the Abiders, we’ve been touring together, and they all live up in Santa Barbara, and we enjoy playing together. It’s pretty easy, you know? The T Bone album, we had wonderful musicians on that album, but they’re all quite in demand and they’re in L.A. and all over the place. And the Abiders are right there in my backyard. They’re the cream of the crop and we love to play, so I think we’ll continue doing that. I sure have a batch of new and old tunes that I’d like to record and put out there. So I would imagine it’ll keep going.


What is the mood like when you play? Does your celebrity make the experience any different, or does the crowd treat you like any old player?

I think any old player. Once in a while somebody will yell out some Dude reference or something like that, which is fun [laughs]. I don’t mind that at all.


Jeff Bridges and the Abiders play the Pabst Theater on Saturday, Aug. 23 at 8 p.m.


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