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Fire in the Water, Earth in the Air: Legends of West Texas Music
by Christopher Oglesby
Published by the University of Texas Press:
"As a whole, the interviews create a portrait not only of Lubbock's musicians and artists, but also of the musical community that has sustained them, including venues such as the legendary Cotton Club and the original Stubb's Barbecue. This kaleidoscopic portrait of the West Texas music scene gets to the heart of what it takes to create art in an isolated, often inhospitable environment. As Oglesby says, "Necessity is the mother of creation. Lubbock needed beauty, poetry, humor, and it needed to get up and shake its communal ass a bit or go mad from loneliness and boredom; so Lubbock created the amazing likes of Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Butch Hancock, Terry Allen, and Joe Ely."

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"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."
- William Kerns, Lubbock Avalanche Journal

Chris Oglesby Interviews
David Halley
Austin; 6/15/03

Chris: David, I've had several musicians and songwriters around both Lubbock and Austin, when they hear that I'm working on this project about Lubbock songwriters and musicians, a lot of 'em say that the one person they feel like "gets left off the list," maybe doesn't get the same recognition or identification, but who is one of the more talented of that group of artists from Lubbock, is David Halley. So first, I'd like to just find out some things I don't know about you, get some background of your life in Lubbock and how you got to where you are here in Austin today, how you got started playing music and all that.

David: Like a thousand other people I've heard say how they got into music, I loved music and had a sense that I wanted to do it professionally as soon as I knew that you could.

Chris: And when was that, exactly?

David: It must have been 1958 or '59, when I was 8 or 9 years old. When I saw Elvis Presley on the Ed Sullivan Show, I knew I wanted to do something like that, and I wanted a guitar. I started bugging my parents, asking them questions about guitar and about being a musician.

Chris: That brings up an interesting question: Buddy Holly was in Lubbock at the time you were growing up then?

David: Oh Yea.

Chris: So you were a little kid interested in guitar and asking your folks about it; were your folks aware that something like Buddy Holly was going on in Lubbock? Or were you aware of that as a kid?

David: Kind of not. In the atmosphere I grew up in, there weren't any musicians or people doing entertainment for money, or for a living. I think it seemed kind of unfeasible.

Chris: What was that atmosphere?

David: I think we were not too unlike the old Donna Reed show. There was a kind of an "American Family Life" model, and we didn't miss it by much. But we were the kind of family that belonged to a country club and drank; there was lots of drinking going on.

Chris: Okay, yea. I know that type of Lubbock family. So what was your dad's business?

David: He was an engineer who combined that training with sales. He was a manufacturers rep for a company that makes heating and air conditioning for big buildings, like hospitals, prisons, schools, factories… And there was lots of that kind of building going up all over the state. My father still does that and my brother works with him now.

Chris: Okay. So you had seen Elvis and started asking your folks about this music business…

David: But I had never seen any "Live" music or anything like that. I eventually got a guitar for Christmas when I was twelve. There had always been music in my family. My mom grew up playing the piano, and she learned popular songs from her generation on the piano. There was a big Baby Grand in our living room that my mother would sit down and play. We had soundtracks from every musical every made. Kids didn't have hi-fi's in their room; there was more of a family stereo center. But the family record collection came to include everything from Harry Bellefonte to the Kingston Trio; my dad hated Joan Baez for her politics but things like the Chad Mitchell Trio and the New Christy Minstrels. And dad would buy these records like "Twenty Favorites from the 'Forties" played by some generic big band.

Chris: So what was making you interested in sticking with the guitar? When you were a kid, were you really into the guitar? When did you start writing songs?

David: I started trying to write when I was in still at Coronado High School.

Chris: When did you graduate from Coronado?

David: In '68. An interesting thing is: A couple of years ago, my mom got put in the hospital and I came back from Nashville during that time. The doctor who was taking care of her was Robert King one of my best friends when I was a kid. Well, Robert and another friend were the ones who had been putting together all the reunions I had missed - the ten, the twenty; I didn't go to any of them. But in the course of trying to find the present day whereabouts of everybody they could for the twentieth reunion, he discovered that more than half of our class was dead…and more than half of those were suicides!

