Jimmie Dale Gilmore has more than 50 years of musical heritage and is a founding member of pioneering roots band, The Flatlanders. Beyond that, he has diversified into producing and acting, which may be attributed to his early years coming along at an opportune time in musical history.
“I’ve pretty much always been a musician,” says Gilmore, who will perform with Dave Alvin at the South Orange Performing Arts Center, Nov. 1 at 7:30 p.m., with Milton opening. “I started performing in my late teens. I was in my early teens when I started playing.
“My dad was a guitar player, so I was around it my whole life … He was never a full-time professional but he was a really good guitar player and he did a lot of local dances and stuff like that. I grew up listening to Hank Williams and Ernest Tubb, the really heavy country radio and honky tonk, Lefty Frizzell and Ray Price.
“And then right around the time when I got old enough to learn how to play and I was learning the chords to accompany myself, the folk boom happened, and I became devotedly interested in the old folk music with people like Woody Guthrie and, of course, Bob Dylan.
“Also in that period I was a real big blues fan, so some of my real influences were Lightnin’ Hopkins and Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, and I also really liked the blues bands from New Orleans and Chicago. I was also at the age when rock ‘n’ roll was new, so I got all the input from Fats Domino and Little Richard and Chuck Berry. I was steeped in a whole lot of different kinds of music from an early age.”
Out on the road in support of Downey to Lubbock, his recent collaborative album with longtime friend turned partner Alvin, the smooth-speaking Gilmore explained how the two arrived at this point.
“We had been very, very good friends for a long, long time, but we had never played music together,” he said. “We met each other through the music business. Way back a long time ago there was a thing called The Monsters of Folk, and it still keeps going today but with a lot of the younger people. But we did the original incarnation of it, and it was organized by Tom Russell. It was me and Butch Hancock and Steve Young, I believe, and all singer-songwriter people. Mostly kind of folk singers except several of us had a foot in other worlds.
“Dave and I got to be friends on that trip, but we never had played together and David is a really good writer and he had done some articles about me. So we had gotten to be really well acquainted, but we didn’t play music together. Last year my booking agent called me one day with this idea and he said, ‘What do you think about going out with just you and Dave Alvin together, just the two of you on one of these song swap things?’ I said I would love it and David said the same thing, because we already liked each other a lot personally and were sort of mutual fans. … Pretty quickly into it, we discovered that we had so much in common musically, and even though we sound so different we found that our backgrounds were so similar. And in January of last year we did our first show together in Denton, Texas.
“By doing those duet shows, we sort of accidentally discovered that it worked really well. We hadn’t really ever known about each other’s common musical roots until we were hangin’ around with each other, and since we didn’t have a band we could pull up just anything. I could pull up any old song and if Dave knew it he could join in or he’d learn it before it was over or he’d just sit out. We turned out to have so much in common that we had a repertoire.”
Downey to Lubbock is named after their hometowns, Gilmore is from Lubbock, Texas, and Alvin is from Downey, Calif. The recording of this critically well received effort was wrapped up with relative ease, thanks to a smart decision by Gilmore.
“We did the album in a few sessions out in L.A. because it was easier to fly me to L.A. Originally we were going to do half there and half here in Texas, but to do that would be flying eight or nine band and crew people instead of just flying one person out to where they all were. So we did it all in L.A. in the studio that Dave works in all of the time, and it was great and so much fun.”
Not so easy is figuring out the genre for their work.
“We don’t know what to call it,” he said. “I think it’s an amalgam of … all of the folk influences that had such an effect on all of the musicians of our time, blended in with rockin’ blues and country. I can’t figure it out; there’s stuff to me that I’d call hard rock that they call Americana, and then there’s some sweet ballads. I’m not sure, really.”
The duo may have much in common, but wrote most of the material for Downey to Lubbock separately.
“We’ve not written much together; my main songwriting has been with The Flatlanders, and that’s a whole separate thing,” said Gilmore. “Essentially, this is my third career, because I’ve had my own personal career and The Flatlanders have been going since the early ’70s and that’s a periodical happening, and then this with Dave for the last couple of years has been my main focus.”
Gilmore says it’s been 15 years since he toured this much. “I love it, we have such a good band, musically. It’s exciting. It’s good every night, and they’re all people that I like to hang out with. So it’s a fun thing, but I don’t necessarily like being away from home so much at a time, but being away from home and having it be such a positive road experience is second best.
“We’re doing this tour in a van and a car but there’s actually plenty of room for us to spread out and there’s room for the merch. It’s not exactly a shoestring budget, but it’s also not a big expenditure. This isn’t unusual for Dave; he’s been a workhorse year round for many years. I’m a little older than Dave so I had slowed down a little bit and I’ve been jokingly saying that I’ve been retired, even though it wasn’t true. I was still playing but I just wasn’t playing every night.”
There are three area shows this week with SOPAC first, followed by Nov. 3 at The Bell House in Brooklyn, and Nov. 4 at The Sellersville Theater in Sellersville, Pa. Gilmore says that there’s a mix of intensity and beauty to be found at each.
“You can expect some really intense blues rock guitar from Dave; he’s one of the best and he’s high powered and intense. Then we veer off into beautiful ballads and poignant sort of music; there’s a little touch of country in all of it, country and blues.”
For more information, visit jimmiegilmore.com.