Kimmie Rhodes

Interview by Jeff Wall

Kimmie Rhodes is from West Texas. Lubbock to be exact. The same town that spawned great musicians like Buddy Holly and Joe Ely. There must be something in the water. Or in the dirt. Kimmie says "We used to chase the mosquito trucks down the road. We didn't know they were spraying DDT. Maybe that's what it is." She started singing as a child, "I was in a gospel trio with my Dad and my brother. I fronted the band. I was six years old." Shortly later, she moved to the family cattle ranch near the Red River. It was there that she started writing poetry and learned to play guitar. This naturally evolved into writing songs.

She grew up listening to the music of Buddy Holly, Bob Wills, Lefty Frizzell, and gospel music. She later fell on love with the Beatles, Aretha Franklin, Townes Van Zandt, Ray Charles, Dylan, and even Broadway musicals. Her music is a rich combination of influences so typical of Texans her age.

"I think Townes Van Zandt was a great songwriter. The reason I think Townes so great is because he trusted people. When I listen to one of Townes songs I feel like he befriended me and he trusted me to get it. Townes songs communicate, they do what a song is supposed to do. They communicate what it feels like to be a human being and that's all a song really has to do. I tend to like earthy poets. I like a lot of the Tin Pan Alley songs. I love Willie's Stardust album. I have so many favorites."

"I kind of hung out with music and musicians, "says Rhodes, "but I wanted to be a florist. It didn't occur to me to want to be a singer because I already was one. I thought you were supposed to reach some point where you changed into something. So I did, I kind of reached a point and changed into a florist. Then it kind of snuck up on me and before I knew I was a songwriter, I had already written songs. Before I knew I was a singer, I was already playing gigs. I just looked up one day and saw that was what I was doing so I moved to Austin and started making records."

It was there that she met producer and future husband Joe Gracey. "He had a little recording studio in the basement of a radio station called KOKE-FM. Gracey had been in charge of the radio station for a while. It was a real trend-setter, but I think it might have been too trend setting and like all good things it came to an end." They joined up and started a band. In 1981 she recorded her first album, Kimmie Rhodes and the Jackalope Brothers for Gracey's Jackalope Records at Willie Nelson's Pedernales River studio. In 1985 she recorded her second album, Man In the Moon. Her third album, Angels Get The Blues, was recorded at the original Sun Studio in Memphis and released in 1989. These records, which were released on an English label, led to a series of British and European tours. A compilation album, A Lot like Texas, was also released in Europe. Willie recorded a duet with her on her song Just One Love and made it the title track to his album on Justice Records. He also featured her on a songwriters showcase that was aired on Austin City Limits, and had her on his Farm Aid show and Annual 4th of July Picnic.

Her first American release, West Texas Heaven on Houston's Justice Records, was released in 1996. "It did very well for me in that it was my first American record release. All the others have been European releases. It got me some recognition here in my own country. I've been popular in Europe for a while because I toured there, but I was completely unknown in America except for the things I had done with Willie. So this was my first chance to actually play music in my own country except just regionally which I had been doing all along."

An accomplished songwriter, her songs have been covered by Wynonna Judd, Willie, Waylon, and Trisha Yearwood. She recently received a Triple Platinum award for Australian/international star John Farnham's cover of her song "Hard Promises" on his newest CD release Romeo's Heart. "I write a lot now. More than I used to and I don't just write songs for myself to sing. I write songs for movies, children's songs, gospel songs, Christmas songs, songs for people in Australia, songs for people in Nashville. I'm a lot more diverse these days. I love to perform, I love to write. I think that as a writer I am really fortunate to be able to write. It's a quicker way to be able to express what's going on inside me. And as a performer, If you don't write those songs, you have to go out and find songs that express the way you feel. If you can write those songs and perform them, you have it all because you're not trapped inside yourself with no way out."

Her song "Lines" graces Waylon Jennings new Ark21 release, Right for the Time. "Waylon called up songwriter Beth Nielsen Chapman and told her to send him everything she had. She slipped one of my songs in the middle of her demo tape. The next thing I knew, Waylon called and said send me everything you have too!" Songwriting for Kimmie is almost a philosophy."You have to put yourself into a different frame of mind for every song you write. You put yourself into the frame of mind that you have to be in to write that song. It's a passion. If you have a passion, you probably have a bit of talent for it. And if you have a talent, the more you do it, the better you get at it. I'm become a lot more prolific as I go along. I know how to write better. Songs usually come in the form of inspiration. You don't have to think about it, you just have to be open to it."

"When writing or recording, I kind of pick a direction that I want to go. You think of it as a painter who paints series. I tend to kind of write songs in series and they reflect what I'm living, what's going on in my life, and what I'm thinking. I'm able to write a lot more songs than I'm able to record, so you have to decide what your vision is, which direction you want to go."

Kimmie Rhodes' future is bright. Her most recent CD, Jackalopes, Moons & Angels is a compilation of twelve original songs from her first three albums. Released on Graceys Jackalope Records label, the CD marks the first time these songs have been available on CD in the United States and in one collection. The tracks include duets with Joe Ely, Wes McGhee, and Bobby Earl Smith. The songs are among Kimmie's best early work and include original versions of songs that were recorded later by such luminaries as Willie Nelson and Wynonna Judd. The list of pickers reads like a who's-who of Texas musicians, featuring Johnny Gimble, Jimmy Day, John Reed, Floyd Domino, Wes Starr, Cowboy Jack Clement, Marcia Ball, Butch Hancock, Jesse Taylor, and more.

She has also written a play, "One day I sat down to write a song and ended up writing a whole musical and a play. I'm going to do that this fall. I'm going to do some workshops. And I've got a couple of albums going." Kimmie is currently writing and recording new songs for her next CD, The Road to Jubilee with legendary producer Bones Howe. She lives in Austin, Texas and performs with her acoustic band which includes Joe Gracey on bass, Gabe Rhodes on lead guitar and Kimmie on acoustic guitar and vocals.

Copyright 1997-1998 by Jeff Wall

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