Three for the Road
Warren Hood and Emily Gimble close the generation gap
Warren Hood grins as bright as the summer sun. The bounce in his step carries him into Threadgill's World Headquarters on this warming June day, and he's greeted with familiarity. He stops to chat in the lobby.
"I got married on Sunday," he beams. "I don't recommend anyone attempt to get married and release a record the same year, let alone the same week."
Sure enough, he's sporting a shiny band of gold on his right hand, but that's not all he's happy about. His new Charlie Sexton-produced CD, The Warren Hood Band, hit streets the week he got hitched, so it naturally took a backseat to the nuptials. Now, it's time to honeymoon with the recording.
Emily Gimble saunters through the lobby to our table, where she takes a seat beside the bandleader and asks him about the wedding. It's been oft-quoted that the dynamic of the group works between Hood and Gimble, yet both are quick to credit guitarist Willie Pipkin as the instigator. The trifecta of musicians drives the Warren Hood Band equally.
These two aren't kids – Hood's 30 and Gimble is 28 – yet they share a double legacy. They're scions of respected musical families who represent the youngblood generation of musicians raised in the live music capital of the world. While it's one thing to be young and talented, it's quite another to carry those qualities under the mantle of a known family name.
As a master multi-instrumentalist, or Toni Price's right-hand man, and in Uncle Walt's Band, Warren's late father Champ Hood remains synonymous with Austin music royalty. Dick Gimble, Emily's father, is a noted CenTex guitarist and fiddle legend Johnny Gimble – her grandfather – comes straight from the front ranks of Western swing kings Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys.
Dream team tags their partnership into a convenient cliche, because Warren Hood and Emily Gimble go together like homemade bread and apple butter.
And you know what they say about apples and trees.
They're About a Mover
"I remember seeing Emily when she was too terrified to take solos," laughs Warren Hood, an accomplished fiddler, mandolinist, and guitar player.
He's teasing Emily Gimble, turning on his thousand-watt smile at her. His light eyes twinkle playfully under the brown cap of loose curls reminiscent of his father's charm and affability.
"Her grandpa would make her take the solo, and she'd have this look on her face like something smelled bad. Like, 'Noooo, don't make me do this!' When she first started playing with us, she'd refuse certain solos, too."
Compact with longish hair, Gimble flushes and giggles helplessly at the thought.
"That's the story of my first two years in Austin," she says. "I decided I would play piano and was going to do it. Everyone – my grandpa, Slim Richey, Willie, Warren – totally supported me."
Good thing, because without Emily Gimble, the Warren Hood Band lays out just another very good, multigenre band the likes of which Austin effortlessly turns out – albeit one with tight-fitting genes. Warren's acutely aware of his father's shadow and seems well resolved to it. Still, his band concerns aren't unrelated.
"I feel like we're in danger of losing our identity in this town," he says. "Austin's growing so rapidly, and so many people don't know how it came to be, and are changing it into something else. It breaks my heart that I can walk down Congress and talk to someone and they won't know who Doug Sahm is. That's not that long ago!
"It seems to be dying off with the new, young, hip generation. They don't do their homework. They don't care where it came from. And I like the town Austin is, but no town stays the same forever. I just wish those older guys got more recognition. They still play Stevie [Ray Vaughan] on the radio, but they hardly play Doug or Toni.
"For me, doing my dad's songs keeps up that tradition a little bit. If somebody likes 'Motor City Man,' they'll look it up to see Walter Hyatt wrote it and they'll go, 'Who's that?' and Google him.
"Every project I ever do will have at least one Uncle Walt's Band song on it," vows Hood.
River City Man
The Warren Hood Band spins as good as the word of its namesake, with Hyatt's "Motor City Man" and Champ Hood's "Last One to Know" back-to-back among the nine other songs written or co-written by Warren Hood.
That's appropriate tribute to Uncle Walt's Band, the trio of Champ Hood, Walter Hyatt, and David Ball that started in a Spartanburg, S.C., high school, ventured to Nashville, then ditched Music City for Austin in 1978. By the time they played their last tune in 1983, they'd carved their own niche of Americana. Walter Hyatt died tragically in the ValuJet crash of 1996, while Champ Hood succumbed to cancer in 2001.
Their music – swingy, jaunty, folkie; string-band style with three-part harmonies and wry lyrics – was atypical of Austin's famed cosmic cowboy, blues, and punk scenes of the time, one reason for the trio's enduring appeal. Another was their sterling compositions.
"I couldn't sit down and write a song if you held a gun to my head," sighs Warren Hood, palms outward on the table. He cultivated his art as a teen, soloing with the Austin Symphony before attending and graduating from Berklee College of Music and winning its String Achievement Award, the school's highest honor as selected by the faculty. Then came the local's bands, some of which included the South Austin Jug Band, the Waybacks, Warren Hood & His Allstar Band, Blue Light Special, and more recently, Warren Hood & the Goods, and Warren Hood & the Hoodlums.
