Johnny Gimble: A First-hand Reminiscence

Johnny Gimble: A First-hand Reminiscence

UPDATE:

iFiddle Magazine issued a June 2015 Johnny Gimble commemorative edition. They asked me to film a video tribute where I shared a few memories and performed one of his tunes. -What an honor to share “Gardenia Waltz” in tribute to the great Johnny Gimble:

The Day the World Stopped Swinging

Today during Berklee College of Music’s graduation, Matt Glaser nudged me and shared somber breaking news: “Johnny Gimble just died.” In a split second, the world became a little less swinging.

Johnny Gimble and David Wallace; Waco, TX, July, 1996

Johnny Gimble and David Wallace; Waco, TX; July, 1996. Note “Roly Poly” chord progression on the blackboard in the Nashville number system.

Johnny Gimble: legendary fiddler; consummate entertainer; deft bandleader; witty raconteur; kind, generous teacher; family man. Only last week, Matt and some of our string faculty were enjoying and analyzing Johnny’s extraordinary “Beaumont Rag” solo from his “Fiddlin’ Around” LP (Capitol 11301, 1974).

After the second hearing, Mimi Rabson shook her head in admiration: “What a sound! We should require every Berklee string player to learn that!” Matt agreed: “It’s the greatest improvised violin solo on record.”

“Never Play it the Same Way Once!”

Though Johnny would have been tickled to see the joy his solo gave us, he would have shrugged off our urges to canonize it.

Johnny frequently summarized his improvisational approach by relating a life-altering conversation that he and his elder brother had when they were teenagers. One night, after a Saturday night dance in rural Texas, his brother took him to task:

As he was driving me home in his pickup, my brother said, “Johnny, I’m disappointed in you.” I said, “Why?! I thought I played well tonight!” He said, “Johnny, you played the same solo you played last Saturday.” From then on, I decided to never play it the same way once!

I spent many happy hours listening to Johnny Gimble, learning from him, jamming with him, and even teaching by his side at Mark O’Connor’s San Diego String Conferences. Ceaselessly, Johnny amazed me with the freshness of his improvisations and musical ideas.

Johnny Gimble, Fiddling Scholar

In reality, his fecundity was rooted in an encyclopedic knowledge of Texas swing. He could teach you classic riffs and solos that he had learned from many of his heroes and role models: Cliff Bruner, J.R. Chatwell, Jesse Ashlock and many others. By breaking tricky licks down, he made them simple and accessible. If you did want to learn a tune or a solo note-for-note, he would teach you.

Johnny constantly enriched and deepened other musicians’ knowledge. If you loved Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, he made sure that you also knew Milton Brown and his Musical Brownies. If you admired one particular “Beaumont Rag” solo, he made sure you knew about several others by multiple artists from different eras. Often, he would demonstrate them from memory.

When Johnny found out that I also played viola, the first thing he asked me was “Have you heard Don Decker? He played viola in T. Tex Tyler’s band. There aren’t a whole lot of records, but he was really good.” Johnny should know; he was one of the first fiddlers to add a fifth string to his fiddle so that it could encompass the viola’s deeper range.

The Ears Behind Johnny Gimble’s Distinctive Voice

Throughout his career, Gimble also distinguished himself with his voice. Fronting his own bands with lead vocals, he also sang in unison with his improvised violin lines and harmonized fluidly. I can’t recall a concert, class, or jam that didn’t include a healthy dose of Johnny’s singing.

Johnny Gimble knew his music theory. More than anything, though, his playing was rooted in his ears and in hours of listening, both on the bandstand and off.

At his 1996 Texas Swing Camp, Johnny taught an advanced group one of his formidable, double-stop augmented riffs. I asked, “How do you know when to use it?”

He smiled. “Just keep your ears open. You’ll start to hear it.” Surely enough, time proved him right. Hear that augmented lick for yourself at 2:36 in this video of Johnny playing “Fiddlin’ Around.

We musicians could easily spend the rest of our days studying Johnny’s music, striving for his impeccable rhythmic drive, and seeking to embody his generous, gregarious stage presence and personality. However, in many ways, we would be missing the point.

Johnny Gimble strove to be creative, not merely imitative. In full measure, he shared his musical gifts for the joy and the sake of others- not for his own gratification or glory. We should definitely transcribe his solos, teach his licks, and play his tunes. More than anything, though, we should preserve his legacy the way he lived it: jam, sing, laugh, share, teach, and never play it the same way once!

Thank you, Johnny!

Doc Wallace, May 9, 2015

Enjoy an excellent documentary on the life of Johnny Gimble:

And a vintage “Sweet Georgia Brown” video featuring yours truly. There’s certainly a lick or two from late night jams on this tune with Johnny at fiddle camps:

 

Doc Wallace Goes for the Emotional at MWROC 2013

Doc Wallace Goes for the Emotional at MWROC 2013

David Wallace gives an emotional electric viola performance at the 2013 MWROC Festival

David Wallace gives an emotional performance at the 2013 MWROC Festival

I owe a musical debt to fiery collaborators of the great cellist Pablo Casals: Karen Tuttle, Julius Levine, Felix Galimir, and Alexander Schneider. Whenever these gurus conducted, coached, or taught me, they demanded 110% emotional commitment. Anything less was a crime. Just as they shared Casals’ passionate approach with me, I aim to impart their fervor to the next generation.

