Jeff Bridges is receiving the kind of exposure for his new, self-titled album that Otis “Bad” Blake would probably kill for. This month, Bridges is booked to perform on “Today,” “Live! With Regis and Kelly,” “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno,” “NPR’s Morning Edition,” “Charlie Rose,” “Studio 360 With Kurt Andersen” and “The Colbert Report.” In addition, Bridges and his album, his Blue Note debut and first set in 11 years, have been the subject of numerous videos and articles both online and in magazines. It’s possible that the only other albums receiving as much mainstream media attention this month will be Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “Watch the Throne.”
Bad Blake was, of course, the fictional country musician Bridges portrayed in “Crazy Heart,” a role that earned him an Academy Award for best actor in 2009. The song “The Weary Kind,” by T Bone Burnett and Ryan Bingham, from the film also earned an Oscar as well as a Grammy Award. The soundtrack also won a Grammy, and is the biggest-seller in the New West catalog with 345,000 copies sold since its Jan. 19, 2010, release, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Video: Jeff Bridges, “The Weary Kind”
With Jeff Bridges, which arrives Aug. 16, Blue Note is balancing promotional activities and advertising in an effort to connect with fans of “Crazy Heart” and fans of Bridges the actor and Bridges the singer. One of Bridges’ best-known films, “The Big Lebowski,” is being released on Blu-ray the same day as the album’s street date and Bridges will appear, alongside other cast members, at New York’s Lebowski Fest, which coincides with the Blu-ray release. Blue Note’s online advertising will include a tie-in with the cult classic film.
Blue Note has also banked additional promotions to roll out during the fourth quarter when Bridges will be busy filming “R.I.P.D.” on the East Coast, in addition to sessions with Yahoo and AOL that will air around the time of release. An MLB.com session is being held until October when Major League Baseball playoffs are in full swing, a “World Cafe” appearance is scheduled for a September airing, and an episode of “Austin City Limits” is on tap for November.
“We’re doing as many things as possible that can be banked,” says Zach Hochkeppel, senior VP of marketing for EMI Music, Blue Note’s parent company. “We’re not going to have much access in October, November, December.”
Although Jeff Bridges touches on the weepy country music of “Crazy Heart,” overall the album has a timbre that’s hard to pin down. “The goal was an eclectic, genre-less kind of album that couldn’t be compared to others,” says Bridges, who took a year off from acting after “Crazy Heart” to concentrate on writing, singing and recording. Burnett, who set the heartbeat of “Crazy Heart,” takes on a similar role here, producing, co-writing and bringing in his army of superb musicians, including guitarist Marc Ribot, bassist Dennis Crouch and drummer Jay Bellerose, who together form the core band. A few of the songs that appear on the album were even originally penned for “Crazy Heart” by the late Stephen Bruton, along with Bingham and Bridges, but didn’t fit on the soundtrack.
In preparing to perform the album’s music live, Bridges took the residency route, appearing, unannounced with his band of local buddies the Abiders, at the Maverick Saloon, an old West country bar in Santa Ynez, Calif., on three Wednesdays in June. The band made its first invite-only performance at the Troubadour in West Hollywood, Calif., later that month. At the Troubadour, Bridges’ stage presence was low-key and affable. He told stories about the creation of many of the songs and closed the set with a version of Bob Dylan’s “The Man in Me,” which appeared in “The Big Lebowski.”
“Part of the fun of making the album was revisiting my older tunes that haven’t been fully realized,” says Bridges, noting that he has often found himself noodling on the guitar when he’s supposed to be memorizing lines. “‘Slow Boat’ was a song I wrote with T Bone for ‘Crazy Heart.’ ‘Falling Short’ is 35 years old. It certainly seemed like the right time to get into my music. ‘Crazy Heart’ really set fire to my music, working with old buddies?it was the right season for it.”
For Jeff Bridges, the actor reconnected with John Goodwin, a Nashville songwriter who has been friends with Bridges since, Bridges says, “the fourth grade.” They had worked together on Bridges’ first album, Be Here Soon, which Bridges released in 2000 through Ramp Records, a label he created specifically for that project with Michael McDonald and friend Chris Polonis (who built a recording studio in Bridges’ Santa Barbara, Calif., home 17 years ago). Stylistically, Be Here Soon moved from reggae to R&B to jazz, more closely representing the artists who Bridges says influenced him most: Dylan, Captain Beefheart, Ornette Coleman, Moondog and Hank Williams.
Still, it was only after reconnecting with Burnett while working on “Crazy Heart”–the two had met 30 years earlier during the filming of “Heaven’s Gate”–that Bridges began to think about carving out time to take music-making more seriously. At his Troubadour show, he mixed songs from the new album with songs from “Crazy Heart”–nearly a 50-50 split, which could make one wonder whether the music was pure Bridges or a lot of Bad Blake.
“All of my characters have a lot of me involved,” Bridges says referring to Blake, the Dude from “The Big Lebowski” and others. And the roles carry over into the music as well. “Everything informs everything else.”