Fire in the Water, Earth in the Air: Legends
of West Texas Music
"Indeed, Oglesby's introduction of more
than two dozen musicians who called Lubbock home should be required
reading not only for music fans, but for Lubbock residents and
anyone thinking about moving here. On these pages, music becomes
a part of Lubbock's living history."
Chris Oglesby Interviews
However, it was during his first semester at Texas Tech that Cary passed the acid test for any Lubbock resident. It seems that Cary and his freshman roommate, also from Perryton - which is in the rolling grasslands of the northern Panhandle - had never experienced a full-blown Lubbock style "cotton-patch-turn-over" dust storm.
On the day of that inevitable first dust storm, Cary returned to his dorm room, atop the high-rise dormitory Coleman Hall, to find his roommate pacing the room like a caged animal. He shouted to Cary, "No one should have to live like this!" The roommate didn't return for the Spring semester, warning Cary before he left Lubbock for Colorado that Cary was crazy for staying in Lubbock.
And maybe he is crazy to stay in Lubbock,
Cary thinks sometimes. He most likely was thinking that about
the time a row of Lubbock cops tried to intimidate him off of
a Lubbock stage for performing one of his more irreverant songs....
If Cary Swinney's songs didn't get a rise out of a certain portion of the population, he isn't doing his job. I heard an old friend of his say following Cary's recent Good Friday rendition of "Jesus Christ is Coming to Town" (sung to the tune of the one about Santa Claus): "That boy just raised the bar on smart-ass."
Cary isn't really trying to piss anyone off; He just hates hypocrisy and feels compelled to rage about it in the lyrics of his music. And the battle against hypocrisy sometimes can be quite a daunting battle in Lubbock, Texas, my friends.
I hadn't really heard of Cary before I started writing a book about Lubbock music; I had been in Austin for a number of years...And Cary's never been overly enamored with the glamour of the Austin music scene. However, almost immediately upon commencing this project, I heard his name repeated with both respect and amazement by one artist after another. Cary is pretty much considered the premier singer-songwriter still living in Lubbock today. I first met Cary in the summer of '98. Richard Bowden suggested we get together.
Once I began talking with Cary, I realized
it was going to be difficult to get either of us to ever shut
up. Like many of us from West Texas, we're both big talkers.
We had a few impromptu conversations over a period of a few months;
but I was finally able to catch up with Cary over two April weekends.
On the first weekend, I spent the weekend in Lubbock with Cary,
his longtime girlfriend Bene' and her daughter Logan.
The Ball was just that. Cary has a song called "Neanderthal Man." During the band's performance of that song, the audience witnessed a man in full Fred Flintstone Neanderthal garb do an impromptu Neanderthal dance all 'round the stage and the band, ending crouched underneath Doug Smith's grand piano. And that was just the beginning of the night! I can't even begin to describe the party that was going on in this place; One more incomparably wild Lubbock evening. And Cary thought it was just an average crowd. He said it was almost like a rehearsal for him.
The following weekend was Good Friday & Easter. Cary was in Austin to do a Texas Independence Day radio show on John Aielli's Eklektikos on KUT. After the show, I met Cary for lunch at a local macrobiotic organic kitchen. I thought I'd give Cary the taste of a meal he definitely couldn't get in Lubbock.
Cary was to play that evening at Jovita's
in South Austin near my home. So we spent the Good Friday afternoon
talking at my place about Lubbock music. At last, we finally
got a chance to get an interview on tape. Here is a transcript
of that conversation. However, the only problem I have when getting
material from Cary is limiting the quantity. Both Cary and I
have plenty to say about Lubbock.
Youre obviously a "Lubbock Guy." Youre living in Lubbock now, performing your music there. And I guess, the first thing: Talk to me about being a musician in Lubbock.
A lot of the other people Ive talked to have moved away from Lubbock. Youre working as a musician, living in Lubbock. So how do you feel about your work and your words and being a performer still there - working and writing in Lubbock?
Cary: Well, I havent really thought about it very much. Except for the fact that like yknow When you turn on the news in Lubbock and you hear what the news is in Lubbock, and you look at the attitudes toward things; You do kind of feel like the not "the enemy" but You feel like you might be a little bit more on the "liberal side than a lot of the people that are around you are. And then you come to Austin, and you realize that youre not "liberal" at all! Whatever that term means.
Because, as I had said to you earlier: In Austin, it seems like everybody is striving so hard to be "Different" that they all end up looking and being "the Same." So they havent really accomplished anything.
Chris: Too many tattoos? I think theres too much piercing goin on
Cary: You know, like that place we ate at today (Casa de Luz). I enjoyed the place, and it was good and all that stuff. But I couldnt help but kinda look around at the people that were there were all "like-minded." Naturally they would be
But playin music in Lubbock is kinda funny because people out in Lubbock like to talk, and they like to visit. They like to just talk about anything. You can talk about "black-eyed peas" to somebody for an hour if youre not careful. If you get off on some subject like that, then you may be in it for awhile.
