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Since his show-biz debut as a newborn in the 1951 film The Company She Keeps, Jeff Bridges has been a fixture in pop culture. Whether that means being nominated for Academy Awards (The Last Picture Show, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, Starman, and The Contender) winning them (Crazy Heart) or turning his characters' phrasing into revered cultural lexicon (The Dude from The Big Lebowski), it's safe to say that at this point in his career, the Tron actor is an American treasure.
Additionally, the 63-year-old is known for his voice-over work and photography, publishing Pictures: Photographs By Jeff Bridges in 2003. While all of these adventures quench his proverbial thirst for artistic exploration, Bridges loves music as much as he has enjoyed interpreting characters for the silver screen.
Growing up in Los Angeles, Bridges always had an interest in playing music. He was in garage bands in high school, and now, he's living his boyhood dream as a touring musician. Encouraged by his mother, Bridges started playing piano at a young age before learning about rock music from his brother Beau's lead.
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"Before the Beatles, I picked up my brother's guitar and started to learn how to play it," Bridges says. He's in New York to promote his latest film, R.I.P.D. "We never had an actual band, but my friends and I had Wednesday-night jams—began during our senior year of high school and lasted 10 to 15 years. No songs allowed; everything was off the cuff. That was the closest I ever had to being in a band before this."
Though a bit older and grayer since those days, Bridges hasn't lost his passion for making noise on his guitar. He released his first album, Be Here Soon, on Jan. 1, 2000; for his 2011 self-titled sophomore effort, he combined forces with Grammy-winning producer and longtime friend T-Bone Burnett.
"I have the ultimate respect for T-Bone, and I bow down to his taste," he says. "But he's interested in making me unique. It's kind of like being a kid when you're working with one of your best friends. There's push and pull, but overall, you're having a good time. That's why they call it playing music."
But Bridges' love of music goes beyond a film score or a soundtrack. In between shots, the actor can often be found noodling on his guitar off set as new compositions and lyrics come to mind. "I'm always messing around with tunes," he says. "Sometimes, songs will leak out, and it's hard to keep track of all the little pieces and waiting for one to come through."
Nightly set lists may vary, but among his original tunes, Bridges sprinkles covers from the Crazy Heart and The Big Lebowski soundtracks. What makes him different from other actors who try their hands as rock stars is that Bridges not only knows what he's doing onstage, but he is also pretty good at it. He doesn't hide behind his aptly titled band, the Abiders. Instead, he stands front and center as the evening's MC, telling warm stories from the road. This year alone has seen him play midsized theaters and festivals such as Stagecoach. This weekend, his gig at the City National Grove of Anaheim includes an opening set by his daughter, fellow musician Jessie Bridges, who joined her dad's tour for a handful of shows.
With a schedule as busy as his, the actor/musician says, there are some challenges in balancing his career as a leading man with that of budding touring musician. "It's a funny thing; I have no one to blame but myself," Bridges says with a laugh. "I've got different ideas and great opportunities in which I wish I can cut myself some slack on occasion, but it's a double-edged sword. Some days, I'll bitch about it, but I try to enjoy myself in whatever situation I'm in. I just try not to take it too seriously and have a good time."
For someone of Bridges' stature, usually recording an album would be enough of a high to keep him floating between movie roles. Yet he seems to relish the time he spends on the road. This is not just a fun vanity project to Bridges.
"This is realizing a teenager's dream," he says. "It's the dream of getting a bunch of friends together and making music. We're constantly surprising one another, and I think that has a lot to do with this."