Chris: Yikes! That is interesting.

David: Yea.

Chris: So were you in bands when you were in high school? Did you have musical comrades in Lubbock? Who were your musical contemporaries?

David: Bob Livingston and his brother were people that I would go over to their house and play guitar with them. I was in a musical combo in junior high and high school…I don't think we really ever had a name; it was kind of a folky sort of thing; a couple of cheerleader girls and a football star friend of mine, and the other guy also was sort of "prominent." All these people - but me - were sort of "A-types."

Chris: "Popular people?"

David: They were popular. They had been elected to something in most cases, except for the football star. He was my best friend, Gary Madison. Gary was a guy who just had a lot of natural ability, in spite of not being very big.

Chris: So you didn't consider yourself "one of these people?" So how did get into this group?

David: I was the one who was musical. I was the one who was passionate about guitar.

Chris: So you were known as "the guitar guy?"

David: Yea. But not that they weren't enjoying it. We'd learn these harmonies together… I don't know; I went to school with these guys from the first grade. Even though I went through this very nerdy stage, with the thick glasses and all that kind of stuff, I still was recognized as somebody who was deeply into music.

Chris: So let's go back to that question of, "Did you recognize the Buddy Holly phenomenon going on in Lubbock when you were a kid?"

David: No. I was really a little too young for that. The very first record I ever bought was "Peggy Sue," but my sisters shamed me into buying it. That was at the time it was a hit and on the charts in a big way. So it was cool among teenagers that Buddy Holly was from Lubbock. But among the regular middle class people, it was almost beneath notice and kind of ridiculous. It was beneath comment, almost; It wasn't of interest to them.

Chris: Was it ever in the papers? Did people generally know that this guy was a "Big Star?" I've always wondered if people didn't really even know who he was?

David: I'm sure there were plenty of people who were oblivious to his existence in Lubbock, even though there were things in the paper like, "Lubbock Man Finds Success…" But its not like I can speak with a lot of authority about what the papers were saying because I was like eight years old.

But the record that I had wanted to buy - instead of Peggy Sue - was this duet by Brook Benton and Diana Washington, I can't remember the name of it…

Chris: But your sisters said you gotta get the Buddy Holly record because he's from Lubbock?

David: Partly that. But I think they were embarrassed by the fact that I wanted music by Black people.

Chris: So tell me now about how you got out of Lubbock. Did music help you do that?

David: I wanted to do musical things but I had trouble getting motivated to perform. At the time when a lot of people in Lubbock were in Rock bands, I managed to miss a lot of opportunities that would have been fun. But I just kind of drifted around for a long time, until I was about twenty-eight. During that time I met the guys from The Flatlanders, but by the time I met them I was twenty-three years old and they were already not-a-band any more. I had seen them one time five years earlier.

Chris: So when was this?

David: I met them in '73, when I was coming back from this journey of self-discovery I had taken, a long hitchhiking trip, and I felt like I had made all these breakthroughs in understanding myself. I came back and tried to start a natural foods co-op in Lubbock. I had meetings and stuff like that, and so I re-acquainted myself with a bunch of old friends on sort of different terms. I started seeing this girl who was in with the crowd of people who were the former "Flatlanders." Then I became friends with all of them, to varying degrees, over different spans of time. Because it wasn't the kind of group that anybody could just walk in and be embraced. If those guys themselves weren't jealous of the boundaries of the group, at least some of the other people that were part of that 14th Street crowd were.

Chris: You mean there was competition to be near the "cool people?"

David: I don't know if I would use the word "competition." But there was an awareness that something cool was happening among these people; that they were creative; that they were artists; that something noteworthy is likely to happen for more than one of 'em. And there was even a sense for me, being familiar with Kerouac and I knew all these people were familiar with Kerouac - there was a kind of self-consciousness that reminded me of that: The sort of headlong, hedonistic, quasi-spiritual, quasi-intellectual thing that these people were all into.

