Statement on the Death of NEA National Heritage Fellow Johnny Gimble

1994 Heritage Fellow Johnny Gimble.jpg

Head shot of fiddler player Johnny Gimble

Fiddle-player Johnny Gimble. Photo by Tom Pich.

It is with great sadness that the National Endowment for the Arts acknowledges the passing of 1994 National Heritage Fellow Johnny Gimble, a Western Swing fiddler from Dripping Springs, Texas. Gimble influenced the sound and rhythm of Western swing, especially during his years with Bob Willis and the Texas Playboys. His prowess on the fiddle earned him five "Instrumentalist of the Year" awards from the Country Music Association and eight "Fiddler of the Year" designations by the Academy of Country Music.

Gimble began playing the fiddle at a young age; by the time he was 13 years old, he was playing the mandolin and the fiddle for house dances and family farm gatherings. After serving in World War II, Gimble returned to Texas and continued to hone his fiddling skills with a number of Texas radio and dance bands. His fiddling style, while uniquely his own, was greatly influenced by other Texas fiddlers who played the "breakdown" fiddle tunes. Gimble learned from fiddlers such as Cliff Bruner, Louis Tierney, and Jesse Ashlock, and further developed while playing with Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, who epitomized and promoted a new sound known as Western swing.

Gimble moved to Nashville at a time when interest in the fiddle was on the rise in Nashville. He recorded with Merle Haggard ("If We Make It Through December"), Conway Twitty ("You've Never Been This Far Before"), Connie Smith ("If It Ain't Love"), and other popular artists, including Lefty Frizzell, Marty Robbins, Ray Price, Chet Atkins, Willie Nelson, and George Strait.

In addition to his awards through the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music, Gimble received a Grammy in 1994 for his arrangement of "Red Wing" on the Bob Wills tribute album by the group Asleep at the Wheel. Several of his compositions, such as "Slow 'N Easy Blues" and "Under the 'X' in Texas," are widely performed.

During the 1980s he moved back to Texas, where he formed new bands, including younger musicians such as Curly Hollingsworth on piano, Kenny Frazier on guitar and vocals, Joe "Willis" Bullock on drums, and his son, Dick Gimble, on bass and vocals.

Visit the NEA's website for more information on Johnny Gimble, as well as a portrait of him taken by Tom Pich.

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