By Colin Gilmore
(LSM May/June 2011/vol. 4 – Issue 3)
I have been all over the nation. I’ve been through thousands of towns and cities, each with its own character, its own beauty, and its own psyche. But I have never experienced an area like my hometown, Lubbock, Texas. People often assume that the reason Lubbock has produced such great art, music and ideas, relative to its population, is that there is nothing else to do there. Well, I have been to a million places where there is “nothing else to do,” and in most of those places, “nothing” is about what they are doing. You can be somewhere where there are few distractions, but if the land and the people don’t offer enough inspiration, the artistic output there will probably show it.
Fortunately, Lubbock has several things that make it inspiring. First off, there’s a lot of sky. You can walk to a field on the outskirts and truly feel as if you are staring off into eternity. There’s nothing that can unsettle the soul like seeing the sky turn dark orange with dust. There’s nothing as uplifting as seeing it turn blue again. The people I grew up listening to and hanging out with reflected these turns of emotion and the ruggedness of a landscape that is naturally harsh.
I spent my childhood and youth surrounded by music, beauty and chaos. My father, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, had moved away to Austin and had only seen the first glimmer of fame. I still remember getting excited to see him on the local news. My mother, Debby, sang country and blues in the nightclubs around town. The whole gang, including Joe Ely, Jesse Taylor, Terry Allen, Butch Hancock, Jo Carol Pierce, Lloyd Maines, Richard Bowden, the Supernatural Family Band and countless others, were constantly in search of a place to play, and they would always find it. Our living room, the Texas Spoon, the Tornado Jam, you name it. Nearly all parties and get-togethers involved live music. As a little kid, I remember watching Eddie Beethoven’s 4-year-old daughter taking a drink of Sprite at a party at my house, only to immediately spit it out upon realizing somebody had filled the bottle with tequila. Madness was a constant backdrop to our lives.
When I wasn’t watching my parents and their friends play music, I endured living in a troubled neighborhood, where stepping outside almost guaranteed a physical confrontation. Poverty, ignorance, violence and a macho mentality were all pervasive. My seventh-grade principal brought all the boys into the auditorium to address a rumor that we were planning to beat him up. His response was to scream into the microphone, “Bring it on!” These were kids who didn’t even know who Buddy Holly was, much less that we were going to school two blocks from his childhood home. It took me a long time to realize that my family and our group of friends offered a safe haven of creativity and positivity from the cruel, cultureless void I saw all around me.
I began taking guitar lessons at age 12, at Perkin’s Music. Lanny Fiel gave me lessons and Alan Durham would show me riffs on the guitars they had for sale. I’d already been immersed in Buddy Holly, Waylon Jennings and the music of the people I grew up around, and it showed in my style of playing from day one. I joined the orchestra in sixth grade, but my insistence on playing by ear rather than by sight reading didn’t sit well with our conductor.
When my parents were young, rock ’n’ roll swept the nation, and they brought forth a spirit of rebellion that naturally freaked their parents out at times. Having such open-minded folks, I had to search harder for music that bothered them, and I eventually found it. (Why would my mother be bothered at me listening to the Dead Kennedys song, “I Kill Children”?) But despite my sharp rebellious phase, when it came down to it, my extended family would become my inspiration in life. Like me, they were informed by the landscape and mentalities of their hometown. But they also saw a life beyond its limitations and many, like me, had to move elsewhere in order to rediscover themselves.
One more thing about the musical gang I grew up with. Though there was an abundance of talent, anyone who wanted to play was encouraged and allowed. That’s not to say that there were no expectations of quality in any performance, but it always seemed to me that there was a spot in the group for anyone who was genuinely trying. Part of this may be that I was seeing through the naïve eyes of a child. But in my eyes, the people who were getting big recognition were doing it through talent, effort and individuality, and not through forming an exclusive “who’s who” club. I think this, plus a dose of healthy competition, fueled the fire.
Stories and recollections
In a town the size of Lubbock, where there are so many clashes of culture, there are bound to be great stories. I remember many, and though some were ones I experienced first-hand, others were ones I’d only heard, but still felt a part of. The two blend together inextricably at times.
