None other than Willie Nelson cited him as one of the greatest musicians that ever lived, and for sure Johnny Gimble, who also played mandolin, tenor banjo and guitar, was one of history’s top fiddlers.
“Every fiddle player is a fan of Johnny Gimble!” says Joel Savoy, himself one of Cajun music’s top fiddler players. “When I was a budding fiddler [late Cajun fiddle great] Hadley Castille insisted that I get Johnny Gimble’s Texas Fiddle Collection album if I wanted to learn to play Texas swing music, and it opened up a whole new world to me.”
Gimble died May 9 at 88. He was a member of Bob Wills’ pioneering Texas Playboys Texas western swing band, and played with scores of other great country artists including Nelson, George Strait, Marty Robbins, Dolly Parton, Connie Smith, Merle Haggard, Conway Twitty, Ray Price, Lefty Frizzell, Porter Wagoner, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Asleep at the Wheel, not to mention the non-country likes of Paul McCartney, Joan Baez and the Manhattan Transfer.
Lyle Lovett, a Texas/western swing bandleader in his own right, recalls first meeting Gimble in1982.
“It was on the street in Taos,” says Lovett. “I had booked myself some gigs in local clubs before I had any business going, a couple gigs in a Santa Fe food joint and Ogilvies in Taos. I ran into him and knew who he was, but he didn’t have a clue who I was. I introduced myself and said I was thrilled to meet him, and he was so nice to me: I was a fan on the street to him, and he took the time to say hello.”
Lovett stars in a fun Asleep at the Wheel video, “Blues for Dixie,” where bandleader Ray Benson turns over the Wheel to Lovett, who then leads the band, which then featured Gimble.
“He was such a gentleman and had that smile always—a beautiful smile,” continues Lovett. “His eyes smiled as well, and one of the things he’s famous for saying to people as he walks off the stage—which my fiddler Gene Elders has quoted for years—is, ‘It was a pleasure playing against you,’ and then grinning. He was just full of kindness and so talented, with a personality and charm that was so infectious.”
And as for his playing, for Lovett, “It was how he swung–his double stops and sense of phrasing, sense of melody and inventive mind. I couldn’t imagine any contemporary fiddler playing today who wouldn’t cite him as an influence.”
Indeed, Gimble’s “playful creativity will be missed by us all,” says Savoy.
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