Chris: So if you were hip in Lubbock, you knew this scene was going on?

David: There were different crowds of hipness. There were a lot of people for whom anything that even smacked of country music - and The Flatlanders definitely smacked of Country music - couldn't be hip. For me, I had a big sense of breakthrough… See, I had been an art student at Texas Tech and my head had been into conceptual art like Marcel Duchamp. When I got to The Flatlanders…I mean, I could sing all the words to "Mama Tried;" there were a few things in the realm of Country music, that if they had been embraced by some notable hippy, like the Grateful Dead had covered Mama Tried, and I was familiar with The Sweethearts of the Rodeo album… There was a little glimmering of the Cosmic Cowboy thing happening there before the real thing happened. "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" was out then. But mainly I was into Pop music and Rock. A lot of the musicians in Lubbock wouldn't have been caught dead listening to Country. When I was around those guys enough and heard it, at some point a switch got thrown and I suddenly went, "This is cool music!" It was a big mind-blower to me!

Chris: Did you consider yourself a musician at that time? Or a student of art?

David: At that time, I was just somebody who liked music. All these things sort of came to me as I was in school for a while, and I suddenly realized that I didn't know what I wanted to do in school. I couldn't find anything that I could say, "I want to pursue this because eventually it will turn me into this thing I would like to be." I didn't want to be a business guy or a lawyer or anything like that; all of them have about the same amount of vague appeal, maybe. I eventually quit school. I quit school as soon as I was no longer in danger of being drafted. My birthday had been given something like number 101 in the draft lottery; from the very start they didn't draw any number over 200 and something but I had 101 and they were drafting everybody with that number. Just by the skin of my teeth I managed to stay in school; I even flunked out one semester. But I didn't get drafted. I went through being a liberal arts major, to slowly trying some music courses, and eventually ending up in the fine art department. But after I quit, I was just glad to not be in school. I shouldn't have been there; if it hadn't been for the war, I wouldn't have been in school at all. I just couldn't go out of 12 years of public school right into college and not feel like I was in prison.

Chris: Why did you stay at Tech? Just because it was an easy transition, like not really officially in college?

David: The only feelers I put out for schools out of town met with resistance from my folks who were paying for it. So I had a long-time girlfriend and we had to sort of go through the death-throws of our relationship before I could leave Lubbock. And it was going through the death-throws of that relationship that put me in the frame of mind to "get lost." So I hitchhiked up to western Massachusetts where there was this yoga ashram that I thought I wanted to get involved in. A friend of mine had lived at a similar one in Hispanola, New Mexico; another guy who was an artist, he went from Lubbock to a scholarship with the Chicago Institute of Art. Then he kind of lost his mind over a girl - similar to my situation. I told him I was miserable and maybe I would come to his ashram, and he said, "No, go to the one in Montague, Mass, because that was the 'music ashram'."

Chris: So what happened there?

David: On the way there, I just started having some really unusual experiences that were sort of spiritual in nature…

Chris: Such as?

David: After the ordeal of my first couple of days of hitchhiking…I was scared of sleeping out on the road, which I had to do, and every little discomfort was new to me, a few weird rides, and I was still heartbroken over this girl. I was on Highway 40, east of Oklahoma City trying to catch a ride east. I walked off the road into the woods, and I tried to pray for the first time in memory.

Chris: Did you always go to church when you were growing up?

David: No, I thought of myself as an atheist, actually. It was just that I was really up against it…up against things and myself. So I went off the road and tried to pray. When nothing seemed to be different, I went back to the highway and almost immediately this guy stopped for me. And that was the beginning of a series of real synchronistic encounters with people.

Chris: Do you think there was some sort of connection between all this? When you say synchronistic, what do you mean?

