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Jeff Bridges: An On-Screen Country Singer Enters The Studio

Jeff Bridges' self-titled studio album comes out Aug. 16. (Courtesy of the artist)

In the 2009 film Crazy Heart, Jeff Bridges played a country singer named Bad Blake. The character was fictional, but Bridges' passion for country music is real. Now he has recorded an album with some of the people who helped him portray a musician on-screen. His studio album, Jeff Bridges, comes out Aug. 16 on Blue Note Records.

"The wonderful thing about acting," Bridges tells Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep, "is that you can use all of your talents and interests in your work."

Bridges says that before he became an actor, he seriously entertained the idea of becoming a musician. His father, the actor Lloyd Bridges, encouraged his children to go into showbiz, but as a young man, Jeff Bridges balked at entering the family profession: "Like most kids, you don't want to do what your folks want you to do. You've got your own thing."

Concerned that nepotism would taint his career as an actor, he pursued his interests in music and painting instead. But eventually, acting became the road of least resistance — and one that, in time, would lead him back to music after all. "I'm glad I finally got with the old man's program," Bridges jokes.

Country musician Stephen Bruton co-wrote and co-produced the original soundtrack for Crazy Heart and also served as a tutor for Bridges. Working closely with Bruton, Bridges says, helped the actor embody his Academy Award-winning role.

"We all looked toward Stephen for authenticity, because the life of Bad Blake ... was very much like the life Stephen led," Bridges says of Bruton, who died of cancer before the film was released. "He moved me up to the next level."

In tribute to Bridges' late mentor, the new album includes two covers of songs by Bruton. It also includes material by Bridges himself — some of which, he says, he honed for over 30 years before committing it to record.

"I'm pretty critical of myself as far as reaching some sort of perfect bull's-eye or target that I'm aiming for," Bridges says. "Sometimes you can get so obsessed with that bull's-eye that you miss the whole deal, because you're just so focused on what you think is perfection that you miss what really is perfection — which is just being alive.

"Life is having its way with me now," he says. "And I'm really pleased."

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Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The actor Jeff Bridges is moving into a job he once had on-screen. By playing a country singer in "Crazy Heart," he explored his own passion for music.

Mr. JEFF BRIDGES (Actor/Singer): The wonderful thing about acting, or one of the great things, is that you can use all of your, you know, talents and interests in your work.

INSKEEP: Now, Bridges has recorded an album with some of the same people who helped him to portray a musician.

(Soundbite of song, "Hold on You")

Mr. BRIDGES: (Singing) I've been loved, and I've been alone. All my life, I've been a rolling stone. Done everything...

INSKEEP: That's Bridges from the "Crazy Heart" soundtrack. And this is from his new album, called "Jeff Bridges."

(Soundbite of song, "Blue Car")

Mr. BRIDGES: (Singing) I'm driving my blue car, baby, down from the mountain so high. I'm driving my blue car, baby, coming down, gonna say goodbye.

INSKEEP: We found Jeff Bridges in Austin, Texas, where he was preparing for a concert. He sat down with a cup of coffee to talk about his transition from acting to music.

You supposedly aspired to be a musician before you were an actor. Is that true?

Mr. BRIDGES: Yeah, probably so. You know, my father, Lloyd Bridges, unlike a lot of actors, really encouraged all his kids to go into showbiz. He loved it so much. And like most kids, you know, you don't want to do what your folks want you to do. You got your own things, you know...

INSKEEP: So if I talked to you when you were 14 or 16 and said what do you plan to do when you get out of here, you'd say I intend to be a musician.

Mr. BRIDGES: Yeah, a musician or artist. I was also interested in painting, and still am. And the acting thing was fun, but, you know, I had some problems with the whole nepotism thing, you know, getting into it just because that's what my dad, you know, I had the inroad.

INSKEEP: Well, that's huge in Hollywood, isn't it? That's just...

Mr. BRIDGES: Oh, that's the toughest thing, you know, about the acting profession, is getting that break. And that was pretty much handled for me. So that road became the one of least resistance. But fortunately, I've kept the music thing going. So I'm happy about that.

INSKEEP: So that's what went horribly, horribly wrong, is movies just went for you first.

