Jeff Bridges Abides, in or out of Character
When it comes to music, Jeff Bridges is not some dilettantish actor noodling around with a guitar. Inspired by Bob Dylan and the Beatles, he and a friend would play hootenannys at L.A. clubs like Ledbetter's while still in high school. Years later, while filming the infamous 1980 western Heaven's Gate, Bridges met a couple of co-star Kris Kristofferson's musician buddies from Texas: Fort Worth natives Stephen Bruton and T. Bone Burnett.
Photo courtesy of Warehouse Live
That friendship culminated almost 20 years later with Crazy Heart, which won Bridges a Best Actor Oscar for his role as down-but-not-quite-out singer Bad Blake and former Austin singer-songwriter Ryan Bingham a Best Original Song statue for "The Weary Kind."; it couldn't help but renew Bridges' interest in his own musical pursuits as well. Over the phone, though, he comes across much more like his bathrobe-Zen character from
1996 1998 Coen Brothers classic The Big Lebowski, who might have even been a musician himself. Rocks Off was lucky enough to pick Bridges' brain last week while he waited for someone to bring his car around one California morning.
Rocks Off: Did you have a musical hero growing up?
Jeff Bridges: Well, the first guys that come to mind when you ask that question are Bob Dylan and the Beatles. My brother Beau, who's eight years older than I am, he turned me on to the early rockers: Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry and Little Richard, those guys.
What about now?
Now? Gosh, who comes to mind? A lot of my favorites are guys that I know who are slightly obscure, like my dear friend John Goodwin; we go back to the fourth grade [and] I play a lot of his tunes in my set these days. I got a buddy Benji Hughes, I play a few of his tunes. He's got a wonderful album out you might check out called A Love Extreme. But, you know, I love Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, a lot of guys. I've got pretty eclectic tastes.
The conversation turns further toward roots music, Hank Williams -- "A lot of guys don't think of Hank Williams as kind of a rocker, but I don't think that was the case," he notes -- and Bridges' fateful meeting with T-Bone Burnett and Stephen Bruton while filming Heaven's Gate.
Jeff Bridges: Kris Kristofferson, who starred in that movie, invited a lot of his musical buddies like Norton Buffalo and Bruton and Bone. We used to jam a lot in those days.
That must have been quite a crew.
Oh, it was amazing.
You're in so many movies -- how do you even have time for music? Or do you just make it?
Well. Gosh. You know, Crazy Heart really set fire to my music, and I figured if there was ever time to get a little bit more serious about it and make an album, Crazy Heart really fueled that fire. And T-Bone was up for making an album, so we made an album after Crazy Heart [2011's Jeff Bridges].
And then when there's not a movie in the air, I'll look to my band the Abiders; we're all local Santa Barbara guys. I love getting together with them and playing local shows and getting gigs from time to time.
What were the circumstances that led to Crazy Heart?
T-Bone and I have kept up our friendship ever since Heaven's Gate. He did all the music for Lebowski, and we worked together not long ago on a thing called A Place at the Table, about hunger here in America. Crazy Heart, I was given the script quite a while ago and I turned it down originally because there was no music set to it. No matter how good the story was, there was no good music [or else] that movie wouldn't have worked.
And then I ran into T-Bone and he said, "What do you think about this Crazy Heart script?" I said, "Oh, you read that? Are you interested?' He said, "Well, I'll do it if you'll do it.' I said, "Oh, let's go, man." But there was no music. We had to figure out what the music was going to be from the get-go, so that was kind of exciting. And Bruton was very involved in the movie. It's dedicated to him. [Bruton passed away in May 2009.]
Interview continues on the next page.