Late bloomer

Publication Date: Friday May 5, 2000

Late bloomer

Jimmie Dale Gilmore brings country music to Spangenberg Auditorium

by Robyn Israel

Being signed to a major record deal in your mid-40s is an unusual phenomenon in the music industry. Chances are, if it hasn't happened by then, it's just not going to happen. But Jimmie Dale Gilmore is proof positive that talent will eventually be recognized, even it takes awhile.

Elektra Records signed the Texas-based country artist nearly a decade ago, and Gilmore's star has continued to shine brightly since then, with each record selling better than the one before.

"In my perception, my career has been steadily upward, without giant leaps," Gilmore told the Weekly in a recent phone interview. "I feel successful even though I'm not a household name."

In February, Gilmore released "One Endless Night," his sixth solo album and the debut release on his own Windcharger Records label. It is mostly a collection of covers, with tunes by such influential songwriting contemporaries as Townes Van Zandt, Jerry Garcia, John Hiatt, Butch Hancock and Walter Hyatt.

Locals will get to sample the new tunes when Gilmore performs at Palo Alto's Spangenberg Auditorium on Thursday.

Gilmore wrote or co-wrote only three songs on "One Endless Night," including the title track.

"This is the newest song, and I think it's one of the best I've ever been involved in doing," Gilmore said of "One Endless Night." "I've always considered myself first an interpreter, but I wanted to have at least a couple of my songs on here."

Raised in the west Texas town of Lubbock, Gilmore responded earliest to the honky-tonk brand of country music that his father played as a bar-band guitarist. In the '50s, he felt an immediate connection with the emerging rock 'n roll of other west Texans such as Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison, and was profoundly influenced by the folk and blues revivals that followed. Still, he has always been open to various musical genres and his style has defied easy categorization.

"I used to tell people that I don't like the Beatles any more than I like Hank Williams, but I don't like them any less either," Gilmore said.

He later teamed up with boyhood buddies Hancock and Joe Ely and formed the Flatlanders. The group recorded one album in 1972 that was barely distributed, but it has since been acknowledged (through a 1991 reissue, "More a Legend Than a Band") as a milestone of progressive, alternative country music.

For the next 15 years, Gilmore did not record any music. He moved to Denver in 1974, where he explored spirituality, studied Eastern philosophy and practiced meditation. He did a variety of odd jobs, working as a gas station attendant and as a janitor in a synagogue. During that time, he performed in coffee houses, and eventually decided to pursue a musical career again.

"I realized music was my calling," Gilmore said. "It was the only thing I knew how to do and what I wanted to do professionally. It made it an easy choice when the time came around."

Gilmore released his debut solo album, "Fair and Square," in 1988, followed by a second self-titled album in 1989. Three albums for Elektra--"After Awhile" (1991), "Spinning Around the Sun" (1993) and "Braver New World" (1996)--earned him reams of press and tons of accolades. The Rolling Stone Critics' Poll named him the Country Artist of the Year for 1991 and 1992, while the Grammys nominated him for Best Contemporary Folk Artist in 1996.

For his current project, Gilmore teamed up with Buddy Miller, a Nashville producer and guitarist who has worked with Emmylou Harris and Steve Earle. Sessions for "One Endless Night" were accomplished inexpensively, as the pair recorded the CD in Miller's living room using a Macintosh with Pro Tools.

In choosing the songs for "One Endless Night," Gilmore decided to include tunes he has loved for a long time and has always wanted to record. And although the late Van Zandt and Hyatt were friends of his, he did not design the CD as a tribute to them. "No Lonesome Tune," one of the album's tracks, is a particular favorite, because it's the closest that Van Zandt, known for his bleak music and lyrics, ever got to writing a happy song.

The album also includes a version of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's "Mack the Knife," (taken from the duo's "Three Penny Opera") which was popularized by Bobby Darin in 1959. Gilmore never paid any attention to the lyrics until he heard a version by Dave Van Ronk in the late '60s. With its sparse presentation, Gilmore finally became attuned to the song, which was actually conceived as a critique of the Nazi mentality. And like all of his covers, Gilmore adapts songs to his warbling tenor voice and pure, plaintive style.

"When I record a song, what I hope (to do) is to evoke the same intensity of feeling that the song produced in me to begin with," Gilmore said.

Since 1980, Gilmore has resided in Austin, Texas, which is known for its rootsy mix of country, rock and folk music. He attributes the city's vibrant music scene to its open-minded and receptive citizens.

"For some reason, there's an audience for all kinds of music," Gilmore said of Austin. "And if an audience likes a band, they'll really support them.

Gilmore will be supported next week by a band that includes multi-instrumentalists Chris Gage and Rob Gjersoe, bass guitarist Brad Fordham and rhythm guitarist and back-up vocalist Christine Albert. Gilmore's son Colin, a budding musician, will also lend a hand on a couple tunes.

Hopefully, the younger Gilmore will learn not only music from his father, but also valuable lessons about what constitutes success.

"To me, something doesn't become more important just because it's been noticed by a lot of people," Gilmore said. "Validity resides in whether it's any good or not."

Who: Jimmie Dale Gilmore

Where: Spangenberg Auditorium, 780 Arastradero Road, Palo Alto

When Thursday, May 11 at 8 p.m.

Cost: Tickets are $12.50 in advance and $15 at the door. Advance tickets can be purchased in Palo Alto at Compact Disc Land (477 University Ave.) and Draper's Music Center (330 California Ave.).

Info: (650) 949-4507 

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