Emily Gimble Swings Westward At Jazz, TX
Emily Gimble admits that her granddad’s name may have opened some doors for her, but once you hear her sing, you’ll recognize she has a powerful voice all her own. Still, she says she learned quite a bit from Johnny Gimble, about music and life.
“The way he treated people, he definitely made an impression. I'm still learning that lesson, I think, that you never stop learning how to be kind to people and respectful. But then [musically] he just kind of threw me in the fire! You know, I just started playing with him when I started learning piano. and it was like, ‘take a solo on this song, go!’”
On this edition of “Live At Jazz, TX,” Emily Gimble and her trio mix classics of the western repertoire with jazz standards like “Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good To You?” and “On the Sunny Side of the Street.”
Listen to “Live At Jazz, TX” Saturday nights at 7:00 on Texas Public Radio. To hear Gimble’s set now, listen in the player below. Also below, Jazz, TX owner Doc Watkins chats up Gimble in between sets. The transcription follows.
Doc Watkins: So you were telling me that so you recently bought a house in Lockhart Texas which for those of you that don't know where that is about halfway between San Antonio and Austin more or less, and you spent a lot of time in Austin. What prompted you to move to to Lockhart.
Emily Gimble: The high cost of living! And I wanted to invest in a house and that's where I could afford something. So. I grew up in a small town outside of Waco. So I missed it. I miss that pace. And if I want the pace I can go into Austin and get a dose. And then leave it behind. So.
Do you feel like when it comes to creative work do you work better when you're surrounded by a lot of other creative people or do you work better when you are a little more secluded and kind of off on your own?
I think it goes both ways. Like, Amy Helm had me go do this thing called "Skylark" and it was. like, 10 women who are incredible musicians from around the New York area all playing. And I had that rush of, "I can't wait to get home and practice!" And then, that time at home in solitude, working things out, is equally important as being around people that inspire you, I think.
Do you think if you only spent time away from the larger cities and kind of more secluded, do you think you would then... Would you be stagnant?
You could be, but then you have the internet, and I can go look up a video of my grandpa playing from 1974, or Oscar Peterson or Ray Charles and... So, I guess it depends on how much you want to learn!
Yeah that's true I guess as long as you have an internet connection there's really nobody these days...
There's nothing stopping you!
You mentioned your grandfather. Tell us a little bit about about your grandfather. You come from such a rich musical heritage.
My grandfather's Johnny Gimble and he was the best, fiddle player, one of the best fiddle players to ever live and, I may be biased, but maybe not! I know a lot of people think that.
I think a lot of people think that!
Yeah. And he played with Bob Wills for a short amount of time. And then stopped playing with him and moved back to Waco, and then was in charge of the dance hall that he had in Fort Worth for a while. He also worked a day job, and had a family during the time from then to when he moved to Nashville in the late '70s, where he became a top-tier studio musician and played on records with George Jones, and George Strait, and Willie Nelson, and he even recorded with Paul McCartney.
Yeah. I mean you name it, he got to be there in that world. Not only was he an incredible musician but he also was an amazing human being. And I think that people equally remember talking to him and being around him as they do him playing, you know?
Did he teach you a lot of things directly? Did he work with you a lot, or did you just learn more through osmosis and just from being around him?
Yeah, it was more just being around him and the way he was and the way he treated people he definitely made an impression. I'm still learning that lesson I think that you never stop learning how to be kind to people and respectful. But then he just kind of threw me in the fire. You know I just started playing with him when I started learning piano and it was like, "take a solo on this song, go!" And I would cringe and feel sort of embarrassed because I respected him so much. I'm like, here's this man that I love and respect so much and he's hearing me just clam everything. But with repetition, when you get kicked like that you go home and you're like I've got to figure this out. I don't know. For me it was a good way, to have that motivation to go home and listen and practice and work on stuff.
One of the things I love about about listening to you play and sing, Emily, is that you do all these old songs that are really becoming quickly forgotten these days. You know, the old Bob Wills songs, the old songs that Patsy Cline did, and Willie Nelson songs, songs that have always been near and dear to my heart. Where do you see this music 10 or 20 years from now? How do these old tunes fit into the modern world, which is changing so quickly in music? Are the tunes dying, or is there a place for them within a different kind of musical setting?
It's interesting... I think here... I have this belief that western swing and old country music and old whatever styles of music existed here 30 or 40 years ago, have a chance of staying alive just because people care about music so much in this area, in Austin and San Antonio. And there's a scene. It surprises me you know when I was in my twenties, I played Western swing because I grew up around it. But then I moved to Austin and I met five or six people who were all into it and also learning it. Because they heard "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" or something, and that's how they got introduced to it. And that's the band that I play with the Marhsall Ford Band. But there's still people like this girl Georgia Parker, and she's in her early twenties and is obsessed with western swing. So I think that there's potential for people to keep carrying on. Now whether or not you can become... You know, you didn't ask about business, but that's interesting. Asleep at the Wheel's done a really great job of making a business of that kind of music, and I think that Ray Benson is just very talented at that and understanding what what needs to happen, and knows all the right people to make it happen. I don't think it will ever die away though. You know. I just don't.
How long were you with Asleep at the Wheel?
I was with them for two years.
And they're still going strong!
Oh yeah, they just put out a record. And Katie Shore is featured all over it. It sounds great! It was just... I missed playing with people here, and when you're in a band like that, you are only in that band. So it kind of cuts off any other opportunities you would have to work on your own music, and play in front of people and that kind of thing. For me I just felt like I wasn't 100 percent in it, and I didn't want to shortchange them. So it was like the hardest decision I've had to make in my musical career. But I think I did the right thing because I'm feel more connected to my instrument.
Well sometimes you know you just you got to leave the nest or whatever situation...
It was definitely early time to do it. I think that it was a short tenure, for sure. [NOTE: Gimble played with the band for two years.]
Well you mentioned Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel as being very good on the business side, and taking this music that so many people love so much from you know decades ago and actually finding a way to afford to tour and to pay musicians and to pay producers and make records and everything. On the business side of it are there many opportunities that you find for people who are into the same kind of music that that we're into?
I have opportunities... and it might be because of my last name. People knew my grandfather and they hear that I play, and they enjoy that. But 'round here, and at festivals... I mean Hot Club of Cowtown, they're the two bands that are kind of keping it going to me and they're, I think they're on the road more than the Wheel is.
Hot Club of Cowtown as well. You know, they're a three-piece band and they they can travel light. And I mean, they travel internationally and we've had them a couple times here, and I love those guys. They're definitely keeping that music going.
They're all incredible and wonderful people to be around, to.
So when you if you get hired to play a club date in Austin, for instance, do they typically want you to play western swing music or are they wanting something more, I don't know, in vogue with the college scene, or whatever?
I do all kinds of stuff. I mean there are people that put a record out, not with a label, but just on my own and it's more like soul and R&B stuff. So there are people that... like I'm opening up for Doyle Bramhall for four dates at the end of October, and that's in mind that I'm going to play the songs off that record that are original songs. But then Steve Wertheimer gives me Saturday night at the gallery and I just do whatever I want. So but there are people that ask me you know. They have a private party and people coming in from out of town, and they want to show them what Texas music is all about, and they'll ask me to put a western swing event together. And they'll have armadillo races you know? You know that corporate thing...
Yeah. Oh yeah for sure. Absolutely.
Everybody's wearing bandanas and cowboy boots and cowboy hats for the first time.
Yeah, they rent them out!
Well Emily, thank you so much! It's been such a pleasure having you on the show. Thanks for being here.
Thank you for having us, Doc. We love coming here.