Border music

Jimmie Dale Gilmore watched the dawn of rock ‘n’ roll while growing up in Lubbock, Texas — but he didn’t throw away his Lefty Frizzell records when he discovered the Beatles.

As a matter of course, Gilmore has always sought to augment, rather than diminish, his musical options.

“To me it’s always one song at a time,” the guitarist explains. “When a song is playing and I like it, that doesn’t mean that I’m going to like every other country song, or every other song by that same artist. People have a tendency to lock down on decisions like that. I grew up with real die-hard, honky-tonk country music. Ernest Tubb is what my dad liked; Hank Williams. Then when I got to the age of rock ‘n’ roll, I saw friends that decided to throw out the country music. I love rock ‘n’ roll, and when it came along, I was just as thrilled and in love with it as anybody. But I didn’t stop liking the Hank Williams.”

Living near the Mexican border in west Texas offered some distinct musical advantages, according to Gilmore — such as lots of radio. “It really exploded in the ’50s and early ’60s. So much new and different music got spread around the whole world. I believe that that’s one of the reasons that so much music has come out of Lubbock — because we heard so much music. My dad was a guitar player, so it was always around the house. And we had so much good radio — the border stations, and good local stations, country and rock ‘n’ roll …

“My memory goes back to before rock ‘n’ roll was invented,” he muses.

Gilmore’s new release, One Endless Night (Windcharger/Rounder, 2000), is his first in four years. It contains songs by some of Gilmore’s favorite composers — Townes Van Zandt, Butch Hancock (Gilmore’s partner in the legendary Texas band The Flatlanders), John Hiatt, Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter, and Walter Hyatt — and features a dirgelike version of the classic “Mack The Knife.” Gilmore co-wrote the album’s title track with David Hammond, and collaborated with Hal Ketchum on “Blue Shadows.”

“Music is as varied and unpredictable and strange as everyday life is,” the artist declares. “I like for music to contain a little of all of it … the sadness, the joy. Feeling is the main thing for me. I like opposites. It seems like my hobby in music is finding where things are paradoxes, and not contradictions. I like music that’s sweet and beautiful and melodic, and I also like raw music, real edgy music. …

“And a lot of times I like it when they’re blended.”

Gilmore has a rich, haunting voice cooled by a sweet twang — not for nothing was he dubbed “the poet laureate of the Buddhist cowboys” by Rolling Stone — but he nonetheless tends to downplay his talents.

“Singing was all I ever knew how to do. I never had any lessons. I think I unconsciously imitated little parts of lots of different singers that I liked. I never deliberately tailored my voice to anything. I’m not a particularly good guitar player,” he confesses. “I learned the folk techniques, and of course Doc Watson was [at the] top of the list of people that I came to love. Merle Travis I liked a whole lot; Joan Baez was one that I really learned a lot from, from her records. And Dave Van Ronk. As far as singers, it was coming from another world: It was Hank Williams and Webb Pierce and Lefty Frizzell — they were some of my earliest strong influences.”

In the studio, Gilmore claims he “likes having people around me that have really finely tuned ears that can point out mistakes that I don’t notice. I have an appreciation for that, but I’m not that way by nature.”

But he does greatly enjoy the task of picking material for his albums, noting: “I’ve gathered a repertoire of hundreds of songs that I really like. I’d love to someday record all of them. If a song produces a strong feeling in me, and if it’s anywhere near the right style or a style I could get a handle on, it’s like I want other people to hear it too. I remember getting a new record when I was young, playing it and loving it, and saying, ‘Mom, dad, listen to this!'”

The Texan released his first solo album in 1988 on Hightone, titled Fair And Square. After a self-titled follow-up in ’89, he was signed to Elektra Nonesuch for three albums. 1996’s Braver Newer World generated a lot of excited press, earning him Rolling Stone‘s Folk Artist of the Year award and a Grammy nomination.

“I made a lot of friends at Elektra, and a lot of people [there] are real supporters,” he feels. “But the distribution and everything is set up to service the ones that are having the massive radio play, where the big numbers are, so it’s difficult for them to do the sort of micromanagement that’s needed for a niche kind of artist. We just decided that it would probably make more sense to manage it down at a more visible level.”

One Endless Night is the first release on Gilmore’s Windcharger label, co-produced by the artist and Buddy Miller. “Buddy was the secret ingredient in this,” Gilmore reveals. “We recorded the whole thing digitally at his house. His capability to do that, along with his great musicianship, let us use what’s best about the new technology, and yet keep a soulfulness to it. We really weighed the decision to drop off of Elektra. That was hard, because a lot of people are clamoring to get a major-label deal, and here I was talking about dropping myself off of one. I’ve always, by nature, been pretty experimental, so that was consistent with how I’ve always gone about it.”

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