The sweet sounds of Johnny Gimble's fiddle will fill Greenville's Municipal Auditorium on Saturday, May 31. The show begins at 7 p.m. www.johnnygimble.com
Fiddle legend Johnny Gimble brings 73 years of swing experience to Greenville Saturday, May 31
By TERRY MATHEWS, News-Telegram Arts Editor
May 9, 2008 - GREENVILLE - When Texas fiddle legend Johnny Gimble takes the state at the historic Municipal Auditorium in Greenville, Saturday, May 31, he'll bring more than just 73 years of experience with him - he's got a special guest star.
Gimble is appearing with his granddaughter Emily, 23, who will play piano and add vocal stylings to the set with her famous grandfather. The two recently released a CD called "A Case of the Gimbles," which also features Emily's dad, Dick, who teaches bass and guitar at McClennan Community College in Waco.
"Emily amazes us," Gimble said of his co-star. "We're so proud of her."
Gimble, 82, says he's looking forward to the gig in Northeast Texas.
"It's almost home," Gimble said of the Greenville date during a telephone interview this week. "I was raised in Chapel Hill, just outside Tyler."
Gimble learned how to play music when he was about 8 by listening to his older brothers on the family's 100-acre farm his father, who was a telegraph operator for the Cotton Belt Railroad, bought between Henderson and Tyler.
"My older brothers played the fiddle, guitar and the mandolin," Gimble said. "They taught us babies - that's what Mama called us. We learned by listening to them. That's the only way I ever learned - someone showed me."
Gimble, who now lives near Dripping Springs, has professional ties to Hopkins County.
"When I was 17, I joined the Shelton Brothers Band of Reilly Springs," Gimble said. "I played banjo and fiddle for them for a season on their radio show on KWKH in Shreveport."
After the radio show played out, Gimble spent time criss-crossing the state of Louisiana during the gubernatorial campaign of Jimmie Davis.
"Joe Shelton went with the campaign and so did I," he explained. "Joe acted as master of ceremonies. We played every town in Louisiana. It was fun. It really was."
Gimble says the last time he saw Joe Shelton was in the mid 1960s, when Gimble was playing with General Mills' Aunt Jemima Bandwagon.
"Jim Boyd of Dallas got a group of us together," Gimble explained. "We'd set up on a flatbed truck in front of a grocery store in little towns. We came to Sulphur Springs. Jim was working for the Chrysler dealership. That's the last time I saw him."
It was during his stint with the Shelton Brothers that Gimble met Jimmy Thomason, a seasoned fiddle player from Waco.
"Jimmy Thomason taught me how to hold a fiddle," Gimble explained. "For nine years, I had been holding it wrong. He helped me a whole lot."
After he finished a few years in the armed service, Gimble and his brothers, put together a band called the Blues Rustlers.
"We had a show on the radio near Baytown - it was called Goose Creek back then," he said. "Those stations would put their antennas out on the salt flats and for some reason, their signals would project a lot further."
After his brother Gene left Baytown to return to college, Gimble decided to follow him to Austin, with the intention of enrolling at the University of Texas.
"I went down for registration and the line to enroll was two blocks long," Gimbles said. "So I just went over to the radio station and sat in with a friend of mine who had a show at noon. That was all the college education I got, which was okay, because I really wanted to do was play."
After his brief stay in Austin, Gimble moved to Corpus Christi to play with the Roberts Brothers Band, which led to his 1949 marriage to the Roberts' niece Barbara and his long-running gig with Texas legend Bob Wills.
"We started playing in Tulsa, then went to Amarillo and to Carlsbad and to Phoenix and then on out to San Diego," Gimble explained. "That was our honeymoon."
The couple will celebrate their 60th anniversary next January. They have three children and three grandchildren.
All along the way, Gimble has tried to learn everything he could about the fiddle.
Early in his career, Houston's Cliff Bruner, credited with creating the original sound of Western Swing, gave Gimble some sound advice.
Bruner told Gimble to "practice on your instrument until you can play what you think."
That advice is what Gimble tries to pass along to the 60-70 students who come to his fiddle clinics each summer in Taos, New Mexico.
"We had our first clinic in Texas in the summer, when the kids are out of school," Gimble explained. "Well, we found out two things: a lot of our students weren't school age and it's too hot in Texas to hold a clinic. So we moved to the mountains of New Mexico."
If his students' enthusiasm for the genre is any indication, the future of Western Swing is in good hands.
"They are swinging up a storm," Gimble said with a chuckle. "I tell people I could have played that good at that age, by now, I'd be 80."
The music industry has showed its appreciation for Gimble's dedication to his craft by bestowing a trophy case full of awards on him through the years.
Gimble was voted "Instrumentalist of the Year" by the Country Music Association in 1978 and has received that award four times since.
He was named "Fiddler of the Year" by the Academy of Country Music eight times and has been nominated for a Grammy three times.
In 1994, Gimble won a Grammy for his performance with Asleep at the Wheel.
In Greenville, Gimble will also be sharing the evening's bill with newcomers Hot Club of Cowtown and legendary Texas Swing band Asleep at the Wheel.
The show starts at 7 p.m. Tickets range from $20 to $40 and are available on line through www.frontgatetickets.com.
Tickets are also available at Cavender's in Greenville and at the door.