TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
It's become a FRESH AIR tradition to devote the week leading into Labor Day to a theme. This time, we've chosen country music. We'll be hearing from great songwriters whove written about falling in love, falling out of love, jealousy, despair, and of course, drinking. And we'll hear from great singers who have channeled these emotions.
We'll features interviews from our archive with Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, George Jones, Charlie Rich, Doc Watson, Waylon Jennings and more.
We'll start with some classic songs performed in our studio by Jimmie Dale Gilmore back in 2005. His voice would make even Hank Williams cry, wrote Nicholas Dawidoff in The New York Times Magazine.
Gilmore is a singer from West Texas who writes songs that would be described as alternative country. But he sang country classics on his 2005 CD, "Come on Back," which he dedicated to his father, who had died five years earlier of ALS.
"Come On Back" features songs his father loved, including one by Jimmie Rodgers, who Jimmie Dale Gilmore was named after. Gilmore brought his guitar to our studio and also brought along guitarist Robbie Gjersoe, who performed on the CD. Later in the show, Gilmore's son Colin joins them with some vocal harmonies.
Welcome, everyone, to FRESH AIR. It's really a pleasure to have you here. Jimmie Dale Gilmore, this new CD is dedicated to your father, who died a few years ago. I want you to start with a song, "Pick Me Up On Your Way Down." And what did this song mean to your dad?
Mr. JIMMIE DALE GILMORE (Musician): Well, actually, it represents an entire style that I really associate with him. It's this old - it's honky tonk dance music is what it amounts to, and it is one particular one that he really loved.
I just, I have this one memory of him just, you know, with his kind of head tossed back and his eyes closed, just grinning when this kind of music was on.
GROSS: Would you play it for us?
Mr. GILMORE: Yeah. One, two, one, two...
(Soundbite of song, "Pick Me Up On Your Way Down")
Mr. GILMORE: (Singing) You were mine for just awhile. Now you're putting on the style, and you never once looked back at your home across the track. You're the gossip of the town, but my heart can still be found where you tossed it on the ground. Pick me up on your way down.
Pick me up on your way down, when you're blue and all alone. When their glamour starts to bore you, come on back where you belong. You may be their pride and joy, but they'll find another toy, and they'll take away your crown. Pick me up on your way down.
Mr. GILMORE: That's the way we fake being the band playing the song.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: And that's Jimmie Dale Gilmore on guitar and singing; Robbie Gjersoe, who is singing harmonies and playing guitar; and that song is from Jimmie Dale Gilmore's new CD "Come On Back."
That sounded really great. As we mentioned before, this CD is dedicated to your father, who died of Lou Gehrig's disease. Did he introduce you to country music?
Mr. GILMORE: Oh yeah, yeah for sure. He was from my very, very earliest memories, that music was always pervasive. You know, it was radio. We didn't have a phonograph until I was actually in high school.
GROSS: Wow, that's pretty late.
Mr. GILMORE: And we always had the radio going, you know, and my dad played. So he'd be sitting around the house, playing his guitar along with the radio or actually, you know, sometimes playing with bands for dances.
GROSS: And you quote a great advertisement for a dance that he was playing, where apparently he was one of the first musicians in West Texas to use a solid-body electric guitar.
Mr. GILMORE: That's right.
GROSS: Would you describe that ad?
Mr. GILMORE: Yeah, it said - at this time, when I was very small, we lived in Tulia, Texas, from the time I was until I was about five years old, on a dairy farm. And my mom recently, you know, a few years ago, found a little clipping from the Tulia Herald, a little, tiny ad. It said: Dance at VFW hall featuring with the Swingeroos(ph), featuring Brian Gilmore and his electric guitar.
GROSS: That's great. So did your father teach you guitar, or did you learn that on your own?
Mr. GILMORE: He taught me just a little bit. He taught me how to play "Wildwood Flower." The thing is that I fell in love with the acoustic guitar, and my dad was an electric player. And I never did, to my regret now, I never did really learn to play the electric well.
My dad taught me a tiny amount, and then I kind of went off and really more in the folk and blues direction as I was learning to play.
GROSS: How did you start singing?
Mr. GILMORE: I can't remember when I didn't sing. That was just I even think in a way that I might have been, even though I thought about other things, I think I maybe was already predetermined to be a musician. Singing and music was so deeply important to me, and I think it came from my dad a lot.