His first self-titled and self-released CD came out in 2008. His most recent effort reminded him that art remains subject to the whims of the muse.
"I just can't write on command," he continues. "Songs come and they go, usually when I'm driving late at night. When my mind is preoccupied and wandering. But if I sit down and try to write – won't happen. I have to leave myself open for it to find me.
"I wrote 'Pear Blossom Highway' five years ago as an instrumental. I'd made several attempts at lyrics, then sent it to Gwil Owen, who writes Toni Price's repertoire. Two weeks later, he sent it back playing the melody and singing words to it. It was done.
"Same with Suzanna Choffel. I wrote the melody for 'You've Got It Easy' and she wrote the verses. Sometimes it's the other way around, though. I don't consider myself a writer like Hayes Carll or Lyle [Lovett] or Guy Clark. Those guys are craftsmen. I put the thought and detail into playing fiddle that they put in songwriting.
"Every once in awhile, I get lucky and a song will find me."
Play Every Chance You Get
"I hardly play fiddle," Emily Gimble confesses bluntly. "It's too much pressure. I'm never going to be as good as my grandpa, so I picked something else. I took Suzuki and learned piano, guitar, and a little mandolin. Songwriting's an important part of being a musician these days, so I let myself be open to it."
"Never going to be as good as my grandpa" isn't spoken lightly or with undue modesty.
Gimble was born and raised in Waco, where she attended McLennan Community College for its music program. Her father Dick also teaches music there, and he recorded with his father Johnny and daughter Emily on 2005's A Case of the Gimbles. That's where Emily first garnered attention for her fine voice and piano style. And Waco's small enough that when she won the Best Keyboards award at this year's Austin Music Awards, she made headlines in the local paper.
"I just started writing this last year," she says. "I wrote one song we do now. I have a bass ukulele and was fooling around with a tuning when a song came out. I've been getting together with some others, too – Drew Smith, Ed Jurdi from Band of Heathens. They're encouraging me, but I'm just a baby songwriter."
If Gimble's songwriting skills are taking their time to develop, all the better. Compact and redheaded, she brings to the stage a powerhouse piano style that invokes Texas' favorite keyboard mistresses, part Marcia Ball boogie-woogie and part Bobbie Nelson steady-rockin'. She's got honky-tonk style, country rhythm, and a soaring set of jazzy pipes that hearken from her heritage well into the future. Joining Warren Hood – even while playing with the Marshall Ford Swing Band – seemed almost fait accompli.
"Marcia has been so sweet to me," nods Gimble. "I never thought I had good stage presence, but when I play with my friends, it would appear that way. The fact that she wants me to do a song with her – I can't believe it's happening! I love her so much and her band is so awesome! She's super encouraging.
"My grandpa used to tell me, 'Play every chance you get and be real lucky.' So I like to live like that."
Out in the Streets
Summer's here and the time is right for touring in the streets. Only problem for the Warren Hood Band? They have little currency outside Austin, even with a fine new CD in hand.
"This was supposed to be an Americana record, like the back half is." Hood explains. "Then Charlie Sexton got in there, and we turned into the Stones for a few minutes. I couldn't believe it was us! He knows how those bands get their tone and applied his magic to what we had.
"We're doing festivals like the Americana Music Festival in Chicago. The hard part is that we get great gigs in the far corners of the country that pay well, but it's hard finding gigs around those shows because no one knows who we are. Hopefully, some radio play and more festival gigs will help us connect the dots.
"I don't want to lose money, but I'm okay breaking even.
"We just finished six weeks with Hayes Carll," he adds. "We opened for him and then backed him. It was a cool experience to have another boss. We had to learn 25 Hayes Carll songs the way he wanted them. It was a great exercise. Some nights we'd be in a theatre with white tablecloths and candles, some nights with a mechanical bull."
Gimble nods, grinning in agreement.
"Hayes is an amazing storyteller," she enthuses. "I got to sing with him. He's got a song called 'Another Like You.' It's about political divisions, one side left and one side right. There's a lyric in the end where the couple's getting drunk and probably gonna hook up, and the woman sings, 'There's a chance I'm gonna screw you.'
"Well, my dad came to one of our gigs, heard it, and had a talk with Hayes about it not being right for me to sing that."
Gimble's expression suggests a mixture of chagrin and good humor.
"Hayes is no stranger to offending people with song lyrics, but I think this caught him off guard," snickers Hood.
Gimble shakes her index finger and lowers her voice in stern imitation of her father.
"'Now, listen here, Hayes Carll ....'"
Warren Hood laughs and so does Emily Gimble, the band camaraderie palpable.
"And we're putting this album out in the summer, which is hard for a small band like us," says Hood. "We'll get lost in the shuffle with a lot of bigger band releases. Might not get any radio play at all, so we have to do everything we can with this small window we got.
The Warren Hood Band celebrates the release of its new album on Saturday, July 20, at Threadgill's World Headquarters.