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Jimmie Dale Gilmore: Folksy Buddhist

This article by Richard J. Skelly was published in U.S. 1

Newspaper on February 18. All rights reserved.

There is a word from the radio world that best

describes

Jimmie Dale Gilmore’s recordings and live shows. It’s called

Americana.

Typically, Americana-format radio stations play a healthy mix of

country,

rockabilly, contemporary folk, and a smattering of acoustic blues.

In concert, or on "Braver New World" and "Spinning Around

the Sun," his two most recent releases for Elektra Records, you’ll

get just that from Gilmore: "Black Snake Moan," a blues from

Blind Lemon Jefferson; "I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry," the

country staple from Hank Williams; and the traditional, "Mobile

Line (France Blues)." But you’ll also get original songs, which,

although sung with his twangy West Texas accent, he calls folk songs.

Growing up in Lubbock, Texas, Gilmore says his earliest awareness

of blues, rock ‘n’ roll, folk, and country music came by way of the

radio.

"But also, my dad played, so there was a lot of music going on

in the living room. I remember going out to nightclubs and VFW Halls

when I was very young," says Gilmore in a phone conversation from

his home in the hills of West Austin.

"The radio was my main source up until the time I started playing

and seeking out records. When we got a little bit older, my dad took

my sister and me to a lot of shows: I got to see Elvis Presley open

a show for Johnny Cash — if you can imagine that! One of the best

shows I ever saw, too."

Gilmore’s dad played guitar professionally, "though he never did

it exclusively," he adds, and his dad began attending college

when Gilmore was in first grade. His dad, a one-time dairy farmer,

later became a bacteriologist, while his mom worked as a doctor’s

assistant.

"Lubbock was just a real middle-class kind of town, with a lot

of Texas in it, though," he recalls. Lubbock was home to Buddy

Holly, as well as his boyhood pals Joe Ely and Butch Hancock, with

whom he formed one of his first music groups, the Flatlanders.

Growing up in Lubbock with radio played a critical role

in shaping Gilmore’s eclectic tastes in music, which he carries with

him to this day. He recalls with one group of friends, he’d listen

to country music stations on the car radio. But with a different group

of pals, he’d tune the car radio to a rock ‘n’ roll station.

Gilmore and his friends didn’t just listen to the radio, they also

all read a lot. "I read Jack Kerouac’s `On The Road’ when I was

in junior high school. I don’t remember exactly how I got turned on

to it, I can’t remember if I was the first one in our little group

of friends who read it. But we all read a lot and we were

sweet-natured,

but still kind of rebellious against school and everything."

Gilmore also read William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg in high school.

By the time he graduated in 1963, "I was pretty drenched in Beat

literature," he recalls.

Gilmore attended Texas Tech, in Lubbock, but never graduated. "I

studied with a man at Texas Tech who had studied with Bertrand Russell

in Chicago in the ’30s, and his name was Dr. Waters. He made a

lifelong

impression on me," he says. "Mainly I studied symbolic logic

and linguistic analysis with Dr. Waters. I had straight As in

everything

in the honors classes in the philosophy department, and then I would

flunk out of everything else, ’cause I had no interest."

Like Janis Joplin and Johnny Winter who came from Beaumont, Texas,

and many other musicians from all over the state, Gilmore moved to

Austin in the mid-1960s. Its reputation as a music town has grown

steadily ever since.

"The first time I played music in Austin was in 1965 at

Threadgill’s,

and Mr. Threadgill himself was still hosting the little shows

there,"

Gilmore recalls. Austin in the 1960s was an exciting place to be.

Joplin, the 13th Floor Elevators, Mother Earth, Boz Scaggs, Steve

Miller, and among the musicians who hung out there then, and who moved

on to San Francisco in the late 1960s. Gilmore has a theory about

this.

"Like many others, I did the sort of normal Western U.S. hippie

thing," he says, recalling the days when he lived a nomadic

existence

moving between Austin, Lubbock, and Berkeley, California.

"The word `hippie’ was an artificial concept invented by the media

— just like `beatniks,’" he says. "We were just people

who were very individualistic. The media created a style out of it

so it wasn’t individualistic at all, so it described a group of us.

The individualistic people weren’t really hippies as Time magazine

would use the word.

"A lot of people who come to Austin now say there’s this strange

kind of 1960s vibe to it," says Gilmore. "My contention is

that Austin already had a certain kind of flavor to it and that it

was exported to the rest of the world through Austin people. Janis

Joplin, the Kitchen Sink Press, these were all Texas people who had

been in Austin. So I say to people who say that being in Austin is

like being in the ’60s is that it’s really just Austin being itself.

