In Old Time Blues’ tradition of honoring the great figures of Texas fiddle, we have chronicled the lives of pioneers like Eck Robertson and Moses J. Bonner, legends like Bob Wills and Hoyle Nix, and lesser-known outsiders like Elmo Newcomer. Now, it comes the time to pay due tribute to one of the more recent Texas giants: the late, great Johnny Gimble.
One of nine children of telegraph operator James Frank Gimble and his wife Minnie, John Paul Gimble was born in the East Texas city of Tyler on May 30, 1926, and raised a few miles outside of town in the community of Bascom. He started out in music young, playing fiddle and mandolin in a band with his brothers that eventually became known as the Rose City Swingsters on local radio and functions. He distinguished himself from other fiddlers by favoring a five-stringed instrument, as opposed to the typical four-string fiddle. He parted their company in 1943 to play banjo with singer-turned-politician Jimmie Davis on the trail of his gubernatorial campaign. At the age of eighteen in 1944, he enlisted in the U.S. Army to aid in the war effort. Upon his discharge, he returned to Texas to form a new band with his brothers called the Blues Rustlers, but soon struck out on his own once again to join Buck Roberts’ Rhythmairs—one of the top bands in Austin—in 1948. With the Rhythmairs, Gimble made his first record, fiddling and singing on their only disc on Fred M. Caldwell’s Lasso label. From there, he was drafted into Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys, a most prestigious position which he held until 1951, though he continued a sporadic association with Wills afterward. Back home in Texas once again, Gimble married and settled for a time in Dallas, where he worked as a session musician and in local bands such as those of Dewey Groom, Bill Boyd, and Al Dexter at ballrooms and on radio shows like KRLD’s Big D Jamboree and on television. For part of that decade, Gimble played music part time while also working as a barber in Waco. In the late 1960s, he moved to Nashville, where he found enormous success as a studio musician on a veritable scadzillion country records. When he finally returned to Texas again in the 1980s, Gimble established himself as an elder statesman of western swing, playing in groups with the old greats of the genre, until he was the last old great remaining. He carried the tradition into the twenty-first century, and continued to play quite prolifically until shortly before his death at his Texas Hill Country home on May 9, 2015. Among numerous pre-and-posthumous honors, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2018.
Lasso L-104 was recorded in 1948, most probably in Austin, Texas. The Rhythmairs were known to consist of Johnny Gimble, Joe Castle, Gerald “Jerry” Chinnis on fiddles, Eldon “Curly” Roberts on steel guitar, “Pee Wee” Poe on piano, Carlton Roberts on rhythm guitar, Buck Roberts on bass, and Shorty Oakley on drums, though whether all of those members or different members participated in this session is unknown.
On the “A” side, Gimble sings the vocal refrain and does his hep little fiddle-and-humming in harmony thing on “Don’t You Darken My Door Anymore”. Incidentally, leader Buck Roberts’s grandson Jason today carries on the western swing torch as a fiddler and leader of both his own band and the modern iteration of Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys.
In the tradition of naming waltzes after towns in Texas—like the successful “Bandera Waltz”, “Westphalia Waltz”, and “Houston Waltz”—the Rhythmairs play Johnny Gimble’s instrumental composition, the “Shiner Waltz”, on the “B” side.