Jimmie Dale Gilmore – Defying gravity
My mind’s got a mind of its own
Takes me out a-walkin’ when I’d rather stay at home
Takes me out to parties when I’d rather be alone
Lord, my mind’s got a mind of its own.
Jimmie Dale Gilmore has sung these lines (penned by pal Butch Hancock) for years, and they couldn’t be more fitting: His thoughts do tend to wander. In the two hours since we’ve been sitting in the kitchen of his rough-hewn hill-country home outside Austin, the omnidirectional firings of Gilmore’s synapses have blazed their way through a dizzying array of topics. Macrobiotics, Buddhism, Hindu cosmology, computers, Buckminster Fuller, The Whole Earth Catalog, modern psychology, cybernetics, the Tao, the philosophies of Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead: All have come up in conversation, and that’s to say nothing of Gilmore’s freewheeling musical allusions. Some subjects, such as Buddhism and Fuller, become sustained threads. Most are but petals upon which Gilmore’s butterfly imagination alights before flitting along to the next flower of cognition.
“Most of my audience is probably more interested in music than in this kind of abstruse philosophical discourse, but to me, everything is endlessly, totally, interblended,” Gilmore observes. Then, suddenly sensing that we’re running of daylight, he pushes his lanky frame back from the kitchen table and announces, “I’ve got to show you something.”
Soon we’re out the back door, Gilmore’s four dogs — Lyra, Vega, Indra and Maia — at our heels. We wind our way through a maze of cedars, rocks, live oaks and prickly pears before coming to a ravine some 40 feet deep and 60 feet wide. We tromp another 100 yards along the rim of the gorge until Gilmore stops and points to where it meets up with Lick Creek, which empties into the Pedernales River. Gilmore’s face is beaming. Aglow in the sharp slant of the midwinter sun, his serene smile and graying mane project the aura of a seer — a brujo, perhaps.
Just up Lick Creek a ways, he proclaims, is the oldest known inhabited spot in North America — or, rather, the spot which used to hold that distinction when archeologists from the University of Texas first happened upon it in the 1970s. “It’s incredible, isn’t it?” he asks. It’s as if he’s just unearthed the mythical El Dorado of which he sings in “Another Colorado”. “I really wasn’t interested in this house until our real estate agent brought me back here.”
Gilmore lives for such epiphanies. He seeks convergences at nearly every turn; the more ineffable, even paradoxical, the better. This sense of wonder, this hunger to come to grips with his place in the larger world, is evident in Gilmore’s study of metaphysics; in the meditation he practices; in the way he weaves his spirituality into his music; and in the music itself, which, whether solo or with the Flatlanders, defies definition, encompassing everything from folk, rock ‘n’ roll and honky-tonk to blues, border and Cajun music. More than just interconnected, in the Tao of Jimmie Dale Gilmore these and all other things constitute one reality — a uni-verse or “single song.”
Gilmore’s posture of openness, a stance as intuitive as it is intentional, informs every aspect of his life, right down to the friendships and musical partnerships he forges. And while he may be fond of using new-agey, dial-a-psychic argot like “happenstance,” “coincidence,” “chemistry,” and “magic” to describe these fortuitous convergences, his isn’t as soft-headed an outlook as such terms would suggest. Just the opposite, in fact. No matter how meandering or prone to backtracking his steps might be — he went through three record labels before putting his new album out on his own Windcharger imprint, distributed through Rounder — Gilmore finds his way via an affective logic, born of his trust that he’ll know the right path when he sees it.
Consider the process by which he came to work with co-producer Buddy Miller on his new album, One Endless Night — that, and how the record itself was made. Gilmore had played a number of dates on a tour that included Buddy & Julie Miller, Emmylou Harris and, in some cities, Iris DeMent. After hanging around backstage together, Gilmore and Miller became fast friends. “Something just clicked,” Gilmore explains. Later, Miller’s name came up when Gilmore and his manager, Mike Crowley, were making a list of candidates to produce his new album. “I said to Mike, ‘I sure like Buddy’s music. I’d like to explore working with him.'”
Gilmore’s explorations didn’t begin in earnest until he met Miller in Austin last fall, when Buddy was on tour with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt. “Jimmie came to the hotel and we talked about music for hours,” Miller remembers. “In fact, we did a lot more talking than playing. And not talking about what the record should be, ’cause I hate going into something with a preconceived idea. We mainly just got to know each other enough to see that we come from similar backgrounds musically.”
“Buddy’s tastes are virtually identical to mine,” echoes Gilmore. “He’s a genuine rocker, no question about it. It’s in him. But he also genuinely, truly loves the old country stuff. And he also genuinely loves sweet, ballady, folk music. I’ve known lots of really great people in those realms, but even if they’re influenced by different idioms, their hearts pretty much lie in one camp or the other. I think the reason that Buddy and I communicate so well is that we both truly come from all those backgrounds. It wasn’t like one of those was patched on, and I think that’s where our chemistry comes from.”
Granted, serendipitous meetings between musicians take place all the time; there was nothing particularly Zen-like about the way Gilmore and Miller came together. Yet the record they co-produced at Miller’s Dogtown Studio (located in the Nashville home he shares with his wife Julie) tells a different story. From the aching cover of Willis Alan Ramsey’s “Goodbye Old Missoula” and the eerie, almost ambient remake of “Mack The Knife”, to the Fairport Convention-style (circa Liege And Leif) version of “Darcy Farrow” and the back-alley rockabilly of “Fort Worth And Dallas”, One Endless Night is arguably the most intimate and immediate-sounding record of Gilmore’s career. And by not gilding the lily, it presents his otherworldly tenor — a cross between the keening whine of Webb Pierce and the molasses flow of Lefty Frizzell, but with the serenity of a yogi — as sympathetically as ever.
“It felt right,” says Miller. “We recorded it at the house, in the living room, with Jimmie singing and watching everybody. We all played to his voice instead of just cutting our tracks. It just seemed like everything should be built around that voice.”
“Buddy’s modus operandi is to put together the right players in a physical situation that’s very compact,” Gilmore observes. “We’re all musicians, so we like the wires and all that stuff. But we were still in a living room instead of a studio; we were in this totally homey place. It made me realize how most studios kind of feel like hospitals to me. I had never quite consciously noticed that before, but working with Buddy, who is a great engineer with state-of-the-art gear, I said to myself, ‘Wait a minute, you can do this.’ And we did. We didn’t record one note on tape. It was all straight to the computer and then straight to the hard disc.”
Gilmore’s new album also benefits from a close-knit supporting cast. Emmylou Harris, Victoria Williams, Jim Lauderdale, Cry Cry Cry, and the Millers, all of whom have collaborated with each other in the past, sing on the record. Buddy Miller, Darrell Scott and Rob Gjersoe (the last of these from Gilmore’s road band) play guitar; Byron House and former Lone Justice drummer Don Heffington hold down the bottom; and Tammy Rogers, Phil Madeira and Steve Hindalong add color, respectively, on fiddle, B3 and percussion.