I don’t think it’s too grandiose to say that Austin has an

individualistic,

progressive and artistic character to it.

"And it’s right in the middle of one of the most conservative

places in the world — an area settled by a bunch of Germans!"

For most of the 1970s, while his music career went nowhere in Austin

in the early ’70s, Gilmore lived with a group of people who followed

a meditation teacher in Denver. Asked if this was some kind of cult

he got sucked into in a vulnerable, low period in his life, Gilmore

says that wasn’t the case at all. He says that then, as now, in his

life and in his songwriting, he was on a spiritual quest.

"I had read enough oriental philosophy that I became curious

enough

about meditation to search for a real teacher. I found one in Colorado

and lived within a community of people that were involved in the

organization

around him," he says. "Then, when I moved back to Austin in

1980, as I slowly moved back into the music business, I also went

back into the night life. I became a big drinker."

Fortunately, his old pal Joe Ely had made it possible

for him to continue as a musician, after Ely recorded several Gilmore

songs for his albums on MCA Records. "He really established my

reputation as a songwriter," Gilmore says of his career in Austin

in the early 1980s. Fortunately, he caught himself before he was too

far gone down "the blind alley of pot and alcohol." In 1982,

Gilmore reached a nadir, then quit drinking and went back to daily

meditation sessions.

"As far as I’m concerned that was the beginning of my career,"

he says. "I was 37."

In 1985, he got signed to Hightone Records, a hip San Francisco label

that gave bluesman Robert Cray his start. After recording two

critically

acclaimed but little known albums for Hightone, his friend Natalie

Merchant, of the group 10,000 Maniacs, herself a big fan of blues,

rockabilly, and early country music, began lobbying for him at Elektra

Records.

"She and David Byther kind of went to work creating a place for

me at Elektra Records," he says.

"When I actually was signed to Elektra I was in my late 40s. It’s

a pretty silly and unheard of thing," he says, laughing.

At his show in Hightstown on Saturday night, Gilmore will be

accompanied

by guitarist, Gabe Rhodes, the son of west Texas vocalist Kimmie

Rhodes.

Gilmore will play acoustic guitar and harmonica.

"When I play without the band I kind of feel obligated to put

something extra into it," he says, with typical modesty.

Since he parted company with Elektra Records last year, Gilmore says

he’s been very prolific, writing a lot of new songs and working on

two projects: an album of old songs and an album of his original

material.

Four record companies are currently interested in signing him, and

Gilmore says he’s made up his mind about one, so doesn’t want to

comment

further.

"I may do an entire album of old songs, and call it `Contemporary

Folk,’" he says, laughing, noting his Austin friend Eddie Wilson,

the owner of Threadgill’s, says the expression "contemporary

folk"

is an oxymoron.

Gilmore has also been recording with his old friends Hancock and Ely

from the Flatlanders, his early 1970s group. "There may an album

as a result of that," he says.

Apparently, all his time spent meditating, studying

philosophy, and even his six years in the meditation group in Denver

has done Gilmore some lasting good. He still meditates daily, and

credits his friends Philip Glass and the late poet Allen Ginsberg

with urging him to learn more about Tibetan Buddhism, which involves

daily meditation sessions.

Many audience members will agree that frankly, there is something

spiritual that happens when Gilmore sings. Like Willie Nelson, there’s

a timeless quality to his voice that appeals to a lot of people who

don’t particularly like country music. And there’s an electricity

between audience and performer that’s palpable. They feel good. He

feels good in return. He begins to smile and open up to his audience,

telling funny stories in between tunes.

With a healthy appreciation of blues, country, traditional folk,

rockabilly,

and other early rock ‘n’ roll, it’s no wonder Gilmore has found so

much success on Americana and Triple A radio stations, like

Philadelphia’s

WXPN-FM.

For folk music fans not sure what to expect of him in concert, he

offers this: "I play a mix of songs, quite a bit of my own

material,

and I also do a lot of old country and old blues songs. I just kind

of indulge my own tastes and trust that the kind of people who like

my style will also like a lot of the old songs that I do."

— Richard J. Skelly

Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Outta Sights & Sounds, Grace

Norton Rogers School Theater, Hightstown, 609-259-5764. Bob Martin

opens. $18. Saturday, February 21, 8 p.m.


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