Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


GIMBLE, Johnny

(b John Paul Gimble, 30 May 1926, Tyler TX; d 9 May 2015, Marble Falls TX) Country fiddler, among the best; also played superb mandolin. Raised on a farm, gigged locally at twelve; with his brothers a family band was called the Rose City Swingsters and played on Tyler radio. He went to Shreveport at about age 15, working with a radio band, and asked hot Texas fiddler Cliff Bruner how he played that hokum, 'which is what we still called swing then. And he said: "Can you hum what you're thinking? Practice until you can play what you can hum." ' Later, while Gimble was in the U.S. Army, he heard bassist Slam Stewart on Armed Forces Radio humming along with himself, and started practicing that way. Bruner had been playing in the Jimmie Davis band, and Gimble followed him there; he often played with Bob Wills from 1949 (who let him hum on the bandstand).

Western swing was out of fashion for a while, and Gimble cut hair and did other jobs, but then he moved to Nashville and was busy in the studio; since 1968 he has recorded and toured with scores of artists including Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Rodriguez, Asleep at the Wheel, Guy Clark, Willie Nelson, etc. He tells his audiences that he served ten years in Nashville; in fact he was grateful for the work. During that period he was often called by Bob Ferguson, who produced Porter Wagoner, Dolly Parton and Connie Smith; when Smith recorded her hit 'If It Ain't Love' she wanted RCA to put Gimble's name on the label as a soloist, but they wouldn't do it, so, Gimble said, 'she enclosed a handwritten note with disc jockey copies that said "That fantastic fiddle is Johnny Gimble." That record was a major hit, so overnight every D.J. in the country knew who I was.'

He was CMA Instrumentalist of the Year '74, nominated for a Grammy that year for 'Fiddlin' Around'. Albums include Texas Dance Party on Columbia, recorded live '75; two-disc sets Texas Fiddle Collection and Still Swingin' with the Texas Swing Pioneers on CMH. His band Texas Swing included his son Dick on bass (who sometimes hums); his granddaughter Emily Gimble plays piano and scats, humming along with her jazz piano solos. Gimble was involved with Mark O'Connor's TV project about the fiddle '93 and Grammy-nominated album Heroes. He was later based in Austin but still sessioned in Nashville. More albums included I Saw The Light '81, Swingin' The Standards '82 with Joe Bob Barnhill's National Sound Company on Delta; My Kinda Music '84 on Step One, Still Fiddlin' Around '88 on MCA.

He had a stroke in December 1999 which affected his fingering (left) hand, and he could no longer play his own 'Fiddlin' Around': 'I can't reach the S.O.B. now.' One fiddler said, 'Now you know how the rest of us feel.' His hot mandolin playing was unaffected. In 2010 his band of family and friends werre playing every third Thursday at Guero's beer garden in South Austin, and Johnny Gimble: Celebrating With Friends was released on CMH, guests on the CD including Haggard, Nelson, Vince Gill, Dale Watson, and Ray Benson (who also produced). The CD concludes with a live segment from Prairie Home Companion, with Garrison Keillor reciting a poem about a 'fiddler named Gimble whose fingers were nimble...Could play 'Daring Nelly' or Stephane Grappelly...'

(Quotes from an interview with Barry Mazor in the Wall Street Journal)