mystic, musical cosmology is at once both journey and destination
Carrying the big guns of a smoking guitar, a riveting voice, and a repeating rifle of bull's eye lyrics, Gilmore travels the wide open ranges of American music. He roams through country and bluegrass, beyond folk and spirituals, and on towards rock and roll, honky-tonk blues, two-step stomp, swing, and even zydeco, single-handedly dismantling the fences between decades of musical tradition.
Of Irish and Cherokee heritage, Gilmore, 53, grew up in that atomic test age when rock and roll mutated through the radio waves from the delta blues' romp with traditional folk. His career ignited in the '60s with a seminal rockabilly band, the Flatlanders. Their album, More a Legend than a Band, was re-released by Hightone in 1990, when Gilmore returned to his roots after studying Tibetan Buddhism and meditation for ten years.
Newly infused with powerful imagery, primal rhythms, and timeless language, Gilmore's music caught the attention of David Bither of Elektra records and spread like wildfire. Elektra produced three recordings in quick succession, beginning with After Awhile in 1991. Spinning Around the Sun (1993) and Braver, Newer World (1996) were both nominated for Grammys in the Contemporary Folk category.Gilmore was seen on Austin City Limits and was soon being interviewed by NPR, Rolling Stone, New York Times, Acoustic Guitar, the Shambala Sun, and the New Age Journal. No stranger to the Northwest, Gilmore played Bumbershoot in 1992 and 1995. He opened for Willie Nelson in Tacoma last March and for Emmy Lou Harris in July at the Pier. Recently, Gilmore, with his striking good looks, appeared as a movie actor in The Big Lebowski, and contributed to the soundtrack of Robert Redford's upcoming film The Horse Whisperer.
In his first acoustic solo tour in ten years, Gilmore's raw talent will be unembellished by the syncopated, driving beats of slide guitars, electric basses, mandolins and fiddles accompanying him on his CDs. Down-home as could be, in an early morning telephone interview Gilmore talked shop.What is it like for you to play solo? I was dreading it, but I've played with bands so much in my recording career that i forgot how aspects of solo work bring you more a feeling of community with the audience. I adapt my music. I have a love for lyrics and melody. The focus on the song allows me to bring out its emotional quality, not just the trappings around it.Your music is so eclectic. How do you define it? There is something artificial about trying to pigeonhole music. The first thing I was around was country. Then I feel in love with rock and roll but I didn't stop liking country. Some kids my age abandoned country; some shunned rock and roll, but i loved both. When you say you love any kind of music, there might be a few songs you like and some you don't. It's not really a matter of a kind of music; it's particular songs, the sound, the lyrics, the guitar licks, a blend of things. Who knows what's going to make you like it? I had broad tastes. It's a funny quirk of human beings that they want to generalize.What direction are you taking with your music now?It's always experimental to me. I just try to get the best people and the best circumstances. People think musicians act intentionally, on purpose. The experimental mind really means staying open, nor really having a fixed idea about what's going to happen.You have been called a radical visionary. What does that mean to you? We live in a time when ancient wisdom, perennial philosophies, our understanding about the inner world have come to be neglected because modern science is so successful in exploring the outer world. But, the inner world, you have to have it; you go crazy without it. Science as the only approach to understanding is a mistake.
Gilmore's mystic, musical cosmology is at once both journey and destination. Come listen.And they did come to listen. Jimmie played to an enthusiastic sold out house on Vashon Island, WA.
Lynn Carrigan is a visual and literary artist who plays the guitar and frequently writes about music from her island home.