Entertainment & Life

Country band Flatlanders blossomed after first album was snubbed in 1970s

Born and bred in Texas, the three guitarist-singer-songwriters collectively known as The Flatlanders have recorded and performed on and off together since the early 1970s and are also prolific, critically praised solo artists.

Jimmie Dale Gilmore, 72, and Butch Hancock met as seventh-graders in Lubbock, the birthplace of Buddy Holly. The budding grass-roots musicians hooked up with roadhouse rocker Joe Ely after graduating from high school.

Gilmore, who is Irish and a quarter mix of Cherokee and Apache, is readily identifiable on stage by his long, straight gray hair (he played the bowler Smokey in “The Big Lebowski”), new black Gibson Dove guitar and a high, lonesome tenor sometimes compared to that of Willie Nelson.

During a recent phone interview, he talked about The Flatlanders’ genesis and influences, his past hedonism and current Zen-like lifestyle and the hill country of West Texas.

Gilmore’s dad played lead guitar and named his son after country artist Jimmie Rodgers. “Because of dad,” Gilmore said, “I have come very much from the just pure old-time country, particularly the sort of honky-tonk country background ... I was one of those people who, when rock and roll came along, embraced it just like the rest of my age group but didn’t throw out the old stuff that I liked like a lot of other people did.”

When Gilmore was about 12, his dad took him to an Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash concert in Lubbock. “That had a profound effect on me,” said Gilmore. “Around that same time I completely fell in love with that basically New Orleans (sound) that I liked on the radio, Little Richard, Fats Domino. That music is really in a sense still my very favorite, all that New Orleans sort of R&B.”

Ely grew up in Lubbock “so he heard all this but he was definitely a rock and roll fan,” Gilmore said. “It wasn’t like he was against country music. He just had a much more early-on, immediate connection with rock and roll. And Butch was very, very much more in that early period into bluegrass and old-time folk.

“All of us were early Bob Dylan fans, that area of folk music. We were Woody Guthrie fans. That’s one thing we bonded on. And then strangely enough, Townes Van Zandt was an influence on all of us.”

In 1969, Ely crossed paths with the late singer-songwriter Van Zandt, whose backpack was stuffed with a fresh pressing of his second LP, “Our Mother the Mountain.”

“Joe called me up and said, ‘Hey I picked up this hitchhiker and he gave me the best record,’ and we got together to listen,” Gilmore recalled. “That’s when Joe and I started hanging out with each other. So Joe always said that Townes became the patron saint of The Flatlanders. His music in certain ways was so much like ours. His music didn’t really influence as much as the fact that he was doing it and making a success of it.”

The Flatlanders tried to emulate that success in 1972 with the album “All American Music” that included Steve Wesson on musical saw. It was snubbed by the music industry and released only on 8-track tape. The band split up. Gilmore joined an ashram in New Orleans and delved deeper into Hindu philosophy and Buddhism after relocating to Denver. He began playing in clubs again in 1980 in Austin and released his debut solo album in 1988. As The Flatlanders’ solo careers blossomed so did interest in their 1972 recording, which was re-released in 1990 as “More a Legend Than a Band.”

The band has a solid fan base that supports its intermittent recordings and tours, and will be backed by bass, drums and lead guitar during its Grass Valley show Oct. 4.

“We got together last week for the first time in probably a year or more,” Gilmore said, “and had an actual discussion about going to work on a whole new project, writing together and doing some more recording, and probably putting out some recordings that we’ve done in the past. And who knows what form it will take. Just the fact that we decided to do it is exciting.”

The Flatlanders

When: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 4

Where: Grass Valley Center for the Arts

Tickets: $47-$52

Information: http://thecenterforthearts.org

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