GROSS: I want you to do another song from your new CD, "Come On Back." And the song I'm going to ask you play is a Johnny Cash song called "Train Of Love." But tell us first how you first heard Johnny Cash and what he meant to you.
Mr. GILMORE: Well, I may have heard a few of his recordings on the radio, a little bit. This was when I was very young. But my first real memory of it was my dad took my sister and I to see Johnny Cash with Elvis Presley. And I was about 12. I think she was about 10.
I suspect that that night completely determined the rest of my I think that was one of those places where a little deflection happened - that I loved that music so much. I loved both of them.
My sister has this memory, and I think her memory is better than mine, but she remembers talking on the way home from the thing that night that she loved Elvis the most and that I loved Johnny Cash. The way I remember it is that I loved both of them so much that there - it was just the best music I'd ever heard in the world, and I already loved music.
GROSS: Although you sing in a completely different range than Johnny Cash does, there's something about Johnny Cash that I hear in your voice.
Mr. GILMORE: I think he probably affected my way of understanding phrases, and he affected me so much from such an early time that I'm pretty sure it's it's not deliberate, but it's in there. It's for sure.
GROSS: Boy, I wish I was at that concert. It must've been really early in their career, right after they both signed with Sun Records...
Mr. GILMORE: Yes. It...
GROSS: ...at that concert with Presley and Cash. Wow.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: Well, would you do that song for us, "Train Of Love"?
Mr. GILMORE: Yeah, I will.
(Soundbite of song, "Train Of Love")
Mr. GILMORE: (Singing) Train of love's a-comin', big black wheels a-hummin'. Sweetheart's waitin' at the station, happy hearts are drummin', oh. Trainman tell me maybe, ain't you got my baby. Every so often everybody's baby gets the urge to roam. But everybody's baby but mine's comin' home.
Train of love's a leavin', leavin' my heart grievin' but early and late I sit and wait because I'm still believin'. Oh we'll walk away together though I might wait forever. Every so often everybody's baby gets the urge to roam. But everybody's baby but mine's comin' home.
Train of love's a goin', and I got ways of knowin' you're leaving other people's lovers, but my own keeps goin'. Oh, trainman tell me maybe, ain't you got my baby. Every so often everybody's baby gets the urge to roam. But everybody's baby but mine's comin' home. Every so often everybody's baby gets the urge to roam. But everybody's baby but mine's comin' home.
GROSS: That's singer and guitarist Jimmie Dale Gilmore, accompanied by guitarist Robbie Gjersoe, performing in our studio.
Jimmie, your father died of ALS, Lou Gehrig's Disease, in, what, 2002, was it?
Mr. GILMORE: Yeah.
GROSS: How close did you live to him at the time?
Mr. GILMORE: Well, we lived in Austin, which is pretty far away. It's, you know, it's a full day's it's about, almost 400 miles. And my mom and brother still lived, you know, in Lubbock with my dad. They were like 24-hour caregivers for him all that couple of years. And my sister also lived in Lubbock, although not she and her husband were a few blocks away.
So they all got the brunt of it. You know, they got we drove down there as often as we could.
GROSS: I'm going to ask you to do another song. The song is "Peace in the Valley." What did this song mean to your father? All the songs on your new CD are songs he loved.
Mr. GILMORE: There was a funny story behind this one because this isn't the type of music that I really associate with my dad. He loved honky-tonk music and, you know, just dance music. And he was a very, very spiritual person, but as far as the music went, you know, he wasn't particularly interested in gospel or any of that music.
But at the very last, there came this point one day, when my daughter Alise(ph), who spent a lot of time with my dad in the very last, she asked him one day: Granddaddy, what is your favorite song? Because, you know, everybody knows, you know, it's part of the thing around him that music is his main interest.
And she said that she thought he was going to say something like, you know, "Walk The Floor Over You," one of those, or a Marty Robbins song or something. And but she said he just got, he just kind of got real quiet, and he said let me think about that a little bit, which surprised her very much.
He's in bed, completely paralyzed. So she had probably gone about, done something of the day, and then she went back and would just be with him, just sit with him, sometimes for hours on end. All of us would do that.
But he said: I've been thinking about it. And he said she said he said this with, like, kind of a little like a grin, a kind of a twinkle in his eye. And he said: I guess now my favorite song is probably "Peace in the Valley."
