Jimmie Dale Gilmore may have long hair and sound like Willie Nelson, but he’s the anti-Nashville.
He’s a little bit country, he’s a little bit rock ‘n’ roll … and blues and folk and honkytonk and bluegrass. The singer-songwriter from Lubbock, Texas, is all those things rolled into one.
“I’ve lost touch with what they call country music anymore,” Gilmore said recently. “It’s always been an odd thing for me, because I have never fit neatly into any categories. Because of my voice and my Texas accent, it seems automatic to judge me as a country singer, but my whole mind and tastes have gone so far astray from what that is. I don’t even know what it is anymore.”
It’s funny how artists outside Nashville, notably those in Texas, seem to have a greater appreciation and respect for traditional country music, rooted in honkytonk, blues and folk, than those supposedly on the inside.
Gilmore’s passion and determination to blur the boundaries is never more apparent than on his sixth solo album, “One Endless Night” (Windcharger Music/Rounder), due March 7. Co-produced with Gilmore’s good friend, Buddy Miller, “One Endless Night” picks up where 1996’s Grammy-nominated “Braver Newer World” left off, scouring a century of songs to interpret as only Gilmore can with his rich tenor.
In addition to two originals, he tackles songs by Townes Van Zandt (“No Lonesome Tune”), Walter Hyatt, John Hiatt (“Your Love Is My Rest”), Jesse Winchester and the Grateful Dead (“Ripple”). Along the way, he gets a little help from Emmylou Harris, Jim Lauderdale, Victoria Williams and Julie Miller. His most daring moment comes with a stunning cover of Bertholdt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s “Mack the Knife.”
“That song is from the ’30s, but it’s thoroughly modern or even post-modern,” Gilmore said. “I love Bobby Darin’s version, that’s where I first knew of it, but then I heard Dave Van Long do it and that’s what caused me to do it. I actually paid attention to the lyrics, and it’s very much like an ironic protest song, which I didn’t know from the Bobby Darin version. I didn’t know it came from ‘The Threepenny Opera’ and that the whole work was an anti-Nazi thing. Dave Van Long had said that (Brecht and Weill) were obliquely talking about the Nazis being so well dressed, so clean and perfectly orderly, but they were murderers under that surface.
“There’s something about the melody, too. It’s so simple, and yet it’s so universally loved. Musically, it makes you wonder why does a melody grab people so strongly? Why does a certain sequence of notes have such an impact? It’s a total mystery.”
Gilmore credits Miller for the album’s authenticity.
“Buddy and I work so well together,” he said. “A lot of the stuff, we didn’t have to discuss; we just knew. I noticed at one point, I was watching Buddy doing some overdubs and it suddenly occurred to me that Buddy really loves the same music that I do, that he genuinely came from a true love of country music, rock ‘n’ roll and blues and folk.
“I was reflecting on how a lot of really great musicians tend to lean heavily in one direction or another. Buddy’s one of those people who’s so wide-ranging; he can go from a screaming guitar lead into the most melodic, sweet sound, and he’s equally at home.
“Like Buddy, I’ve always been very respectful of the traditional, no matter what form, whether it’s old folk music or old ballads. But I’ve also been very open to innovation, to new sounds, to new approaches. I think that’s what makes up the recipe of me and my music, that those things are going on at once. There’s something old-fashioned but also very modern.”
Gilmore found major-label success late in his storied career, signing with Elektra in 1991 when he was in his mid-40s. He gives thanks to Elektra for putting him on the map; though they parted on good terms after “Braver Newer World,” Gilmore feels rejuvenated after starting his own label, Windcharger.
“We recorded this record on a Macintosh; Buddy’s an expert at Pro Tools,” Gilmore said. “There wasn’t one inch of tape involved. It was totally digital. Of course, the mix becomes a tape process, but from the point of view of production and marketing and promotion, lots of possibilities came about that didn’t exist before.
“My manager, Mike Crowley, and I saw that there was a possibility here that we could do it on our own, and it wasn’t just a total insane gamble. We put up our own money, we produced it, we own it completely and we have total control over how we go about promoting it. It’s the perfect situation.”
THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: “It was Jimmie Rodgers’ ‘Honeycomb,’ and I think ‘Kisses Sweeter Than Wine’ was on the flip side.”
THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: “I had been to some before this, but the first one I remember vividly was Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley in Lubbock in ’56 or ’57. At the time, I think, in Lubbock, Cash was billed above Elvis. My dad was a musician and he took my sister and I to that show. I think I had already figured I wanted to do music, but maybe after that night there was never any question about it. It was so much fun.”
THE LAST CD I BOUGHT: “Steve Earle’s ‘Corazon.’ I’ve heard pieces of it in various places for a few years, and I just had to have it.”
BWF (before we forget): Spend one endless night with Jimmie Dale Gilmore on the Web @ www.jimmiegilmore.com. … The Jimmie Dale Gilmore album discography – “Fair and Square” (HighTone, 1988); “Jimmie Dale Gilmore” (1989); “After Awhile” (Elektra Nonesuch, 1991); “Spinning Around the Sun” (Elektra, 1993); “Braver Newer World” (1996); “One Endless Night” (Windcharger Music/Rounder, 2000).