With his warm, warbling tenor voice and folksy, friendly approach to both his music and his audiences, Jimmie Dale Gilmore is an easy guy to like. His music is a rich blend of traditional country, folk, blues, and rock styles, and his lyrics reflect both his philosophical interests and his inherent down-home nature. Since moving to Austin, TX, and reviving his career in the 1980s, Gilmore has in many ways come to represent the current Austin music scene -- its rootsy mix of country, rock, and folk music -- the way Willie Nelson once reigned as king of the town's cosmic cowboys in the 1970s.
Gilmore's roots go back to Tulia, a small West Texas town where his father played lead guitar in a country band. When Gilmore was in grade school the family moved to Lubbock, a Panhandle town known for being the starting point for a surprising number of musicians (including Buddy Holly, Waylon Jennings, Terry Allen, and Gilmore's onetime singing partners Butch Hancock and Joe Ely). Growing up in Lubbock, Gilmore met Hancock when they were both 12, and they remained friends and frequent musical collaborators ever since. Gilmore later met Allen, who he says inspired him to write his own songs. One of the first songs Gilmore wrote, in fact -- when he was around 20 -- was "Treat Me Like a Saturday Night," which is today one of his most enduring pieces. Later, another casual friend of Gilmore's, Ely, turned him on to the music of Townes Van Zandt, which Gilmore says was a revelation for the way Van Zandt integrated the worlds of folk and country music.
Gilmore and Ely began playing music together around Lubbock as the T. Nickel House Band. Later, after a brief stint in Austin, Gilmore hooked up again back in Lubbock with Ely and Hancock and formed the Flatlanders, a now-legendary band that also included Steve Wesson, Tony Pearson, and several peripheral members. The group recorded an album in Nashville in 1972, but it was only ever released at the time on eight-track tape. (Long a collector's item, it was finally re-released by Rounder Records in 1990 under the title More a Legend Than a Band). A mix of acoustic folk, string-band country, and country blues, the album included another of Gilmore's best-known songs, "Dallas," which was actually released as a promo single at the time but generated little interest. By the end of the year the band had split up.
Gilmore moved to Denver, playing music only as a hobby. Ely, meanwhile, had won a record contract and had recorded some of Gilmore's songs. In 1980, Gilmore moved back to Austin, where he began playing regular gigs in local clubs. Finally, in 1988, Gilmore released his debut solo album, Fair and Square, on HighTone, Ely's label at the time. This and his 1989 follow-up, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, featured songs by Gilmore as well as Hancock and Ely played in a more straightforward honky tonk style than anything Gilmore had done previously or since. These two albums gained Gilmore newfound acclaim just as Austin itself was becoming a musical hot spot again. In 1990, the Flatlanders album was re-released, and Virgin Australia put out Two Roads, a duet album with Hancock that was recorded live during the pair's Australian tour. Gilmore was soon signed to Elektra, which released After Awhile in 1991 as part of the label's American Explorer series. The album retained a country feeling but was less honky tonk in nature, and it attracted Gilmore even more acclaim. Nashville showed little interest in Gilmore's brand of country music, but he earned the praise of many critics. His next album, Spinning Around the Sun, came out in 1993 and again featured a mix of contemporary and traditional country-flavored songs and a fuller instrumental sound fronted by Gilmore's rich, warm voice. In 1996 he released Braver Newer World, produced by T-Bone Burnett, but the big news for Gilmore's fans came in 1998, when he reunited with Joe Ely and Butch Hancock to record a new Flatlanders track for the soundtrack of the motion picture The Horse Whisperer. While Gilmore stayed busy with his own music, releasing One Endless Night in early 2000, the Flatlanders began periodically touring together again, and they finally got around to cutting a second album in 2002, Now Again, with a third set, Wheels of Fortune, following in 2004. (That same year, tapes from an old Flatlanders gig were given commercial release under the title Live '72.) Gilmore returned to solo duties in 2005 with Come On Back, an album of classic honky tonk and folk songs Jimmie Dale recorded to honor the passing of his father; Joe Ely produced and played on the project.
~ Kurt Wolff