Mr. BRIDGES: Horribly, horribly right, I'd have to say.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRIDGES: I'm glad I finally got with the old man's program. He was right.

(Soundbite of song, "What a Little Bit of Love Can Do")

INSKEEP: Bridges' new album grows out of the singing that he did in several films. He sings two songs by the late country musician Stephen Bruton, who worked with him on "Crazy Heart."

(Soundbite of song, "What a Little Bit of Love Can Do")

Mr. BRIDGES: (Singing) I know that you've been feeling down and blue. There ain't nothing really wrong with you.

And we all looked toward Stephen for authenticity, you know, because the life of Bad Blake - the character that I played in "Crazy Heart" - was very much like the life that Stephen led. So he could, you know, he could tell us, you know, hey, yeah, you know, when I'm driving a long time, I don't want to pull over to the side of the road. I've got to get somewhere. So I'll just carry an empty Sparkletts' bottle and, you know, piss in that if I have to.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: Which is an opening scene in "Crazy Heart."

Mr. BRIDGES: That's the opening scene in "Crazy." But that's like, you know, just, you know, one example of the kind of input that he had. But he also, you know, taught me how to play guitar. You know, helped move me out to the next level on my guitar playing, singing and writing songs, you know.

(Soundbite of song, "What a Little Bit of Love Can Do")

Mr. BRIDGES: (Singing) Take your time, listen to all I'm saying. I've got a hunch that loving you is worth the waiting. I'm going to prove it to you before this night is through. There's a way to turn your pain right into pleasure. Drastic times seem to call for drastic measures. You need to know, girl, I can fix you if the remedy is tried and true...

INSKEEP: What was it like writing your own music for this release?

Mr. BRIDGES: Well, some of the songs are from quite long ago. "Falling Short" is, oh gosh, it might - could be 30 years old. You know? Forty years old, I don't know. Something like that. But it still sort of applies to me.

INSKEEP: Let's listen to a little bit of that.

(Soundbite of song, "Falling Short")

Mr. BRIDGES: (Singing) Am I falling short, or do I fly? While I miss the mark, do I hit the sky? In my wondering, do I answer why I'm alive?

INSKEEP: What did you mean when you said that song applies to you in some way?

Mr. BRIDGES: Oh, you know, I find that I'm pretty critical of myself, as far as reaching some sort of a perfect bull's-eye or target that I'm aiming for, you know. And sometimes, you can get so obsessed with that bull's-eye that you miss the whole deal, you know, because you're just so focused on what you think is perfection, that you miss what really is perfection, which is just being alive, you know.

INSKEEP: You want to, you're just saying, dodge the wrath of myself and leave the math to God?

Mr. BRIDGES: Yeah. Yeah.

(Soundbite of song, "Falling Short")

Mr. BRIDGES: (Singing) ...dodge the wrath of myself and leave the math to God.

INSKEEP: Has it occurred to you the last couple of years that if you'd been a little more stubborn, if you'd insisted a little more on your own way, if you could've ended up being a little bit like the character that you played in "Crazy Heart"? You know, somebody whose name is known, but not that famous and driving around, driving himself from venue to venue, singing songs where he could get work.

Mr. BRIDGES: Yeah. Yeah. Go on.

INSKEEP: I'm just wondering...

Mr. BRIDGES: Do I fantasize about if I'd taken that path?

INSKEEP: No. No. No. Does it occur to - no, I don't know about fantasizing -whether you've wondered about that could've been your life?

Mr. BRIDGES: Yeah. I don't how long I would be alive if that was my life. I don't know. I think it worked out just right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRIDGES: You know, I'm really happy the way it worked out. You know, life is having its way with me now. It's - and I'm, you know, really pleased, because I'm getting to, now, kind of shift gears, now that, you know, this last year, I decided to put the acting aside and concentrate on my music. And that has felt really refreshing and good.

INSKEEP: Well, Jeff Bridges, thanks very much. I've enjoyed this.

Mr. BRIDGES: Nice hanging with you, man.

(Soundbite of song "Everything But Love")

Mr. BRIDGES: (Singing) You can have a mansion...

INSKEEP: His new album out next week is called "Jeff Bridges."

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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