Emerging from the same fertile Texas soil that nurtured acts including Guy Clark; Townes van Zandt; and Flatlanders Joe Ely, Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Lyle Lovett developed a loyal following through his songwriting, singing, and even a few straight acting roles in motion pictures. His style is often distinguished from other singer-songwriters of his generation by his "large band," which includes horns, and by more than an occasional dash of western swing in his music.
A journalism and German major at Texas A&M University, Lovett (born in the Houston suburb of Klein) began singing in local clubs and coffee-houses in the '70s; developing his writing there and as a postgraduate in Germany. Returning to Texas, he was "discovered" by Nanci Griffith, who recorded two his songs on her Once in a Very Blue Moon album. Signed to Curb/MCA Records in 1986, he began a string of country chart hits, including Farther Down the Line, Cowboy Man and God Will- though, strictly speaking, his ties to traditional country music were tenuous. The Large Band (including horns, a cello and featured singer Francine Reed) was well in force by his third album. While its jazzy style denied him much country airplay, it developed his audience, and won him a 1989 Best Country Male Vocal Grammy. Moving to Los Angeles, he began to act - in movies including Robert Altman's The Player and Short Cuts, and Don Roos's The Opposite of Sex. From 1993-1995, he was married to actress Julia Roberts.
Lovett has also won Grammy awards in 1994 for his recording of Bob Wills' Blues for Dixie with Asleep at the Wheel, and his duet of Funny How Time Slips Away with Al Green; and Best Country Album in 1996 for The Road to Ensenada; his return to the genre. For the next few years, he released no new, original material. Instead, his label issued an album of songs he'd sung on film soundtracks; a live album; an early-career retrospective; the soundtrack album from Altman's Dr. T and the Women; and a two-disc set of Lovett's interpretations of songs by his favorite - mostly Texan - songwriters.
He returned to recording mostly original material with 2003's My Baby Don't Tolerate album. And he's working with director Altman again; this time for a film based on Garrison Keillor's pubic radio show A Prairie Home Companion; Lovett and Tom Waits portraying a couple of dusty cowboys.
For all his skill as a songwriter, Lovett has yet to write a number that would become a hit for someone else. While some might consider that a failing; others would point out that it's an indication of how original and idiosyncratic he is: nobody else wants to try to fill his shoes.