Backed by his band The Abiders, Jeff Bridges isn't just playing musician 

Abiding Passion

Abiding Passion

Jeff Bridges doesn't seem to mind all that much when people conflate Jeff Bridges the dude with Jeff Lebowski The Dude — that is, his character Jeff "The Dude" Lebowski from Joel and Ethan Coen's 1998 cult classic The Big Lebowski, and probably the role with which he's most often associated. After all, the actor-slash-singer named his backing band The Abiders, a reference to one of the most famous Lebowski lines, and they played a set at this year's Lebowski Fest in L.A.

"You know, people are going to think whatever they think," Bridges tells the Scene by phone when asked about folks relating Bridges the musician to Bridges the actor, or Bridges the actor to the characters he plays. The 64-year-old oozes just the sort of even-keeled, Zen-like tranquility you might expect. "It's sort of the human condition to put people and things in slots and say, 'This is this,' you know? But sometimes this is that, too. You never know."

Though Bridges released his debut solo album Be Here Soon in 2000, audiences largely came to know him as a singer in his Oscar-winning turn as troubled country artist Otis "Bad" Blake in 2009's acclaimed Crazy Heart. According to Bridges, noted songwriter and producer T Bone Burnett — who himself landed an Academy Award for co-writing Crazy Heart's original tune "The Weary Kind" with Ryan Bingham — played a large part in forging the Blake character.

"My good buddy T Bone was so instrumental in making that a great movie," says Bridges. "And he said he would make me a list of all the guys that Bad Blake, the character I played, listened to when he was growing up in Fort Worth. And T Bone knew what he was talking about, because that's where he grew up, right? He said of course there was Hank and Merle Haggard and all those guys, but Bad would have also been listening to Ornette Coleman, you know, and The Beatles and Leonard Cohen, and all these kind of guys too."

Burnett would go on to produce Bridges' self-titled 2011 sophomore effort. Between Burnett's characteristically lush countrypolitan production and Bridges' wholehearted, gravelly baritone, Jeff Bridges doesn't come off like a vacationing actor's vanity project, but rather an earnestly conceived and well-executed Americana album that — though somewhat stylistically scattered — owes much of its pleasant sentimentality and twang to traditional country music.

"The first time I really got turned on to country was when I making Last Picture Show and listening to so much Hank Williams, who was all over that score," he says, referring to the 1971 Peter Bogdanovich film that earned Bridges his first Oscar nomination. "And I kind of loved it ever since then. ... When I asked [Burnett] if he was interested in making this album, and he said yeah, and he said, 'Let me hear what you've got in mind,' I gave him a bunch of my tunes. Some of them were country, and some of them weren't."

Some of the songs on Jeff Bridges were written by Bridges' lifelong friend John Goodwin, who resides in Nashville and also wrote Crazy Heart's "Hold on You." Along with his musical director Chris Pelonis, Bridges is working on a live album culled from recent Abiders performances that will feature some of Goodwin's songs and others.

And live performance seems to be an element of Bridges' musical endeavors that he's able to slip into pretty comfortably. He's excited to bring his daughter Jessie along as the opening act for many of his upcoming shows — including his Aug. 27 stop at the Ryman — and he explains that some aspects of playing a show aren't too much of a leap from moviemaking.

"I also look at performing as sort of an improvisation," he says. "Not only with the band, but you kind of include the audience — so much of the audience reaction inspires the band. You're kind of working together; you're in it together. You start to create a little community together. That's the way I sort of approach it."

Shortly before Bridges jumps off the phone to do a series of interviews in regard to The Giver — an adaptation of the best-selling novel that he has fought to get made for years — he points out another thing that professional filmmaking and professional music-making have in common: hawking one's wares.

"It's sort of the barker-at-the-carousel part of my gig. It's just part of the thing. You get out there — 'Come see our movie, come see our show!' "

Email Music@nashvillescene.com.

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