Fiddler's family reflects as famed Central Texas musician honored

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WACO, Texas (KWTX) World-famous fiddler Johnny Gimble has been officially inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame with his family accepting the honor on his behalf.

(Photo by Bill Gowdy)

While the announcement was made in March, the Bronze Medallion Ceremony for the late country star was held at the CMA Hall of Fame & Museum in Nashville Sunday.

“I grew up with the best dang fiddle player in the world,” said son Dick Gimble.

The professor of music at McLennan Community College and his wife Marilyn and their children and grandchildren, plus, his mother and siblings traveled to Tennessee for the ceremony emceed by Garth Brooks.

"Well he'd say ‘thank you,’ and he'd say ‘thank you to my wife Barbara and thank you to the Lord Jesus,’" Gimble said about remarks his father would have made at the ceremony.

Gimble said his father was gone a lot touring, but he loved to ‘cut up’ and was kind; when his dad was home, he remembers he would wake him up for his Midway High School jazz band practice with breakfast waiting as he drank his coffee and read the King James Bible.

"He either had Malt-O-Meal, oatmeal, or grits on the stove every morning, he was a good daddy,” said Gimble. “He worked as hard at being a good man as he did at being a great fiddler.”

Gimble, who played with his father’s band as early as age 14, said his dad tried teaching him the fiddle, but it didn’t stick.

“I quit playing the fiddle a long time ago, daddy’s just too good,” he said. “I played for seven years when I was 35, but if you don’t play every day, you really suck.”

However, his dad taught him to play other instruments like bass and mandolin, inspired by the instruments lying around his bedroom after his dad turned it into his recording studio.

“Daddy could pretty much play anything with strings on it,” he said. “I was really lucky to get to learn to play from him.”

Gimble ended up playing in a rock band in high school.

“We played rodeos, we played the Heart O’ Texas Fair in 1968 with Leonard Nimoy, Mr. Spock, who sang folk songs pretty good actually,” said Gimble.

Although he’s a longtime Central Texan, Gimble was born in Oklahoma; his father became a member of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys after Wills left Texas over a copyright dispute with Governor Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel.

“We lived there about two months, but I’m really a Texan,” he said.

After touring with the group for a decade, in 1960 Gimble quit when he got an offer to do a television show on KWTX in Waco called “Johnny Gimble & the Homefolks.”

"He (Buddy Bostick) called daddy and said ‘I want you to come to Waco, we got a new TV station, and do a live show everyday at noon called the dinner bell hour,’ it was actually a half-hour show,” said Dick Gimble. “When Mr. Bostick called him, we moved from Dallas to Waco, and mother and daddy built a house out in Woodway.”

The show, which eventually got moved to Saturdays, ended up featuring acts and musicians who came through town like Ernest Tubb; at one point, Gimble hired a young bass player named Willie Nelson to play with him, forging a lifelong friendship between the two.

“He booked daddy for a lot of stuff and we got to be in his movie ‘Honeysuckle Rose,’” said Dick Gimble.

After a stint in Nashville, later, Johnny Gimble briefly became Nelson’s fiddle player.

Gimble has appeared on more than 200 albums with the likes of Chet Atkins, Merle Haggard, George Strait, Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn, among others, and in 1974 recorded his first of ten solo albums.

"He's got hundreds, if not thousands of fiddle players that have learned, taken his music that he played on records and copied it,” said Dick Gimble.

Dick’s son, Jon Gimble, recalls when he learned his grandfather was a ‘big deal.’

"Farm Aid 5 was up at Cowboys Stadium and Willie hired my granddad and my dad and his band to backup all of the country music artists for a third of the performances, and then it went to rock and roll, and then it went back to something else - I was in either junior high or a freshman in high school and I'm walking around with my granddad and my dad and there's ZZ Top and everybody that was a charting rock and roll artist that wanted to come help out Texas and U.S. farmers, and I was like 'holy cow, this is pretty cool,' I didn't know my granddad was such a big deal!" Jon Gimble laughed. "And then we'd go to Willie's Picnic and there's tens of thousands of people there all to hear the music."

"It was a lot better than when I was in elementary school and getting made fun of because my grandpa was one of he main players on Hee Haw," he laughed. "For whatever reason, at Woodway Elementary Hee Haw wasn't that popular when I was in first grade, I didn't care, I said 'well, what TV show is your granddad on?'"

Johnny Gimble made frequent appearances on TV shows including Austin City Limits, the longest-running music series on television, and even played Bob Wills alongside Clint Eastwood in the film Honkytonk Man.

Currently the District Clerk for McLennan County, Jon Gimble didn’t gravitate toward playing music, but is instead keen on the stories and history of his grandfather and the industry he helped grow.

“One of the music historians credited him with adding the fifth string on the violin for string players,” he said.

The patriarch was playing regularly until he suffered a stroke on Christmas Eve 1999.

“We thought he’d never play again,” said Dick Gimble.

However, he said his dad was determined to play a western swing festival in Wichita Falls about five months later.

“After that stroke he rebounded, but it was never the same,” he said.

He said his dad kept playing in a band with him and his daughter, Texas country music star keyboardist and singer Emily Gimble, until about 2010.

"He went as long as he could and it sure hurt him when we had to quit doing shows,” he said.

Before his playing years came to an end, Johnny Gimble got to do the Grammy Award Show with Carrie Underwood in 2007, the year Wills was getting inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

“We were invited to do ‘San Antonio Rose’ with Carrie Underwood, they wanted authentic western swing musicians which all come from Texas, ya know,” said Dick Gimble.

Since the 1970s, Johnny Gimble has been honored with a plethora of achievements including Grammy Awards in ’93 and ’94, nine ACM’s for Best Fiddle Player, and was made a National Heritage Fellow as a Master Folk Artist by the National Endowment of the Arts.

“He didn’t care about ‘em much (awards), but he’s appreciative,” said his son.

He was also nominated 15 times, of which he won five, for CMA Instrumentalist of the Year.

“Chet Atkins won it every year for a decade, Roy Clark, and then in 1976 daddy won that award and it was so, so exciting, and since then he’s won it five times altogether,” said Dick Gimble.

Johnny Gimble passed away in 2015, three years before his induction into the CMA Hall of Fame.

“It would have been nice if he got it before he passed away a few years ago, but still it’s a huge honor, that’s a big deal,” said Dick Gimble.

At the announcement ceremony in March, the family used part of the allotted three minutes to sing a verse of one of Johnny Gimble’s most famous songs, Under the X in Texas.

“I started getting a little choked up, we miss him, ya know,” said Dick Gimble.

On Sunday, the family was interviewed on the red carpet and Johnny’s widow, Barbara, accepted a plaque with a likeness of the bronze medallion that will go up at the museum with an accompanying paragraph about his contribution to country music.

“He could play real pretty just as well, but he loved to swing,” said Dick Gimble. “We’re keeping that alive, he’s got some grandkids and great-grandkids, and that’s a pretty good legacy.”