Essay: Johnny Gimble – Texas Fiddler and Music Legend

Austin, TX  May 10th 2015


John Paul Gimble born May 30, 1926 was better known as Johnny Gimble, an American country fiddle musician primarily associated with Western swing music. Johnny Gimble was born in Tyler, Texas and grew up in a community call Bascom, Texas. His musical journey started yearly in life. He began playing fiddle in a band with his brothers at age 12 and, continued playing together for several years as The Rose City Swingsteres. Gimble was considered one of the most important fiddlers in the genre, pioneering the classic Western song with his unique blend of double-stop(playing multiple strings at the same time) and clean sound. Mr. Gimble was an icon amongst fiddlers and Western music enthusiasts. Regardless of age or the modern age, Gimble still continued to grow and learn and “make stuff up” or his way of composing. Throughout different life experiences and influences, Mr. Gimble continued to look for new ways to keep the music he loved alive and in the hearts of the next generation. He left a legacy of family, students and fans. Individuals that will continue the style he cherished so. Throughout his life Johnny dedicated years of his time to education and the teaching of fiddle and swing to, not only those close to him but, to students that came from all around to learn from him. There is still must we can learn from Gimble and his style. Luckily, modern technology allows us to relive moments Johnny shared with us and the music that will stay in our hearts. The Western swing music he favorited perfectly fit his disposition. Johnny was a fun and easy going fiddler that love playing because playing was fun. He believed in a deep sense of fun in music. The industry side of music interested him less as he got more into the music. Johnny felt that music can make people happy both; the players and the listeners. The music he “made up” had two objectives: 1. To have fun and have a good melody. 2. To be fun to dance to and fun to listen to. We can safely say that Johnny Gimble’s life was both full of life and fun and in service of others.


Late in the 1940s, he joined Bob Wills’s band, the Texas Playboys. He played both fiddle and  mandolin, and distinguished himself by using a five-string fiddle (most fiddles have four strings) when playing with Bob Wills. Bob Wills, was an American Western swing musician, songwriter, and bandleader. Considered by music authorities as the co-founder of Western swing, he was universally known as the King of Western Swing (after the death of Spade Cooley who used the moniker “King Of Western Swing” from 1942 to 1969.) Wills was born in 1905 and died on May 13, 1975. Wills formed several bands and played in radio stations around the South primarily and formed the famous Texas Playboys Texas swing power group in 1934. Gimble broke off to form his own group in 1951, performing as the house band at Bob Wills’s club. In 1953 he rejoined with Wills continued to play w until the early 1960’s. He played fiddle on #1 hit “I’ll Go on Alone” for Marty Robbins. Starting in the late 1970s, he won five Best Instrumentalist awards from the Country Music Awards and eight Best Fiddle Player awards from the Academy of Country Music. From then on, his steady work as a session musician included sessions with Merle Haggard, on his Bob Wills tribute album and with Chet Atkins on Superpickers in 1973. The following year he took a cue from a song he wrote and performed on the Atkins’ Superpickers album, Fiddlin’ Around and recorded the first of ten solo albums, Fiddlin’ Around. According to the Tennessean, the iconic fiddler suffered a stroke in 1999, but continued to play well into his 80s, appearing on A Prarie Home Companion and releasing an album titled Celebrating With Friends in 2010, featuring collaborations with Haggard, Vince Gill, Dale Watson, Ray Benson and more. He appeared multiple times on “A Prairie Home Companion” and “Austin City Limits,” and, in 2010.

Play every chance you get and be real lucky! – Johnny Gimble

End of an Era

The Dallas Morning News reported that Mr. Gimble died peacefully on at his home in Dripping Springs near Austin on Saturday May 9th 2015 at the age of 88. His daughter, Cyndy, said Gimble “finally rid of the complications from several strokes over the past few years.” As this may end an era of fiddling for some, this is the beginning for others. This is a time to rediscover and reignite the passion for Western swing and the legacy that will live on long after Johnny.  Mr. Gimble has left a lasting influence on country music and, while numerous young fiddlers have attempted to mimic his style over the years, “If you try to play like someone else, who will play like you?” as Gimble used to frequently say. It is safe to say that this is not an end of an era if we don’t allow it to be. We can take the legacy and memories that Johnny left us with and apply them to our music and our lives. We can become unique musicians, relaxed and full of passion for a style of music we love. This will be in honor of the many decade long musical influence that Johnny Gimble left us with. The ball is in our court now. We are to pick up the rule of educator, innovator and motivator or music and the arts. The time is now, as the tides change, for us to take up the foundation that Mr. Gimble laid down for us and stand tall to inspire the next generation of music makers. Through his creative output of music and teaching, we to can leap off into a wider world of music based on his exploration. We to can explore from where we are and create new musical textures and sounds that allow more and more people come to love the music that is engrained deep within our heart.


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