In the late 1970s, Buddy Miller was a musician from heartland Ohio living in Texas, while Jim Lauderdale was getting antsy about leaving small-town North Carolina. Both had sung country music since they were kids, and were blossoming into songwriters.
So, of course, they met at a honky-tonk in Manhattan.
It’s largely forgotten that New York City was a hotbed of country music in the late ’70s, and musicians flocked there to play at the Lone Star Cafe and seek gigs in the house band for “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” a hit Broadway musical.
Miller and Lauderdale were two of them, and they bonded instantly. Both have become high-level cult favorites, with stacks of acclaimed records, big-time songwriting credits and stellar session work. One thing they didn’t do, despite many years of talking about it, was make a record together. That changed last year with the release of “Buddy & Jim,” a low-key charmer recorded in three days.
“We’ve been friends for over 30 years, believe it or not, and so we finally did it,” Miller said. “We almost made one about 15 years ago but were both so busy, and then we got this radio show and thought, ‘Well, maybe now’s the time to do it.’ ”
“The Buddy & Jim Show,” on SiriusXM’s Outlaw Country station, is squeezed in between a startling work ethic shared by the men.
Lauderdale has released 22 albums, 13 in the last decade, hosts a radio show on WSM in Nashville, tours in a variety of contexts and writes constantly. Miller is an in-demand producer with a list of credits as long as the neck of a Telecaster, including music for the show “Nashville.” He’s in Robert Plant’s Band of Joy, has worked with Emmylou Harris for years and has made a dozen records, including several with his wife, Julie.
Miller and Lauderdale are on the road promoting “Buddy & Jim,” and perform tonight at Headliners Music Hall. The inspirations for their partnership are the classic country and bluegrass duos — The Wilburn Brothers, Louvin Brothers, Jim & Jesse, even Homer & Jethro when things get silly, as on “Vampire Girl.”
Miller said that no one duo provided a direct template, but that he’s a big fan of Johnnie & Jack, whose “Down South in New Orleans” they cover. The central idea behind “Buddy & Jim” was to explore the sound of two friends singing, to revel in the simple joys of a duet, and to revisit what was once a foundation of country music
“When you know somebody well, you can sing with them better,” Miller said. “There’s an understanding that transcends certain things — you just know what’s going to happen.
“I love the sound of two voices, and I just love duets. There’s a freedom in the duet that gets lost when it turns into a three-part vocal. You have room to move in either direction when you’re singing just two parts. You can go to a lot of places and not step on the other person’s part.
“There’s something mysterious about two voices. I miss that, and find myself still listening to old duet records. And now I can listen to ours, if I can stomach it.”
Friday night’s show is the official start of the “Buddy & Jim” tour, although there have been a few random appearances. Miller said he was still unsure about how the set list would be fleshed out, but they certainly have an embarrassment of riches from which to choose: more than 30 albums with their names above the title and dozens of songs written for others, not to mention a bottomless well of cover songs.
It will certainly be a show that reflects a shared history dating back to 1979 New York, when The Ramones were playing the next borough over while Miller and Lauderdale were swapping Everly Brothers songs off Broadway. It’s been a lovely ride, Miller said.
“Oh, completely. I can’t believe I get to do this. I feel really blessed.”
When: 9 p.m. Friday
Where: Headliners Music Hall, 1386 Lexington Road