So there was a little touch of my dad's humor there. She really couldn't tell if he was kidding her or not. But the song itself, when I decided to try it, I think Joe Ely suggested it after hearing that story. You know, I thought, well, I can't do that. I don't know how to sing that music. And when I did it, I just, for one thing, I think well, Elvis Presley had done a very beautiful version of it, and I think it was back there in my subconscious someplace.
GROSS: Well, whether your father was kidding or not, I'm awfully glad you did this song on the CD, and I'm going to ask you to perform it for us now. I love the way you do it.
Mr. GILMORE: Okay, I'll try it.
(Soundbite of song, "Peace in the Valley")
Mr. GILMORE: (Singing) Well, I'm tired and so weary, but I must go along 'till the Lord comes and calls me away, where the morning's so bright, and the lamb is the light, and the night, night is as fair as the day.
There will be peace in the valley for me, some day. There will be peace in the valley for me, oh I pray. There'll be no sorrow, no sadness, no trouble Ill see. There will be peace in the valley for me.
Well, the bear will be gentle and the wolf will be tame, and the lion will lay down by the lamb. And the beasts from the wild will be led by a little child, and I'll be changed, changed from this creature that I am.
There will be peace in the valley for me, some day. There will be peace in the valley for me, oh Lord I pray. There'll be no sorrow, no sadness, no trouble I'll see. There will be peace in the valley for me.
GROSS: We're featuring a 2005 interview and performance with Jimmie Dale Gilmore. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Let's get back to our interview and performance with Jimmie Dale Gilmore, recorded in 2005, after he released an album of classic country songs. The album was dedicated to his late father. Accompanying Gilmore is guitarist Robbie Gjersoe.
I'm going to ask you to play a song that I really love, and I know it through you, through a tribute record to Billy Joe Shaver. And Billy Joe Shaver is a Texas songwriter and singer, and you know him. You're a friend of his.
And you participated in a tribute concert that ended up on a tribute CD, and when Billy Joe Shaver was on our show, we played your version of this song. The song is called "Hearts A'Bustin'" and Billy Joe Shaver wrote it for his wife. Although it's a song about a wife's death, she was still alive when he wrote it, and I think, as I recall, he didn't even tell her about the song.
Mr. GILMORE: Yeah, he said he never got around to playing it for her.
GROSS: So what do you think we should know about the song in order to fully get it?
Mr. GILMORE: Okay, it's first of all, hearts-a-bustin is a flower, is a type of flower. These flowers bloom apparently at one time during the year. I guess it's just on a certain day, and somehow also, a group, there's a tribe of Indians that would return to an annual meeting ground, I guess, there. And he said his wife would always know when that was, and they would go there.
And I don't know if they met with the Indians or what. That's part of the it's almost like a dreamlike kind of image in this song. And it just, to me, the song itself just somehow evokes a feeling out of Billy Joe that kind of epitomizes how I feel about him.
He's just so sweet and wonderful and kind of strong at the same time. You know, he's like, he's got that, kind of that West Texas macho thing, along with a soft heart.
GROSS: So Jimmie, before you play "Hearts A'Bustin'," I want to mention that your son, Colin Gilmore, is going to accompany you on guitar and vocal harmonies on this one. And he's been performing with you on tour and opening for you, as well.
Mr. GILMORE: That's right. He opens the show and then does about half of the set with Rob and I.
(Soundbite of song, "Hearts A'Bustin'")
Mr. GILMORE: (Singing) Hearts-a-bustin grew down by the river that flows by the old paper mill. In the springtime, we stood there together at the top of the old stone fort hill.
Many is the time I've been lonesome. Since you left, I don't know what to do. Like a flower that grows on the hillside, my heart's a'bustin' for you.
Hearts-a-bustin is a beautiful flower that looks like it's heart's burst inside. I miss you so much, your sweet, gentle touch. I'll love you 'til the day that I die.
One day in a year, when the times right, the Indians flow 'round the bend. I don't know when I'll go, but somehow I know, someday I'll be with you again.
Hearts-a-bustin grew down by the river that flows by the old paper mill. In the springtime, we stood there together at the top of the old stone fort hill.
GROSS: Jimmie Dale Gilmore, singing in our studio in 2005, after the release of his album of classic country songs, "Come On Back."
Country music week continues in the second half of the show. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.