Born 15 September 1940, Chicago, Illinois
Jimmy Gilmer was born in Chicago, but grew up in Amarillo, Texas, where he studied music at the Musical Arts Conservatory. He led a rockabilly band, the Jimmy Gilmer Combo, that played at high school and college dances in a 100-mile radius of Amarillo. The Combo's drummer, Gary Swaffert, also played drums for the Norman Petty Trio and was responsible for introducing Gilmer to Petty. Jimmy's first single, released under his own name on Decca in 1958, sold poorly, but Petty saw potential in Gilmer and encouraged him to come back and record. At Petty's NorVaJak recording studio in Clovis, Jimmy met a band from Raton, New Mexico, although he didn't work with them. They were the Fireballs, who scored two instrumental Top 40 hits with "Torquay" (1959) and "Bulldog" (1960). After a major tour, their lead singer (Chuck Tharpe) suddenly quit and Gilmer joined the Fireballs as both vocalist and rhythm guitarist, though there were still solo releases by Gilmer as well as records by the Fireballs. It was Petty's decision to eventually market the Fireballs to record companies as Jimmy Gilmer & The Fireballs, since he'd had previous success marketing the Crickets also as Buddy Holly & The Crickets. In 1962, Norman Petty signed the group to Randy Wood's Dot label. From that point on, Jimmy Gilmer, George Tomsco, Stan Lark and Doug Roberts would climb the ladder to stardom. 1963 was a banner year for the boys as their song, "Sugar Shack", hit the top of the charts. Released in May of 1963, it didn't enter the Billboard charts until September 21, but from there sales really exploded and three weeks later "Sugar Shack" was already at # 1, where it would stay for five weeks, becoming the biggest selling record of 1963 in the US. The follow-up, "Daisy Petal Pickin'" (which, like "Sugar Shack", was co-written by Keith McCormack of The String-a-Longs), peaked at # 15. Gilmer scored another Top 10 hit in 1968 with "Bottle Of Wine" on Atco (# 9), but this was released under the name The Fireballs, because groups were popular then. The Fireballs were one of the very few groups in rock 'n' roll history to chart both instrumental and vocal hits onto the Billboard Top 100. Gilmer must have liked the song BORN TO BE WITH YOU a lot, because he recorded it twice: first for Hamilton in 1962 (credited to Chimmy Gilmer and released in the UK on London HLU 9632, a nice up-tempo version) and then again for Dot (16714) in 1965. Jimmy Gilmer left the Fireballs in 1969 and was hired by United Artists Music in Nashville. In the 1980's he became vice-president of CBS Songs' southern operations.
Ace Records in the UK have released four CD's by Gilmer and the Fireballs: The Best of the Fireballs' Vocals (Ace 468) Sugar Shack / Buddy's Buddy (Ace 646) Lucky 'Leven / Folkbeat (Ace 665) The Best of the Rest of the Vocals (Ace 828).
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