Jimmie Dale Gilmore is generally classified as a country artist—but that’s a classification Gilmore doesn’t necessarily embrace.
The singer-songwriter and actor—he played Smokey in The Big Lebowski—is currently on tour with Dave Alvin in promotion of their collaboration Downey to Lubbock, and they’ll be appearing together at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace on Friday, Dec. 7.
During a recent phone interview, Gilmore explained his collaboration with Dave Alvin.
“We’ve been really good friends for 30 years,” Gilmore said. “We’re mutual fans of each other, but we never played music together until last year. My booking agent called one day and said, ‘What do you think about doing a songwriting tour with you and Dave?’ It worked out so well and turned out to be such a good pairing. We had so much in common musically that we hadn’t really been aware of and discovered that we both had a lot of blues and folk stuff in us from when we were learning to play. It was like an experiment that worked.”
Gilmore has collaborated with some of country best-known icons, such as Willie Nelson, and even recorded a song with the Seattle band Mudhoney. He said he’s always enjoyed the process.
“I’m sure it can go wrong, but my experience with it has been very positive,” Gilmore said. “I haven’t done it routinely, but I’ve done it a number of times through the years. For me, it’s always been fun and new.
“It’s almost like all band music is collaboration, in a sense. The other members of the band might not be well-known, but it’s always a collaboration. I’ve heard stories of people clashing, but it’s never happened to me.”
Gilmore is a practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism. I asked how it influences his daily life.
“It’s been something that I’ve been so interested and involved in for such a long time,” he said. “It’s not just an influence; it’s a big part of the way I approach life. I just finished a meditation retreat this week. One of the main, core pieces of the Buddha’s teachings is the view of what is life, what is real, and your view of life is what determines your happiness or unhappiness. It’s so pervasive, and it colors everything. This is something we could talk about for hours.
“I view Buddhism not as a religion, but a psychology. I see Buddha as the world’s first great psychologist. I don’t see the Buddha as a religious figure; he himself said he was not—that he was not a god, and was someone who had an insight into the way the mind works. I believe that from what I’ve learned from it. There are people who treat Buddhism as a religion and sort of worship the Buddha, but I never have.”
Gilmore explained why he doesn’t embrace the country label.
“I don’t really identify with any particular one brand of music,” he said. “I got labeled as a country singer and was deeply influenced by country music as a child, but when I started learning how to play, I was more influenced by the folk music and the folk blues. … My voice makes people instantly think, ‘That’s country!’ I’ve never identified with what’s called country music, and it’s such a diverse thing, anyway. But I’ve never felt the label has been accurate.
“Country is such an artificial label, anyway. If you read about the term ‘country music,’ it was invented as a marketing term back in the early days of recording. Among musicians, it’s always a blend of the influences that come together that you happen to be exposed to in your life. Most of the early, well-done country music recorded in a studio—most of the musicians were jazz-players. Louis Armstrong played with Jimmie Rodgers. Labeling things doesn’t make things accurate and doesn’t reflect the ways things really work.”
After listening to Downey to Lubbock, I heard exactly what Gilmore was talking about regarding him and Alvin going back to their folk and blues roots; the album is fantastic. While discussing the album, Gilmore also offered a preview of their show together.
“It’s a lot louder and more forceful than people are used to with my bands. It’s very lighthearted fun, and Dave is a very good guitar-player. There’s variety in it, and it’s kind of a comedy show, too,” he said with a laugh. “Dave’s band is really good, and oddly enough, Dave’s bass-player, Brad Fordham, played with me many years ago when I did the recording with Mudhoney and when I was on Elektra Records. Lisa Pankratz, Dave’s drummer, is truly great and played with me many years ago here in Austin when she was just a teenager. It’s kind of a reunion with me and the band members.”
Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Dave Alvin will perform at 9 p.m., Friday, Dec. 7, at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, in Pioneertown. Tickets are $25. For tickets or more information, call 760-365-5956, or visit www.pappyandharriets.com.