"I wouldn't be able to support myself in Nashville," says Lauderdale.
Next stop, the Big Apple.
"But I couldn't get a deal," Lauderdale laments of his two-year period there.
"I kind of shifted to playing more country stuff from bluegrass," he says. "I became real discouraged because I approached record companies. They liked the record, and said, 'it's real good, but you're an unknown quantity in bluegrass circles.'"
"There was this New York scene for country. He played with folks like Floyd Domino and Buddy and Julie Miller.
About 1985, Lauderdale gave Hollywood a try where he hooked up with Rosie Flores and Lucinda Williams.
"Things kind of fell into place real easily in LA," he says. "I got a manager, John Ciambotti. He was friends with Nick Lowe, Billy Bremner. He really guided me a lot. I hooked up with Pete Anderson. There were a lot of great players out there. The Palomino Club. Ronnie Mack. It was a really fertile time."
A deal with Atlantic in LA fell through. The signing was unusual because the country part of the label, of course, was in Nashville.
"The Nashville country branch office didn't really want to promote the record," says Lauderdale.
He did not fare much better when he signed with Columbia. A record was recorded, but remains unreleased.
"They thought it was too country. My A&R guy got transferred. They didn't hear any hits on it."
"It was crushing," he says. "I'd been waiting my whole life to get a deal. I was excited to get one. I worked with Pete Anderson. He was really happy with the record. He thought we had about eight smash singles on it. For it not to come out was real disappointing."
Next stop was Warner Brothers for two albums. "Planet of Love" and "Pretty Close to the Truth."
And then one album, "Every Second Counts" on Atlantic. "That record I was really excited about. So was everybody else, including the label. For several reasons, the release got delayed for a long time. Then other acts started taking off, and they put their priorities behind them. Eventually we parted ways."
"Ironically, 8 of the 10 songs got cut," says Lauderdale.
He was starting to make his mark as a songwriter.
"In Nashville, I was considered too left of center really. Then, George Strait recorded 'Where the Sidewalk Ends' and 'The King of Broken Hearts.'"
Lauderdale says Strait producer Tony Brown heard his "Planet of Love" album. "He played the song ("Sidewalk") for Strait in the morning, and Strait cut it that afternoon. It wasn't like I was (eating) my fingernails because I didn't even know about it."
"That kind of broke the door down for me," says Lauderdale of Strait.
Breaking the door open meant hits like "Halfway Down" and "You Don't Seem to Miss Me" for Patty Loveless and "Gonna Get a Life" for Mark Chesnutt.
And more records: "Persimmons" through Upstart/Rounder and "Whisper" and "Onward Through It All" on RCA. But no success until maybe now.
In case you mistakenly thought otherwise, Lauderdale is not exactly sitting idle. He has a record in the can with Ralph Stanley, his second one. But due to a slew of Stanley reissues coupled with the "O Brother! Where Art Thou?" soundtrack, Lauderdale expected their duo album to be out in 2002.
"I'm also in the process of recording a solo bluegrass album, and I also have in the works a plan to do a real mixture, a real Americana record with this writer I've worked with, who's written with the Grateful Dead, Robert Hunter. We got together last year and wrote 34 songs. It's a mixture of country, bluegrass, Jimmie Rodgers country. He's like an encyclopedia. He's a library. It's really neat."
Not to mention plans for a duo album with Buddy Miller next year. Tony Rice too.
"It seems like every deal I had except Upstart, which was a one-off deal, was disappointing in some way because I really had high hopes. I felt like everything was there musically, and I felt like things were there in my live shows. In a lot of ways, I felt I didn't get the right promotional push. The record companies never gave me enough tour support and do long, extensive radio promotion tours which some of my label mates were getting. I kind of scratched my head that said, 'I'm not getting that stuff.' I had to get philosophical and had to dig deeper inside myself and come up with something good or better next time. In some ways, those hardships are kind of a blessing in disguise."
"I've always been trying to do my own thing. Every record I do, I put everything into it. I feel like it's kind of slowly building. A lot of times, I do my records, I don't get to promote the album a whole bunch because the deal isn't there, or I'm doing another album. I'm in a new place. I've got these records in the can. I'm kind of a different plateau than I've ever been."