Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Dave Alvin pay tribute to the Folk Blues masters they bonded over on 'Downey to Lubbock'

Gilmore talks about his early creative and professional development and his Alvin collaboration ahead of the duo's show Tuesday, Sept. 11 at Southgate House Revival

Sep 4, 2018 at 5:36 am
click to enlarge aveAlvin (left) and Jimmie Dale Gilmore - Photo: Tim Reese Photography
Photo: Tim Reese Photography
aveAlvin (left) and Jimmie Dale Gilmore

This was an unconventional interview with Jimmie Dale Gilmore, to say the least. When we connected via phone, he was in a physical rehab center in Lubbock, Texas to visit his 91-year-old mother, Mary, who was recovering from a broken hip. Our talk was interrupted several times so he could say something to encourage her, or because doctors and a speech therapist came in to check on her progress and talk to him. For the final portion of the interview, Gilmore was reached in a Lubbock Best Buy, where he had gone to get a charger for his much-used cell phone.

Through it all, the Grammy-nominated Gilmore remained upbeat and enthusiastic about his ongoing tour with Dave Alvin, the new album that accompanies it and his love of music. A native of Lubbock in the flatlands of West Texas, he has successfully applied his distinctly gentle, unusually wavering voice to Country, Blues, Folk and Rock long before there was a name — Americana — for his style. Before that term was coined, you could call just him — as he sings on the new album’s rumbling title song, “Downey to Lubbock” — “a hippie Country singer.”

He still is just that, actually, his long flowing hair now gray and white.

“It really is a tongue-in-cheek thing, because the word ‘hippie’ to me was meant to denigrate anybody who acted weird,” he says. “It came to be a euphemism for anybody not a complete conformist. It always has kind of irked me, but at the same time it did come to refer to the people I identified with. I was particularly strange for a Country singer.”

Gilmore and Alvin — the Grammy-winning Americana singer/songwriter and sizzling guitarist known for being a co-founder of the 1980s band The Blasters — got the idea for the album when touring together for a few 2017 dates in the Southwest.

“We both assumed it would be a song swap, but immediately we discovered we knew a bunch of stuff (to play) together,” Gilmore says. “Very quickly, we started doing every show together. I’d play rhythm guitar and he’d play lead. And Dave got me back into playing harmonica, which I hadn’t done in 30 years.”

The two realized they had a shared history. Both used to attend concerts at Los Angeles’ Ash Grove music club, which lasted from 1958-73 and presented such Folk and Blues masters as Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, Lightnin’ Hopkins and Bukka White. Alvin was raised in Downey, Calif., so it’s understandable that he would hang out in nearby L.A. But how did a quintessential Texas flatlander get there?

“I figured with the kind of music I was into, that (California) was the place for it,” he explains. “I was already married and with a baby daughter when we moved out in 1965, and that was really the heyday of Folk Blues. That’s when I started making music on my own. My first professional gig was in San Diego while I was living in Los Angeles. Back then, I played every Saturday night for a period. I think I made about $16, but it was big time to me.”

Downey to Lubbock, which the two co-produced in a studio with assisting musicians, reflects their shared love for the artists they saw there — or would have wanted to. They do Brownie and Ruth McGhee’s “Walk On,” Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Buddy Brown’s Blues” and a 1928 classic by Will Shade of the Memphis Jug Band, “Stealin’, Stealin.’” There are also songs by more recent Folk/Country troubadours who have passed on — Steve Young’s “Silverlake,” John Stewart’s “July, You’re a Woman” and Chris Gaffney’s “The Gardens.”

Additionally, Gilmore sings a raucous tune from the days when high-adrenaline R&B was just beginning to turn into Rock & Roll, Lloyd Price’s 1952 “Lawdy Miss Clawdy.”

“That’s New Orleans music; that could be considered one of the first Rock & Roll songs,” Gilmore says. “Doing it with Dave, I have the feeling we got the original feeling of it along with a modern treatment.”

There are also two songs that have quite a bite — “Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos),” Woody Guthrie and Martin Hoffman’s protest song about Mexican migrant workers who die in a plane crash while being sent home from the U.S., and The Youngbloods’ 1969 Folk Rock hit “Get Together,” a wistfully hopeful look ahead to better, more peaceful times than the tumultuous 1960s. Gilmore sings the lead on both songs.

“Dave introduces those by saying they are both timeless and timely,” Gilmore says.

Gilmore has long been performing the oft-recorded “Deportee” — he first heard Joan Baez do it. “When we were doing this recording, Dave said he’d (first) listened to about 100 recordings of it, and then he said, ‘Wait a minute, Jimmie already has his own take on it, we’ll just do it the way he does it.’ ”

The pair has been closing their shows with “Get Together.” A longtime fan, Gilmore believes Youngbloods lead singer Jesse Colin Young sang it beautifully.

“The meaning of the song is so apropos to these times,” he says. “And I love music that’s able to reflect that.”

While Gilmore has had a successful solo recording career, he is especially highly regarded for being a member, with fellow Texas songwriters Joe Ely and Butch Hancock, of the proto-Americana band The Flatlanders, which recorded an obscure and virtually unreleased — but very prescient — 1972 album. The band didn’t last long as a going concern. But as their solo careers progressed, Rounder Records re-released the album in 1991 under the name More a Legend than a Band. Since 2002, The Flatlanders have released three albums of new recordings, and they tour together occasionally.

The last Flatlanders’ album of new material came out in 2009, so they once again can be considered more a legend than a band. But maybe not for much longer.

“We still do the one-off concerts,” Gilmore says. “And we’ve already started talking about doing another project. With us, starting to talk about it means it’s still several years down the road. But we’re still all best friends.”

Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Dave Alvin perform Tuesday, Sept. 11 at Southgate House Revival. Tickets/more info: southgatehouse.com.