Johnny Gimble (click here for his website) is one of the country’s leading fiddlers and former star of Hee Haw, grew up in Texas at the same time western swing did and his memories of the greats who taught him form a Who’s Who of the genre. Foremost, of course was Bob Wills; Gimble recalls when he was asked to join the Bob Wills band. “Being asked if you wanted to play with Bob Wills! It was like being asked, “Do you want to go to Heaven?” Wills’ music dominated juke boxes in the South and West for years, and singers like Bing Crosby copied Wills hits like “San Antonio Rose.” Featured in “Gimble’s Swing” are several rare film appearances by Bob and his band, dating from the 1940’s and featuring favorites like “Ida Red.”
Bob Wills wasn’t alone in forging western swing, though, and “Gimble’s Swing” pays tribute to other, lesser-known pioneers as well. There are guest appearances by Jim Boyd, who plays the famous guitar arrangement of “Under the Double Eagle” that’s been a standard for every guitar picker since Jim first recorded it in San Antonio back in 1935; by fiddler Cliff Bruner, who confesses that “I never really liked breakdowns much, what I liked was swing”; by Eldon Shamblin, the electric guitar wizard who set the music world on its ear with his jazzy solos and arrangements; and Marvin Montgomery, a banjo player for the Light Crust Doughboys, who remembers when his band would go down to the Red Light district of Dallas to pick up some new licks from the blues bands there. The western swing kings liked the music of pop bands like Benny Goodman, but never wanted to go north to play with the big dance bands; “We were making more money than they were,” recalls Shamblin, “Hell, we could hire men from them.”
Nor is western swing an old man’s music, preserved only in records and memories. It is still the dance music of Texas and the Southwest, as “Gimble’s Swing” makes clear. We visit the Caravan ballroom in Tulsa and listen while Bill Dozier sings “Milk Cow Blues” to a floor full of dancers; we watch Johnny Gimble and his band perform at a sale of western wear in Waco; and we watch as Johnny joins Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel, the famous new band that combines western swing with rock, at the legendary Armadillo World in Austin.
Johnny Gimble received a National Heritiage Fellowship (see his bio) from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1994.