First, there were the parties. While the adults played loud music, the kids would sneak off to cause as much trouble as they could. At one party at Lloyd Maines’ house, Lloyd, my mother, Richard Bowden (my stepdad at the time) and the other Maines Brothers played a show in the backyard. Lloyd’s daughter, Natalie (now lead singer for the Dixie Chicks) tricked me into going into the doghouse, then shut me in. We kids also discovered that full beer cans, when shaken up and thrown at a porch corner just right, could be turned into explosive missiles.
At Martha Fain’s house (she was Jesse Taylor’s mother), Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale, Butch Hancock, and my mother would crank out loud songs in the backyard. As kids, we all decided that this was our chance to take off down the alley, get lost and return with a shoebox full of small, endangered species. I have memories of staring down a dirt-filled alley with an enormous pink-orange sunset on the horizon, Townes Van Zandt and Lucinda Williams songs being played on Martha’s porch and feeling that we might keep on running forever. Memories like these have made music a part of my makeup, as essential as food or water.
I also remember going to the fair with my family at night and watching my stepdad, Danny, get a knife pulled on him by an enormous carney operating a ride too fast for my toddler sister. The carney wound up on the ground, regretting his rashness.
Anytime one of our friends played at Stubb’s, my sister and I would come with my mother and if we got tired, Stubb himself would clear off a booth for us to sleep on. Roadhouse blues and rock ’n’ roll became an integral part of the fabric of our dreams.
My mother told me that one night she was playing at a restaurant called Jugg Little’s, and after a long night of playing, Jugg drunkenly and repeatedly gave the band $100 to play just a little bit more. Finally, my mother and the band refused to continue and had to turn a table over to get the point across. The bouncer ended up pulling a gun on all of them.
Jesse Taylor came to our house one morning with a Mohawk haircut. My sister and I were delighted. His wife, he explained, was not. He woke up to the sound of her screaming in shock.
In recent years, the legendary Cotton Club reopened. Joe Ely took me inside and showed me around, giving a brief history. Pointing to bullet holes in the ceiling, he explained that when the place first opened, he played a show and a bunch of bikers showed up and started shooting roman candles at the band. Jesse Taylor stepped offstage, punched the lead biker, and calmly stepped back up onstage to resume playing while a brawl ensued. The next night someone pulled out a pistol and fired shots into the ceiling as a warning that things should stay peaceful from then on. When the old club finally closed, it became a strip club. Last time I went in after the reopening, they hadn’t yet taken the poles down. Personally, I think they should keep them.
Not long ago, I visited Lubbock as an adult and walked around the block in a nice neighborhood with my brother to reminisce. A van full of guys pulled over and challenged us to a fight. Oddly enough, that made me feel right at home!
Like my dad and many other musicians, I moved from Lubbock to see what Austin had to offer. Many, like Bob Livingston, Kimmie Rhodes and Guy Juke, I didn’t really get to know until later in life. Austin has provided a place for us to play, hear and learn music in a way no other city can. The flip side of this is that it’s a great town to get lost in. There are metric tons of bands to compete with. There is a national spotlight on the town, yet no major infrastructure for the music industry. You have to be serious about what you’re doing yet keep your sense of humor to make it here.
Having Jimmie Dale Gilmore as a father has made life interesting and blessed. Though we spent limited time together until I moved to Austin as a teenager, he has always had a profound effect on me. His songs and his voice have always been a beacon of light to me, the place where honesty and beauty coexist. I watched him and his friends go from playing music at backyard parties to being nominated for Grammys, and I feel they earned every bit of it.
As an up-and-coming musician, the inspiration I got from my parents and their friends has far outweighed the pressure I’ve felt to fill their shoes. There are people who take me seriously because of who my father is. There are people who cast me aside for the same reason. But there are so many more who just know what they like when they hear it. They are the ones I’m trying to reach. The most pressure I feel is from within. I witnessed a whole movement of people with genuine talent and a love of creating music. They all had a part to play — even the ones who have not fully realized their dreams. This tradition is one that cannot be left by the wayside, no matter what. When I feel uninspired and uncreative, as everyone does at times, I feel like I’m letting something die.
But when it comes down to it, this movement (if it can be called a movement) never was just about me or any one person. Good music is a powerful force, and it always takes a community of like-minded people to make it work. I’m watching a whole new generation helping each other to keep music interesting, and even using it to create a better world.
It actually works now and then.