Part Two: Jimmie Dale Gilmore is of many artists to have emerged out of the Lone Star State. Texas is reasonably known for a multiple of things, including its rich musical history. Part two of our interview with Jimmie Dale Gilmore explores the foundation of his cross-genre career, The Flatlanders, The Big Lebowski, philosophy of life and soul-searching.
The Big Lebowski is one of the biggest cult movies to have come out of 20thcentury Hollywood. Starring Jeff Bridges, Jeff Goodman, Julian Moore, Steve Buscemi with a guest appearance from Texas musician Jimmie Dale Gilmore. It’s safe to say this film outstretched the laws of filmmaking while it manufactured its way into modern Hollywood today. After its successful release in 1998, a traveling festival with the same name as the film took place in Kentucky in early 2000’s celebrating the movie and holding screenings, activities plus appearances from the actors themselves joining their admired fans. On one occasion, Jimmie Dale Gilmore was invited to perform in front of hungry, bowl crazy fans. Upon standing up on stage to perform his classics, some of the admiring fans slowly lifted eyebrows in wonder “Smoky Sings? Smoky is a musician?” nearly half of the attendees were confused.
I myself was put in a similar situation once when speaking to a friend about the film. Here’s how our conversation went:
“Do you know that Smoky is a musician?”
Me: “He wrote timeless hits!”
Friend: “Really!? How?”
That very night after returning to his hotel room, Gilmore’s son went to his dad to share the audiences musical awaking “It’s mysterious to me. Why it became such a monstrous hit for so long- which I’m very glad about but still mysterious to me.” Jimmie said when speaking of the film, continuing “It’s a mystery- I love all the Coen Brothers movies and I’ve always been a fan of their work- they’ve made their first movie in Austin and it’s called Blood Simple- and it was very, very low budget indie and very good movie- and you could sort of tell that they were already had something truly original.” According to Jimmie, the brothers met the singer-songwriter after one of their frequent visits to his gigs “I got to know them- when they use to come to my shows a lot” Frances McDormand a prolific actress who married Joel Coen in 1980’s and recently starred in -Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri- alongside Woody Harrison was the person who introduced the songwriter to the brothers “I think it might have been Frances McDormand introduced to my music to begin with- and I’m not positive about that but I think it’s true though” Jimmie said of his encounter with the brothers “they use to come to my shows in the period where I was touring a lot.” Career shift was the last thing Gilmore was considering but experimenting with different fields was his get-go and never was afraid. Despite being a bit worried when the call came to appear on a film. The brothers guided the songster through and through “We spoke at one point about I might do something with them. But then when they finally contacted me officially and it was to play a part of the movie, I’m not an actor I’m not trained- I don’t know how to do that- and they said, ‘No, we will coach you, we know what we want’ ”
After a long hiatus throughout the 70’s, Gilmore his slow comeback through time and in 1990’s he teamed up with Seattle based indie band Mudhoney and recorded an EP for Sub Pop- an indie label that is known to have helped launch careers of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Sonic Youth among others. “I’m just completely open to playing music with musicians I really like a lot and I’m completely open to different styles that really how this came about. I’m always open to experimenting with something and I love that music so it’s a possibility it can come about.” Gilmore short explanation earned him a wide awakening call towards what he once missed out from “I would really love to play with great punk rockers. “Joe was friends with the Clash and I met them and everything, but I didn’t really know their music. That’s a pretty ironic part about my career. I met them socially when they came to visit to Texas. We kinda hang out together but I didn’t do any music with them.” (Part One: Downey To Lubbock- Jimmie Dale Gilmore reveals all)
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Slowing down is no one’s strongest pursuit in the music industry, once you’re in, the adrenalin runs deep while the joy of exploring expands. In 2011, Gilmore teamed up with Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Founder Warren Helman. Warren a bluegrass enthusiast joined Gilmore alongside his band The Wronglers “Warren’s little band.” Gilmore referred to The Wronglers “They formed under guidance from their teacher where they all become friends and had this teacher in common Jodie Stecker and when they got to a certain level, now you need to play not just about yourself but with other people to be able to advance. And they’ve actually already made a record before I made a record with them.” The 14-track album was a project to appreciate and honor the past by reviving all timey classics from the likes of A.P Carter, Doc Watson, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs-“It was really for Warran a hobby. His love of music in particularly bluegrass and all-time music, but he and I became friends because I played at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival every year and somehow the idea came up one time when they were visiting Austin that I might do a record with them and then it happened. It was so much fun. It was the last year of Warren’s life, Which is really tragic. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a chance to go to the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festivals but it is one of the best festivals in the whole world.” adding towards his interest in playing festivals “I really love doing festivals and I love its giant variety and also I like the kind of fans that like a bit of variety.” His self-defying cross-genre is hardly noticeable “Speaking of completely different direction! All time music, even older than bluegrass!”
