Fiddler Johnny Gimble Passes Away

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Submitted by Don Graham

Johnny Gimble, one of the best fiddlers to ever resin up a bow, passed last week in Dripping Springs, Texas. He died from complications brought on by several strokes he had suffered in recent years. He was 88 years old and his recording credits spanned generations, recording with everyone from Bob Wills to George Strait.

He learned to play the fiddle and mandolin as a child, and  in his early teens he performed on local radio stations. He played with Jimmie Davis, who'd become the governor of Louisiana and would write the classic “You Are My Sunshine”. After serving in World War II, he returned to the States and country music. In 1949, he began playing with the king of Western Swing, Bob Wills and a few years later, fiddled on Marty Robbins' debut single, "I'll Go on Alone," which topped the country charts.

After leaving Bob Wills' Texas Playboys in the 1960s, he searched out different lines of  work including being a barber, before moving to Nashville later in the decade. In the booming music scene in Nashville, he became a first call session musician. He played on now-classic recordings like Connie Smith's "If It Ain't Love," Merle Haggard's "If We Make It Through December" and a Bob Wills tribute record, "A Tribute to the Best Damn Fiddle Player in the World", He played on Chet Atkins' 1974 album "Superpickers" and George Strait's version of "Right or Wrong." From 1979-1981 he  toured with Willie Nelson.

During his 60-plus years in music, Johnny Gimble won five Instrumentalist of the Year Awards from the Country Music Association and Fiddler of the Year Awards from the Academy of Country Music. In 1994, he was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Though he had a stroke in December 1999, Mr. Gimble continued making music well into his 80s, living his motto "Play every chance you get and be real lucky."

He appeared many times on "A Prairie Home Companion" and "Austin City Limits," and, in 2010, released his final album "Celebrating with Friends," a collection of collaborations with artists like Nelson, Haggard, Ray Benson, Dale Watson, Vince Gill and others.

Canadian fiddle icon Donny Parenteau had this to say about Johnny Gimble’s playing and influence “Johnny Gimble was one of the greatest fiddle players with a unique style and tone that could only come from his mind and fingers. He will be missed but never forgotten.”

Johnny Gimble has left his markon country music and a lot of young fiddle players have tried to copy his unique style over the years, Gimble’s advice to them?  "If you try to play like someone else, who will play like you?"

Rest in peace Johnny Gimble.