Going for the Emotional

This year, “Going for the Emotional” was my mantra at Mark Wood Rock Orchestra Camp (MWROC). My general sessions explored Karen Tuttle’s compendium of the five human emotions: love, joy, anger, fear, and sorrow.

An Emotional Facsimile of Karen Tuttle's Compendium of the Five Human Emotions

Facsimile of Karen Tuttle’s Compendium of the Five Human Emotions

Through gut-wrenching actors’ studio work, we conjured up deep personal experiences. We then modulated our emotional intensity using a 1 to 10 scale. (1 represents a mild manifestation of a chosen emotion. At the opposite end of the scale, 10 is where a person overflows, loses control, or has nothing left to give.) In addition to expressing ourselves through vocalizations and dramatic poses, we improvised and composed with our instruments.

Building Emotional Ensembles

In my small ensembles, we deepened our initial emotional explorations. One group, The Indubitably Sunny Phish, explored the mellow end of the spectrum. Since their improvisatory performance of Trey Anastasio and Tom Marshall’s Wading in the Velvet Sea greatly moved me, I vowed to sing it in 2014:

Meanwhile, a technically advanced ensemble, Harbingers of Darkness, explored the dark recesses of the human psyche. As a group, we reconstructed Tet Offensive from Billy Bang’s Vietnam: The Aftermath.

When the entire faculty and student body came together as a magnificent orchestra for the final concert, we were not just playing loudly. Yes, we were rocking out, but we were filling every note with uttermost feeling. Without a doubt, my mentors would have been proud.

Walking the Emotional Walk

Because credibility means everything for a teacher, I must practice what I preach.  For my faculty concert on July 17th, I put together as emotionally loaded a set as I could envision. When you watch the performance, you’ll see that we encompassed all five of Tuttle’s human emotions. I actually pushed myself quite close to a 10.

After the concert, my collaborating MWROC faculty member, producer Matt Vanacoro sent me a priceless text:

Best. Text. Ever!

Best. Text. Ever!

Hey, David!  Karen just texted me. They found your soul onstage after you ripped it out and showed it to everyone. Might want to run back and pick it up!

Be Expressive!

-Doc Wallace, 29 July 2013

Look Out, World, Here Comes docwallacemusic.com!!

Look Out, World, Here Comes docwallacemusic.com!!

Rock violist David Wallace DocWallaceMusic

Dr. David Wallace performing at The Bell Center

DocWallaceMusic has a website? I can hardly believe it. . . After years of dreaming, procrastinating, and pouring all my energy into living the life of a musician, composer, and teaching artist based in New York City, I’m finally launching a website!

What’s that, Vi?  (Vi Wickam‘s my web guru / personal-mentor-in-all-things-internet). This post is actually the beginning of the DocWallaceMusic blog?

Oh, man, I should say something pithy, momentous, or engaging. . . but I’ve only got a few hours to pack all my clothes and electronics gear for Mark Wood Rock Orchestra Camp and Music Festival!! Come to think of it, MWROC is extraordinarily momentous; I’ll let next week’s events do the talking!

I’ll be performing on every faculty concert next week at the Bell Center in Olathe, Kansas. My own set is Wednesday, July 17th. I’ll be performing a movement from a string quartet I’m writing for the Marian Anderson String Quartet, some Lead Belly, my ever-popular Nahum: An Apocalyptic Prophesy for Electric Viola, as well as some surprises. Other highlights include performing a Mahavishnu Orchestra chart with Joe Deninzon, Tracy Silverman, Lucas Shogren, and Matt Vanacoro on Monday; shredding heavy metal medleys and a movement of Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 3 in F Major, Op. 73 with Rachel Barton Pine on Tuesday; and joining the MWROC Beatles and Zeppelin orchestras for the final concert on Friday night.

[2017 Update: You can actually view the full MWROC 2013 set on my YouTube Channel.  Here it is, in all its quirky glory:]

Spread the word! I sincerely hope some of you can make it out to some of the concerts. Here’s a sample from last year to whet your appetite. This is a 100% improvised psychedelic jam based on Janis Joplin and Big Brother & the Holding Company’s cover of Moondog’s All is Loneliness: 

Can you see why I’m so excited?! But that’s just part of the adrenaline and endorphins:

During the day, I will be teaching and coaching inspired musicians of all levels and ages how to improvise, rock out, create their own arrangements, and thrive in an atmosphere where everyone is unconditionally loved, celebrated, and accepted.

So, I think that’s plenty of material for this first entry. DocWallaceMusic.com is still a work-in-progress, but it gets a little better and more complete each day. I’m editing and uploading new content constantly, so bookmark the page, and check in frequently. My goal is to have all sections fully developed by the end of July. Meanwhile, please browse!

Thank you so much for sharing the journey with me!

Rock on!

Doc Wallace

13 July, 2013

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PS While you’re at it, check out the Doc Wallace Music YouTube channel.  I’ve been developing it for over a year now, and it’s another great place to keep up with me.  If you like what you see, please subscribe.  That way, you don’t miss any updates!  Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a Gmail account; you just need to sign in.  Google will kindly walk you through the process.