The history of music is timeless. The same way the world began with The Big Bang, music too did have its own big bang. Throughout each period in time a sound evolved from different parts of the world, instruments were already beginning to shape up while followed by a collection of assembled written material. It was through Guido d’Arezzoone we learned how to structure a rhythm, it was through Shakespeare we got to learn about a newly adopted language and favorite their way into writing. And by 1800 when the slave trade began, businessmen were worried about nothing but to get their trade in land and start selling. However, as many know that was not always the case. Because, of unaccustomed circumstances, many innocent people died of different illness and numerous diseases. One thing, businessmen did not take in consideration was the effect the trade might have on American society. The African slave trade plus the European and English migration went on to defy American music today. From the blues to Appalachia, it is without a doubt the “bedrock” of popular music today. The congregation of the blues and Appalachia gave birth to the likes of Jazz, Country, Rock, Hip-Hop, and pop “The blues is the bedrock of most America’s popular music even though a lot of the young people don’t know that. A lot of people don’t really realize the historically how it developed. The blues was the basis of rock n roll. And the blues influenced Country music very deeply from way early, early on.” Gilmore explained. “Yes when they blended together, they created a whole new world of new music, that contained elements of all of that. The Anglo Saxons and Irish folk music and then the African influenced the blues and when that all blended it produced what came to be my personal favorite music in the world and the gospel music, particularly black gospel music. I think was very, very influential over the development of American music. And since all of this happened at the same happened that technology came in. it was able to come to life.”
The simple observation to give in order to understand the tie between early Appalachia and blues music is by listening to Robert Johnson “Love in Vain” and the Stanley Brothers “Little Maggie” one might contain a heartbroken guitar and other high lonesome voice. Both songs are closer than one might consider “There were always the fact, musicians always in general (with exceptions) were less prodigious than the general public. There were more crossover, lots of the white musicians learned their music from black musicians in a time when the general public didn’t want any crossover like that to be happening at all but amongst the musicians. It wasn’t at all that taboo and black music to me looking back at it was just sort of a wellspring of what as the most fun and what I like the most, but you can’t just say it’s only that. Because European music was also very deeply embedded in the country music that I learned as a small child.”
The musical journey of the Blues makes many wonder towards the word appreciation. Although it came out of the US, the Europeans and the English seemed to grasp on the genre effectively than any other. By the end of WWII many American soldiers resided in the UK- before doing so many of who were then labelled as GI bought records with them to the country while in Europe AM radio was already playing tracks from blues legends “Ironically, a lot of young Americans came to the blues because of the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. It’s kinda of funny to me because since I am from Lubbock, so Buddy Holly loomed so large in the music mythology of my world it was always known that he had become popular and accepted in England before he did in the US and that influenced people there.” To illustrate furthermore, Americanisation a term that has been in use since 1900 is without a doubt had a large impact towards British culture, the unwanted scraps of the Americans rolled into the arms of the British like butter and honey. In spite of being proud of their heritage and mammoth history, the British loved anything American when it came to music plus it is notably known the English admire words in songs. and in many ways, words dominate while melodies linger in mind and indeed Jimmie illustrated the main fact “That’s definitely the angle I’ve always come from, but I also think the very best is music that gets both aspects really right. Really good words and really good melodies and rhythm that’s sort of what the formula is for the very best of all music, all song. Good lyrics are totally essential. But when you run across an occasional artist that are able to do all of it, where the music can stand alone, and the words can stand alone if they needed it too. But the blend is really what is beautiful!”