David: Well, yea, I was completely convinced there was a connection at the time. I was with that guy for more than 24 hours. His name was Hollis Etheridge, and he seemed to be who I needed to talk to right then. I could spend the whole rest of the interview telling you about Hollis Etheridge.

Chris: Who was he?

David: He was a guy who picked me up just because he saw my guitar. He was a collector of guitars and accordions and played in a gospel band wherever it was he lived in Arkansas. He collected a bunch of Martins and other valuable instruments. But he was an electrician by trade. He was a real religious guy but unconventionally so. He had been kind of a rake and ramblin' man, an alcoholic, and he had gotten religion after a lot of fairly unhappy adventures.

Chris: So what did he do for you?

David: He just talked to me. I wasn't much for volunteering things, at the time. But he just started talking, telling me about his life, and he eventually told me a lot about his experience…When had some sort of spiritual change and wanted to have religion, he had started going to church but he wasn't happy in his congregation. They never talked about the things which he thought were important, and it didn't speak to him like when he first had gotten excited about it. So he started reading stories, in newspapers and magazines and wherever he could find, that seemed to pique his curiosity about things "from the beyond," things that didn't get talked about. He had read an article about a woman who had died in a Las Vegas nursing home and came back to life and was now a preacher on the West Coast; she was Jewish and had been transformed into a Christian by this experience. He told me that his curiosity was so piqued by that he drove out there to meet her; Before he went he called the hospital to confirm her terminal illness, death, and coming back to life without any apparent symptoms. So he met her, and then he went back to his church and tried to tell people about it. That and similar other incidents eventually got him thrown out of his church. It wasn't their style.

Chris: You said before you even met him, you considered yourself an atheist. Did this stimulate the rest of your trip, making you feel like there was something more to think about?

David: When I had prayed that day, I wasn't fooling around. I had thought a lot about what I was going to say before I said it out loud. And it wasn't a long prayer, either, so it was still fresh in my mind. That night, as we were driving through the Ozarks, already deep in this trance from this spooky stuff he was telling me about, in paraphrasing something Jesus is supposed to have said in The Bible, building up with fifteen minutes of him talking lit up by the light of the dash, his old craggy face with the lines and crevices defined by the shadows, so it was almost like around a campfire, driving through these mountains…first, he said a two or three word phrase that was a phrase that I had used when I was praying. To myself, I went, "That's interesting!" Then another two minutes later, he managed to say a whole sentence that I had said when I was praying. Then he said about ten words, verbatim, exact words that I had used. Each one of 'em felt like a nail in the coffin of my agnosticism. It just had an effect on me; it's not any use to try to make it have that effect on anybody else by telling the story, but that's what happened to me. And it completely blew my mind. I was willing to believe anything, at that point. Definitely, everything he said I felt was aimed right at me from a power greater than him.

Chris: What were some things that made you think about? How do you feel you changed after that?

David: That's funny but I didn't change as much as I would like to be able to have this story go. But it was the beginning of a summer of being a different person than I had ever been before.

Chris: In what way?

David: When I went to Massachusetts, I didn't try to meet anybody; I wasn't worried about social things.

Chris: Had you always been worried about or conscious of, like you said, being a nerd, and now you weren't really concerned about what other people thought about you?

David: Right. And I was worried a lot less about my broken up relationship. But just a whole new dimension opened up as worthy of serious investigation. And I met a lot of people up there whom that inquiry was not new to. So I felt like I had a lot to learn, like meditation and the zeitgeist, the whole worldview, that was different because it included a lot of strange characters like Hollis…At some point after the incident with Hollis on the hitchhiking trip, I got a ride from this young woman who said, "So what are you doing?" And I said, "I don't know exactly. I'm just trying to be in the very present." And she said, "Oh, like 'Be Here, Now'?" I didn't know she was referring to the book by Ram Dass but I soon did.

Chris: It sounds like part of this is simply a "seeking and finding" thing. You were looking for all those answers and meeting these people.

David: Very much so. Partly because I was so aware of how much I didn't know compared to what there was to know, it was easy for me to get into the student headspace about it.

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