Chris: Like weve been doin for the last three hours? [Laughs]
Cary: Yea. But I always feel
good about goin back to Lubbock if Ive been gone
for awhile. It makes me feel good to go back home; Cause,
there is an "underground sub-culture" in Lubbock that
exists, and its always existed.
Chris: You kinda jumped to someplace where I was gonna go. Tell me about how you got started playin music. Tell me about that first time you got up on on that backporch stage.
Cary: Of course, the first time I ever played I sang "Harper Valley P.T.A." at Dale, Texas, when I was eight years old. My dad played the guitar and I sang, holdin the microphone and everything.
Chris: Perfect, for you, too! Classic debut song!
Cary: But what happened was: I ran into a guy named Paul Bullock, and I become friends with him. Paul had invited me out to this house north of town that belonged to I guess youd call em "old hippies." But thats really not a very good term cause theyre really older than the hippies would have been. I mean, I dont know what you would consider them. They were more or less just "countrified free-thinkers," yknow what I mean? And still are.
Chris: And who are these guys? Whats their names?
Cary: Mike and Jack Burk. So I went out there that night to this party, and when I pulled up with Paul there was a band playin on the front porch. But as I got out of the car, I felt kind of like a stranger because I noticed all these there were all these people, this semi-circle of people around this old white stucco house, listening to this music. I kinda look to my left and I notice, "Theres Jesse Taylor." And on stage was Richard Bowden. And I knew who all these people were. They didnt know me but I knew who they were, yknow Cause Id been watchin Richard Bowden play with The Maines Brothers for years. I say that: "watchin it." I didnt really go to any Maines Brothers shows. But I was aware of who he was, though. And I damn sure knew who Jesse Taylor was.
So I thought, "What the hell is goin on here?" You have long-hairs and you have professor-types standing next to this run down stucco house out in a cotton field You know what Im sayin? All of a sudden, there was a piece of Lubbock that I never even knew existed.
Chris: Okay. Well, how did you end up there at this party?
Cary: I had lived in Lubbock for quite some time and was just playin my guitar at home basically. This woulda been 1988. I went to school and got my degree and got a job and did everything like I was supposed to do before I ever met any of these people.
What happened that night was...Richard Bowden just made a comment to me. They had a pick-up truck pulled up next to that porch, and Richard was settin there with his fiddle. He wasnt playin it; He was just settin there - I guess - just lookin at me play.
And then all of a sudden I start hearing this music! And hes playin the fiddle all of a sudden!
I was coaxed up there by Paul Bullock. Of course he said,
"Weve got this songwriter here. Hes really good,
and Ive heard em," and all of this stuff. So
they get me on stage - that porch - and nobody clapped. They
had all just looked at me like, "Well, who is this jack-ass?"
Richard asked me after the song; He said "Did you write
So we did another one. And thats how I started.
Chris: So it was Richard Bowden we can thank for that.
So you had written these songs before, but it had not really occurred to you to perform before or ?
Cary: No. I had performed some. I mean, I used to occasionally go down to the "jams" but they were just were boring to me. I mean, jams are fun I guess for somebody. But I never found them to be that much fun.
Chris: What "jams"?
Cary: The Main Street Saloon Jams
in, say, the early 80s. I used to get out occasionally
and play my guitar every now and then. But it was always like
somebody was watching the clock, yknow. Whoever was hosting
the jam, it was his show. And basically, you got your two songs
and then went on. Even if your two songs were any good, they
didnt care; They were all interested in their own trip,
Then I met Richard, and I was also encouraged by Jack and Mike Burk.
Chris: So what's Jack Burk's story?
Cary: Jacks just a kid that was raised
hes not a kid any more. Hell, hes 50-something years
old. But hes a "farm-boy," a "cotton farm
boy" from Grassland, Texas.
You see people that get all involved in thse "deep conversations," and theyre all so consumed with themselves. But really and truly, whatever, theyre talking about When you get right down to the fucking right-down, its all trivial bullshit, just like anything else.
Yknow, you see some guy on stage - like myself - and
hes pourin it out and hes trying all he can.
And thats good; You like it. Its artistic and all
Chris: Well, where the fuck are we right now? Were talking about Jack Burk
Cary: Yea! [Laughs] Jack has the ability to see, or taught me some things - he didnt do it intentionally - But in some odd way, he taught me to see a different side of things.
I was probably a little more of a conservative person before I met Jack Burk. He opened my eyes to some things.
Chris: Tell me about that.
Cary: Jack opened my eyes to He made me aware of just how phony the newscasters all are. He made me aware for the first time, yknow, that what you see on television is mostly just horseshit. Its all just crap, yknow. Even whatever the hell Tom Brokaw has to say is just being fed him. Whoever owns the station is either a "Republican" or a "Democrat" or whatever he is, and thats what feeds the ideas for the station.
I had never really thought about that. I guess I was just such a young man that I just accepted things as being "the Gospel Truth." I never really questioned it.
Well, I cant say that I questioned authority since I was a little bitty kid
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