Jimmie Dale Gilmore - Biography

By J Poet

Jimmie Dale Gilmore’s sad, soulful warble and keen intelligence mark him as one of country music’s most unique artists. He was born and raised in Texas, but after spending almost a decade in an ashram (meditation retreat) he’s been tagged as The Zen Cowboy, known for the universal outlook he brings to his music and life.

Gilmore born in the tiny town of Tulia, Texas and raised in Lubbock, home of Buddy holly and many other legends including Waylon Jennings, Lloyd Maines and his daughter, Dixie Chick Natalie Maines. His father, Brian Gilmore, played nights in a honky tonk band while working days as a bacteriologist at Texas Tech University. Gilmore often joked that it was the influence of the UFOs that came through Lubbock in the early 50s that made the town so cosmic and so country. Growing up in the 50s, Gilmore was exposed to the first generation of rock’n’roll artist on the radio, as well as the country and honky tonk music his father loved. His dad showed him how to play electric guitar as a boy, and arranged fiddle lessons too, but in the 60s the folk boom turned Gilmore towards the Gibson J-200 acoustic guitar, which he still favors.

He grew up playing solo gigs, both folk and country, and sat in with his friends Butch Hancock and Joe Ely. In the late 60s, Ely met a folksinger named Townes Van Zandt. He was so impressed with Van Zandt’s music that he sold Hancock and Gilmore on the idea of a cowboy folk band. The T. Nickel House Band gained a reputation and Buddy Holly’s father gave the band, now called Jimmie Dale and The Flatlanders, the money to make a demo. In 1971 the trio and their backing musicians went to Nashville and cut Jimmie Dale and The Flatlanders (1972 Plantation, released as More a Legend Than a Band in 1990 on Rounder) for Shelby Singleton’s Plantation logo. The album only came out on 8-track tape and the label went belly up soon after the tape was released.

The Flatlanders parted ways and Gilmore moved to Denver to join the spiritual community of guru Maharaji. He lived in an ashram from 1974 to 1980, when he moved to Austin, Texas and started playing music again. Ely and Hancock were already stars on the alt.country/Americana circuit and helped Gilmore get his career back on track. Ely helped him get signed to Oakland’s roots label HighTone, where he cut two excellent albums Fair and Square (1988 HighTone), a hard core honky tonk set produced by Joe Ely and Jimmie Dale Gilmore (1989 HighTone) which included five Gilmore originals including “Dallas,” which was already one of Ely’s signature tunes.

Gilmore toured with Hancock and Ely and his HighTone albums did well enough to get him a deal with Elektra/Nonesuch. After Awhile (1991 Nonesuch Explorer) included 11 Gilmore originals. It made him a favorite with rock, country and folk audiences. His fragile warbling vocals, fine picking and incredible songwriting blew people away. Nashville didn’t know what to make of him, but he became a major cult hero to lovers of fine songwriting and soulful singing. Spinning Around the Sun (1993 Elektra) featured a duet with Lucinda Williams and a more polished radio friendly sound, while Braver Newer World (1996 Elektra), produced by T-Bone Burnett, was hailed as a cosmic country masterpiece, a forward looking blend of folk, neo-psychedelic and country that may be his finest album. In 1998, Gilmore tried acting briefly and appeared in the Coen Brother’s odd opus The Big Lebowski (1998) as the spaced out bowler Smokey.

Gilmore started his own label for One Endless Night (2000 Windcharger, 2000 Rounder) a collection of tunes by his favorite songwriters delivered with sparse, mostly acoustic backing. His interpretations of The Grateful Dead’s “Ripple” and Bertolt Brecht’s “Mack the Knife” are stunning. Meanwhile, the reissue of The Flatlanders album in 1990 has caused a sensation. Gilmore reunited with Hancock and Ely and created a new version of the Flatlanders and cut Now Again (2002 New West,) Wheels of Fortune (2004 New West) and a DVD Live from Austin TX (2004 New West.)

When Gilmore’s father died, it got the singer thinking about the roots of his music. Come on Back (2005 Rounder) is a tribute to his dad, another collection of classic country and honky tonk tunes, given Gilmore’s distinctive treatment. It includes tunes by Ernest Tubb (“Walkin’ the Floor Over You”), Jimmy Rodgers (“Standin’ on the Corner”), Hank Snow (“I’m Movin’ On”) and The Carter Family. Gilmore continues to tour with the revived Flatlanders and does the odd solo gig.

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