Music has been a passion for Jeff Bridges, star of such films as “The Big Lebowski” and “The Giver,” opening this weekend.(Photo: Photo: Danny Clinch)
W hat’s the Jeff Bridges-Michael Jackson connection?
Both were produced by Quincy Jones.
“Quincy made my first record,” Bridges said. “I must have been about 16, and my brother Beau (Bridges) was in a movie called ‘John and Mary’ with Dustin Hoffman and Mia Farrow, and Quincy was doing the music. Beau was hanging out with Quincy, and he said, ‘You ought to hear my brother’s tunes.’ ”
Jones, who would later go on to produce the Jackson classic “Thriller,” used the Bridges track “Lost in Space” in the movie.
“He was primarily a jazz guy, and I don’t think I was as deeply into jazz as I am these days, so I wasn’t familiar with him,” said Bridges, son of the late actor Lloyd Bridges. “Which is probably a good thing — I would have been too nervous working with him.”
It’s a testament to Bridges’ creative energy that his range of musical influence spans so wide. Yes, he’s known primarily as an actor who won an Academy Award for best actor in 2009’s “Crazy Heart” and earned Oscar nominations for his roles in “The Last Picture Show,” “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot,” “Starman,” “The Contender” and “True Grit.”
Of course, he’s also the Dude from the 1998 cult hit “The Big Lebowski.”
But it’s music that’s long been a passion for Bridges, going back into the ’60s. He put things in another gear after “Crazy Heart,” in which he played an alcoholic country star past his prime.
Bridges seems to be getting into his prime with his music. His most recent album, 2011’s “Jeff Bridges,” made the Top 25 on the Billboard Top 200 and cemented the appeal of his faded-leather country sound. He has a warm, raspy voice, a knack for easy melodies and a quirky charm.
Bridges and his band, the Abiders, are coming to the East Coast for the first time, and shows include the Wellmont Theatre in Montclair on Saturday, Aug 30, and two at the City Winery in New York City on Sept. 2.
He’s also in a new movie, “The Giver,” which co-stars Meryl Streep, Katie Holmes, Taylor Swift, Brenton Thwaites and Odeya Rush.
Bridges plays the Giver in the sci-fi drama, a role he originally envisioned for his late father.
“I’m really glad — it took me 20 years to get that movie made, and we’ve finally gotten it up there — and I’m so pleased,” Bridges said.
Bridges recently called in and a chat explored art, fear, music and Bruce Springsteen, among other things.
Q: You’re coming to the East Coast with your guitar, which is something you normally don’t do. We here on the East Coast can be pretty tough on a performer. Any trepidations about performing out here?
A: I’ve been a performer most of my life, and fear is something I always deal with, whether it’s making movies or whatever, you don’t want to drop the ball. It’s something you’re always dealing with. Fear’s my good old buddy.
Q:Is it a chance of history that you haven’t performed here with the music?
A: Yeah, probably. I’ve played some TV shows there. … “Crazy Heart” really set a fire in me with the music. Then after that, I thought now is a good time to make an album with my buddy Bone (T-Bone Burnett), so we made that (2011’s “Jeff Bridges”), and it got some of my music juices to kick in. But the musicians that Bone had — they’re great studio guys, they’re basically the same guys he put together for the (2007) “Raising Sand” album with Alison Krauss — but I knew I couldn’t put a band together with those guys.
So I talked to the my dear friend Chris Pelonis, who produced my first album (2000’s “Be Here Soon”) with Michael McDonald. I asked him if there were any good musicians in Santa Barbara, and he said, ‘There’s plenty. I’ll get you the cream of the crop.’ He put together the Abiders, and they’re great musicians I get to play with all the time. And we do some local stuff, and we’ve been up to Washington, Oregon, Texas, Mexico, and now we’re working our way East.
Q:Is (playing music) an opportunity for you to perform in a way that’s more immediate, and you get an immediate interaction (with an audience) as opposed to making movies?
A: There are a lot of similarities, but performing with people there in the room, it’s interesting for me. I look at it also not only as a performance, but as an improvisation that I’m doing with a group of people — we’re all in it together. Kind of how I like to feel when I’m at a concert. I recently saw Jackson Browne, and he was so comfortable. It feels like you’re sitting in his living room just hanging out. I try to have a comfortable, relaxed feeling — try to enjoy each other.
Q:(Jackson Browne) might be all nervous backstage, his hands might be all sweaty?
A: Jackson is an old friend of mine. I know he goes through the anxiety, too. We all do that, most performers. A big turning point in my acting career was going to work with Fredric March, Lee Marvin and Robert Ryan in the (1973) movie “The Iceman Cometh.” I remember how nervous and excited they were, mostly Robert Ryan. I can remember how panicky he was.
I asked him, ‘After all these years, you’re still frightened?’ He said, ‘I’d really be scared if I weren’t scared.’ That was a good lesson for me as a young performer.
Q:The audience doesn’t know how much work goes into each song and each performance.
A: A lot of parts are like that. It’s however easy you can make it look.
Q: In my research for our chat, I noticed that you’re the same age as Bruce Springsteen, and I’m thinking that you and Mr. Springsteen are creatively in the same place. That is, very viable and active, but also with an eye toward maybe not being able to do what you want to do forever? With Springsteen, it’s like a switch went off, and the guy hasn’t stopped touring and making music for the last 10, 15 years, and this has almost been the most busy and creative period of his life. I almost get a sense that it’s a similar scenario with you, that you have a thought to get things done while things can still be done?
A: Yeah, that’s really true. I don’t know if Bruce feels this … there are two kinds of voices or impulses inside of me: ‘All right man. Now you’re 64 years old. You’re not going to live forever. You got a bunch of stuff you want to do, you better get to work here, and do it.’ Then the other side of me says: “Geez, Jeff, will you just relax? Do you want the rest of your life to be a giant homework assignment?’
It’s kind of a balance between those two things. My wife gets on me because I’ve got so much stuff on my plate that I’ll bitch about it, but I’m the guy who put it on there. It’s balance that can be frustrating at times.
Chris Jordan: 732-643-4060; email@example.com
JEFF BRIDGES AND THE ABIDERS
WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 30
WHERE: The Wellmont Theater,
5 Seymour St., Montclair
INFO: 973-783-9500 or www.thewellmonttheater.com
STARRING: Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Katie Holmes, Taylor Swift, Brenton Thwaites and Odeya Rush
WHEN: Now playing in limited release
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