A mix tape for Daddy
Texas singer Jimmie Dale Gilmore revisits some old-school country classics
Think of it as the ultimate mix tape for Daddy. Actually, singer-songwriter and West Texas native Jimmie Dale Gilmore took the process one step further: He got a band together and recorded his own versions of the 13 archival gems on Come on Back, his new album on the Rounder Records label.
That disc provides a generally hard-swinging tour through a style of music that you don’t hear much on so-called country radio, which abandoned hardscrabble heroes like Buck Owens and Merle Haggard in favor of soft-focus, mildly twang-ified pop singers and suburb-and-western icons. It’s the kind of stuff Gilmore’s late father, Brian—a guitarist who played a very early model of the Fender Telecaster in a Lubbock, Texas, combo called the Twangeroos—liked to listen to. “It’s old honky-tonk dancin’ music,” Gilmore said over the phone from his home outside Austin. “I think my dad would have been really proud of it. That was something that we shared with each other—both of us having this big love of that particular style of music.”
Take “Pick Me Up on Your Way Down,” which opens the record. It’s a little-known Harlan Howard-penned song, which Gilmore first heard as a single by Charlie Walker. The music evokes a sawdust-on-the-floor juke joint where working-class folks cut loose and dance on a Saturday night. Western swing-style twin fiddles frame Gilmore’s billowing voice, which carries a hint of old cowboy singer, somewhere between Gene Autry and Roy Orbison. Howard’s lyrics sketch the point of view of a spurned lover who’s been tossed aside by a social climber, and Gilmore delivers the three-minute tune so effectively that you want to punch “repeat” every time it ends. The album also includes better-known numbers made famous by Hank Williams, Ernest Tubb and Johnny Cash, among others.
Gilmore may be off the radar for anyone not versed in the alt-country or Americana genres, but film fans might recall him from his cameo appearance in the Coen brothers’ 1998 film The Big Lebowski. Gilmore played Vietnam vet Smokey, whose alleged toe-over-the-line bowling technique prompted John Goodman’s character, Walter Sobchak, to pull a gun on him. “You mark that frame an eight and you’re entering a world of pain,” Goodman snarled. (For local trivia buffs, that film opened and closed with narratives delivered by Sacramento native Sam Elliott, as “The Stranger,” a sarsaparilla-drinking über-cowboy.)
But, for anyone who’s into Americana music, Gilmore, who turned 60 in May, is an important figure. He released one album, actually an eight-track tape, with his old band the Flatlanders (which also featured Texas music legends Joe Ely—who produced Come on Back—and Butch Hancock) on the Plantation label in 1973. Rounder re-released it in 1991. After a stint living at a Denver ashram, Gilmore emerged in 1983 at the Kerrville Folk Festival, and over the past 17 years he has released a number of fine albums for the HighTone, Nonesuch, Elektra and Windjammer labels. The reunited Flatlanders also released a pair of albums in recent years and are working on new material.
Gilmore may have earned a reputation as a songwriter, but he insists that’s a commonly held misperception. “You know, I never have been really prolific,” Gilmore admitted. “I never really had thought of myself as a writer, even though I’ve written some good songs. I always have perceived myself as an interpreter. If I love a song, it doesn’t matter to me if I wrote it or somebody else did.”
As a performer, Gilmore’s usual local venue is the Palms Playhouse, where he’ll play on Tuesday, accompanied by longtime guitarist Robbie Gjersoe. He played the old, now-razed barn in West Davis a number of times throughout the ’90s. “Boy, I had a lot of fun nights there,” Gilmore recalled. “It was always one of the most enthusiastic crowds to play for. I hope it’s still that way.” This will be his first gig at the Palms’ new Winters location.