During the 1960s, Joe Ely introduced Gilmore to Townes Van Zandt. Ely met the aspiring songwriter after returning to Texas -Lubbock- from San Francisco after recording an album. Ely in his own words recalled his first encounter with Van Zandt in “Townes Van Zandt- Be Here To Love Me” documentary “I was living in Lubbock back then, I was just driving around, and I see this long talk scarecrow looking guy carrying a guitar way out at the edge of town. He said he just came back from Sam Francisco recording a record and he was heading back to Houston and so I took him to the other side of Lubbock out where I use to catch rides at and by Pinkies Old Liquor Store. And he said thanks a lot and reaches in his backpack, I kinda look into the backpack there isn’t any clothes in the backpack in there. It’s nothing but albums. So, he carried these albums all the way through the desert back to Houston reaches in and gives me one. That was a bit of a surprise I never met anybody who actually recorded an album before! And I took the record back to Jimmie… Gilmore, we put the record on and we were just mesmerized.” Many musicians state Van Zandt as their main source of inspiration in writing, the impact he had on many is tremendous, to say the least. In the 1980’s Gilmore and Van Zandt became close friends- “He was defiantly one of a kind” he mentions “We got to be very good friends and we both been fan of each other before we met each other. But there was a period in the 80s late 80s we got to be close friends”
While young, Gilmore moved to Lubbock from Amarillo and first met Butch Hancock at the age of 10 when attending the same school. Later Joe Ely joined in the picture. 3 of them soon became the 3 musicteers. Enough though they had different friend circles, the 3 bonded over music. “Butch and I been friends since we’ve been little kids. I was a friend with Butch then I got to be friends with Joe- we were in a separate circle of friends and then I was also friends with Terry Allen from early in High school.”
Terry Allen, an artist, and musician who is also from Texas remains a primary source of inspiration for writing for Gilmore “He [Allen] was a couple years older than me, one night at a party at our high school and he was over in the corner playing piano and doing songs that he had written, and they were wonderful and it kinda made me realize that was a possibility.” with their bondage over music the 3 men began to play together and assembled a band. One of these notable bands were The Flatlanders. Before their formation in 1972, The T-Nickel Housebound was formed. The first band Gilmore arranged to record demos at a studio in Lubbock offered by Buddy Holly’s father- a Texas hero who Gilmore deems as his inspiration “The first time I had a band was because Buddy Holly’s father paid for me to make some demos. I had no money at all anybody I knew had any money. But I met Buddy Holly’s father and he put money together for me to do demos. I had only played solo up to that time, but I had been a fan of several people around but in particular Joe [Joe Ely]. Joe was a little younger, but Joe was already playing in bands and things before that. So, I organized a band for these recording sessions and then we played around Lubbock for while- it was called “The T-Nickel Housebound” “T stood for Tom, but we kinda let people think maybe it stood for something else.” The band included Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely, Jesse Taylor and TJ McFarland “The band had Joe Ely, TJ Macfrland who is dead now, Jesse Taylor who is also dead now. Jesse was the guitar player in The Ely band later on that was just one of the greatest in the world in the period that Joe toured Europe mostly and Alice Sparly was in the band as well. Joe Ely played Bass in that band! So, Joe and I did a lot of things together, we had a couple of different bands and I actually was in the beginning formation of the Ely band but then I left town and moved to Denver, just was that starting up in Lubbock. Joe was always sort of the best musician, the best arranger, and musical mind. He was always much more into than either Butch or I. for example, we were always song people, but Joe liked the arrangement and he liked things to be tight which is a good influence on Butch and I because we were not enough that way.” On the other hand, the name came together as an inside joke between the band members “Now, the name came from a friend -Tommy Nicolas- It was literally his house we hung out at his place and played. It was joke, kind of a personal joke for all of us but it made it sound like a real band name.”
Meanwhile, 1972 marked a new frontier for the 3 friends Gilmore, Butch Hancock and Joe Ely formed The Flatlanders, while each has already built up a name out of their own solo careers. Nashville was the first place to show interest towards The Flatlanders after hearing demos recorded in Odessa, Texas. “What happened was, we made the record in Nashville, well me made a demo tape in Odessa, Texas and then on the basis on that Shelby Singleton- he bought us to Nashville where we recorded it what was regarded as the first one. But in fact, they never really released it. They put out a few copies that sent out to some radio stations and it was the kind of thing where they actually didn’t put, any, any resources into it at all, zero they were hoping for it to just become a hit on its own and they don’t have to invest, and they’d just reap the benefits. So, it didn’t actually get released until 10 years later in England and then it wasn’t released until 10 years after that in the US on ‘Rounder.’ So, the Flatlanders record was 20 years old and then a few years ago, someone discovered the demo tapes that we made in Odessa which in certain ways were better than the Nashville one. Then it got released 40 years later! So that was ironic.”
