Actor Jeff Bridges Steps Into Role Of Professional Musician

Star of "Big Lebowski," "Fisher King" releases folk-rock/R&B album Be Here Soon.

Jeff Bridges became the latest actor to take on the role of professional musician when his debut album, Be Here Soon, was released Tuesday.

But the new folk-rock/R&B disc isn't Bridges' first foray into music. Quincy Jones picked one of Bridges' early songs, "Lost in Space," for the 1969 film John and Mary, and the 50-year-old actor said he's often considered changing gears to make music his focus.

"This music thing has been going on with me for so long," Bridges said recently. "I'm glad I didn't stop and not give it a chance to bloom."

Be Here Soon was released on Ramp Records, an indie label Bridges founded with singer/keyboardist, former Doobie Brother and Steely Dan member Michael McDonald and studio designer Chris Pelonis, both of whom appear on the album.

Also guesting on the disc is singer David Crosby. Bridges and Crosby met through their fathers, actor Lloyd Bridges and cinematographer Floyd Crosby, who worked together on the 1952 classic western "High Noon."

"Eventually I moved up to Santa Barbara [Calif.] to live, and Crosby was nearby, so we kind of re–hooked up," Bridges said.

Playing The Bridges

Bridges sings and plays guitar and keyboards on Be Here Soon, for which he wrote six original compositions. The actor's singing voice — alternately urgent, gruff, sexy, whiny and earnest — sounds much the way his speaking voice does onscreen in such films as 1971's "The Last Picture Show," 1991's "The Fisher King" and 1998's "The Big Lebowski."

Most of the tracks on the debut album were recorded live in Bridges' home studio. Combined with having Crosby and McDonald onboard, it gives the album — an amalgam of light funk, jazzy pop, country, folk and rock — a late-'60s-early-'70s sound.

Saxophone mixes with funky basslines on the album opener, "Moving" (RealAudio excerpt), while steel drums and a climbing solo-guitar instrumental are the background for McDonald's smooth vocals on the rocker "Choke" (RealAudio excerpt). Crosby appears on two tracks, his wavering voice recognizable on the folk ballad "Two White Roses" and the funk-rock tune "September Brings." Other highlights include the keyboard-driven "Buddha and Christ at Large" (RealAudio excerpt), on which Bridges sings of "our sexual president," and "The Circle Dance," which features an upbeat gospel chorus.

McDonald, speaking from his Nashville home, said Bridges doesn't think of himself as a crooner. "As much as a poet and a songwriter in the folk tradition, he's putting his spin on the genre. He's an accomplished guitar player and keyboardist, and he sings better than a lot of the guys who are famous in the [folk] tradition."

McDonald also said getting Crosby to perform on the album was easy. "The Santa Barbara community is so little; [Bridges] would run into David at Starbucks," McDonald said. "It's like, 'Gee, come on up and do some singing tomorrow afternoon.' "

Likewise, Bridges' attitude when talking up Be Here Soon is laid-back, intoning words and phrases such as "dude" and "dig it."

Homemade Jam

Bridges is mostly content just jamming with friends at his Santa Barbara home, where he lives with his wife and three teenage daughters. The veteran actor also has been known to play music on film sets with fellow musically inclined actors, such as Michelle Pfeiffer and Gary Busey. He also counts among his friends a number of musicians, including Tom Waits and T-Bone Burnett.

Now that he's releasing an album, however, there are a few things about the music biz that have Bridges worried. "On a bad day, I feel a little self-conscious and anxious," he said. "The anxiety doesn't come so much from the switching-career aspect; it's just getting up there and singing in front of a bunch of people, which I haven't done before on that scale."

Bridges sang at the recent NAMM music-equipment conference in Los Angeles, during a tribute honoring McDonald that included the Doobie Brothers, Ray Charles and Patti LaBelle.

"He took to it like a duck to water," McDonald said. "I was real proud of him. He got up and sang like he'd done it a million times."

Tentative touring plans have the trio of Pelonis, McDonald and Bridges hitting small college bars along the California coast. Proceeds of the album will partially benefit the End Hunger Network, a nonprofit agency Bridges founded in 1983, to raise awareness of poverty in the U.S.