At 65, Texas twangsmith Jimmie Dale Gilmore has become a philosopher who teaches courses at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur and the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies in New York.
So he’ll consider the question — what exactly has gone wrong with country music today? — with precision.
“For my taste, and for what I call country, there’s almost none of it left anymore,” he says. “If you turn on a mainstream country station right now, the music that they’re playing is watered-down, inferior pop music, with stupid lyrics, stupid predictable melodies and occasionally a funny pun. I find listening to it difficult.”
But Gilmore is doing something about it. And he’s chosen an unusual partner in his crusade: philanthropist Warren Hellman, who personally throws the biggest roots-music party on the planet, with his annual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco.
With the banjo-plucking Hellman’s side group The Wronglers, Gilmore just finished recording an album of vintage Nashville classics, “Heirloom Music,” which they’ll be premiering in San Francisco on Sunday afternoon.
How did the pair team up on such standards as “Uncle Pen,” “In the Pines” and “Footprints in the Snow”?
The fellow Carter Family enthusiasts first met backstage, when Gilmore played Hellman’s second bluegrass fest 10 years ago.
“In the beginning, I didn’t know who Warren was in the financial and social world,” Gilmore says. “I just thought he was one of the promoters of the festival — I didn’t know that he was the benefactor of the whole thing! So the fact that Warren and I became good friends is unlikely to begin with. But we had a common love of old, old music, and we share a similar absurd sense of humor — we keep each other laughing all the time.”
The “Heirloom” subject was first broached over dinner with The Wronglers at last year’s South by Southwest convention in Austin, Texas, Gilmore says. “It just popped into my head, and I said, ‘I want y’all to tell me if this is really stupid or not. But what do you think about doing a record together?’ Everybody instantly loved it, and Warren’s reaction was like ‘Really? Are you serious?’ The minute I said it, it set the wheels in motion.”
Will “Heirloom Music” save country? Gilmore chuckles, then chooses a larger political metaphor. “I think the game has been rigged for so long already, it’s impossible,” he says. “The very same process that screwed up country music has screwed up our whole economic system. It’s greed. Just pure and simple greed.”
IF YOU GO
Jimmie Dale Gilmore with The Wronglers
Where: Slim’s, 333 11th St., San Francisco
When: 5 p.m. Sunday
Contact: (415) 522-0333, www.slimstickets.com