At that time, 1970’s Nashville was already taking a new direction towards music recording and promotion- With Chet Atkins being the head of RCA, music coming out of town then was glamorized to match up producers expectation to sell artists product in order to profit. “The thing about it is, the Nashville people at that point, they did not realize what was going on. They should’ve marketed The Flatlanders record to the San Francisco people and New York. They didn’t realize that things like the Byrd’s, Sweet Heart of The Rodeo. There was a lot of interest in country music amongst the rock people. But the people of Nashville didn’t even realize that was going on, there were just in their own thing- in my opinion, it had already kinda become stagnant. Nashville had put out a lot of the best music ever for many, many years but it had started becoming all homogenized and weird even by the early 70’s. But that’s all matter of opinion.” The Flatlanders intentions were never to make large sums of money and living a rock n roll life. Instead, it was about playing and exploring music. Gilmore recalled an interview he had done with his The Flatlanders bandmates in the light of the Odessa Tapes rerelease in 2011 “One time the 3 of us Butch, Joe and I being interviewed a few years ago by a magazine and somebody asked us a question “What were your intentions at the time of the Flatlanders” or something, and Joe said, ‘wait a minute, you need to understand something. Between, Jimmy, Butch and I there was not a thimbleful of ambition’ we never have an approach to the music from the angle ‘let’s go and be stars’ and ‘let’s go and make tons of money’ we just weren’t that way, we didn’t have a kinda normal approach that professional musicians have. It was kinda like, we always were real interested in all kind of different things and art and music and music was one of the things that we were deeply interested in and to a larger degree we stayed that way.” Before leaving Lubbock to Nashville, Gilmore went to Texas Tech and registered for classes to start his academic journey “I studied philosophy pretty deeply. And for a few years at Texas Tech but I never graduated. In fact, Butch came within one hour of having an architecture degree. But I didn’t finish all the other coursework. We were all playing music and hang out too late at night.”
The story about Gilmore leaving Lubbock to Denver to live an ashram raised a few eyebrows. However, he made sure to clear the air out once and for all! “Well, that’s the way they put it. I studied meditation and vanadate philosophy. There was a guru that had his headquarters there and I was just in the community. I didn’t actually ever live in an ashram it got put that way. The group I was in they had some ashrams, but it was really it was just a community that all sit around at a certain area of Denver where a whole bunch of his students had moved to Denver and that’s what I did most of the 70s.”
If you’re following through to this stage, you’d know by now that Gilmore studied philosophy on his own later continuing his passion while attending Texas Tech University until leaving. Yet again Gilmore followed his calling and progressed in the field on his own true will “I did really well in philosophy and I continued studies just on my own and the time in Denver was really just part of that. But, not as an academic or scholar but more it just interested me.”
The only burning question I had in mind and couldn’t wait to draw attention towards was Denver a getaway from what is in Lubbock? Gilmore responded with elegance and said “I pursed it as that I do what I always wanted to do. It wasn’t like I needed time away I just wanted to give lots of energy to that area.”
Finally, to end our nearly 2-hour phone interview the last question asked was would Jimmie Dale Gilmore consider pursuing an academic degree at this stage? “I don’t think so.” Gilmore simply said, “I really love learning and reading. You know, I’m really am pretty much of an intellectual in one area of my brain and my life. But also, it’s been sort of satisfactory to me. I actually now study with a Rinpoche Tibet lama, that is what my actual might call genuine study. It’s still kinda the same constitution, the same thing but it just got further into, it kinda went away from the Hindu version of Philosophy that I have studied for so long and it kinda moved over to the Tibet Buddhist. it’s more of an exploration, rather than a livelihood or vacation it’s not academic. But it’s still Philosophy really and truly in the older Philosophy the original meaning of the word is the love of wisdom.”
What a way to end an interview!