Jeff Bridges and The Abiders
“I’ve been into music ever since I was a kid,” he says. “My mother forced me to take piano lessons, maybe when I was around 8—I got as far as ‘Fur Elise’ and I bailed, and I’ve regretted it ever since.” But then he discovered his brother Beau’s Danelectro guitar, and starting in high school, joined up with his grade-school buddy Goodwin and a group of other friends for a Wednesday night jam session—which they continued, every week, for the next fifteen years. (“We recorded everything we did on a reel to reel,” says Bridges. “We’ve talked about mining that stuff, seeing if there’s anything worth polishing up.”)
Though his parents, actors Dorothy and Lloyd Bridges, encouraged their kids to pursue the thespian track, Jeff was more interested in music and art. But when he started to see some success in the movies at a young age, he says he was “drawn to the path of least resistance, and music took a backseat—but I was still writing all that time.”
As he made more films, and became one of the most prominent and respected actors of his time, Bridges found that music was often a key element in his projects. “Different assignments would come up and turn me on to different types of music,” he says. “The Fabulous Baker Boys was all about getting steeped in jazz, learning about this Bill Evans style of piano playing.
“On movie sets, so many actors also play music. A great example of that was Heaven’s Gate—Kris Kristofferson brought along many of his musician friends, like Ronnie Hawkins, Stephen Bruton and T Bone, and our down time was all spent making music. That movie was really the birth of the music that came out in Crazy Heart.”
That 1980 film marked the beginning of a long-time relationship between Bridges and Burnett. The guiding hand behind such Grammy powerhouses as the O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack and Robert Plant and Allison Krauss’ Raising Sand, as well as recent albums by Gregg Allman and the duo of Elton John and Leon Russell, Burnett selected the songs for the soundtrack to the incomparable 1998 film The Big Lebowski. After they reunited for Crazy Heart, Bridges approached Burnett about making a record together. Jeff Bridges concludes that there are strong connections between his two passions of acting and music-making. “There are more similarities than differences,” he says. “They’re both very collaborative, you’re working with different artists, but there are also solo aspects in the writing and the practicing. You prepare, and then you let go and give it up.”