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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

-continued from page 1-

Downé: In the art world, people strictly know the art by the picture. Well, I thought, "Let’s take another approach. Let ‘em know it by the picture but lets develop a high-profile image that is just as identifiable as 'Me, the Artist.' Let’s do some off-the-wall advertising with me actually in the advertisement," which just hadn’t been done.

So we came up with the image of me all in black in a black cowboy hat. And that’s what we started doing in the Southwest art magazines.
The minute all those galleries got ahold of me and the bucks started rolling in, I put every bit of it back into it. I signed a contract with Southwest Art, and we did a full-page ad in Southwest Art magazine every month for 36 months straight. We would do a complete double-page ad; We shot a lot of black & whites of me in my get-up, and I’d have a bunch of paint brushes in my hand, the shades and hat on. And then we’d go in and hand color the tips of the paintbrush, that sort of stuff. Doing stuff that just hadn’t been done.
If not anything else; I knew it would get people’s attention, and it did. It got a lot of attention; It definitely worked.

But it definitely rubbed everybody within the art community raw. They didn’t like that.

Chris: I was wondering if it made you popular in Santa Fe.

Downé: No. It didn’t make me popular within the art community. ‘Cause it was just like "We don’t do that!"

That’s what I’m talking about: "This is art. This is sacred."
My attitude was, "Y’all can starve to death and play the starving artist role all you want." To me, I want to make a living at it; I wanta enjoy this, and I also wanta make some money at it. I have no interest in being "an impoverished artist." I don’t want to live that way.
And that’s what so many of ‘em do. They wanta play the whole part of "the anguished, reclusive artist that doesn’t want anything to do with Big Business," the commercial side of it…When deep down, that’s what they all want; They’re miserable because they can’t make a living at it.

I never had that "Starving artist" approach. I came up with a catch-phrase: "An Important American Painter" …and it stuck right off the bat. And like you made the comment earlier; That’s what you saw in that print store, and you sure remember that now!

And I did that immediately. I was from nowhere, but my ads always said "Downé Burns: An Important American Painter." 

Boy, I caught flack big-time in the community! I even had very big local publications in the Santa Fe area that would not advertise me unless I dropped that by-line. And we didn’t advertise with them. It was just too egotistical, they thought.

And like I was trying to explain: Anybody that knew me knows this is not an ego trip. I was trying to bring a whole new marketing idea. "Why are we all starving to death at this?"
Well, it’s because we’re all still playing this game of: "Art is supposed to be so sacred that we can’t use any modern marketing for it."

Chris: Or that no one else could understand it or appreciate it. "It’s ours; we want to own it here in Santa Fe."

Downé: Exactly! Right. That’s another reason I came home to Lubbock.

Chris: I would venture to say that a lot of that is the common attitude you find in people Don Caldwell who was here producing…"Listen, I’m gonna do it this way because this is the way that I feel like it needs to be done. Screw you if you don't like it." 

A lot of times, sticking to your guns doesn’t necessarily mean your gonna be successful. But if you look at Lloyd Maines and his production of music; lLoyd is so successful because he is so strict and true to himself.

Downé: Right. He understands his own vision.

Chris: You sticking by your own deal…I think it was a great idea!
And now your work is recognizable…I saw some of your work in the background of a couple of television shows recenlty. Of course, I had a bit of an eye for it because I knew you personally. But how does that work? Does your distributor sell it to the show?

Downé: No. The way they do that - It’s real simple. I wish there was more pomp and bucks to it but there’s not. I own the copyright. Anything any artist does, you just automatically retain the copyrights.
So Fox Studios, I believe…90210; Suddenly Susan; and something else like Melrose Place…What they do is, every time they do a new show, they design what the set is gonna be. Like one of my prints was in somebody’s kitchen…I don’t know, I never watched it. And so I’d just get a fax from Fox Studios out of L.A. saying, "We’re designing the set…" just asking for permission to use the images on the set.
No compensation; Because the thing is they don’t have to compensate you, ‘cause if you say, "Well, I want some money for it," They’re just gonna go to the next guy. I mean there’s a hundred million artists with posters to choose from that would love to have the exposure. For me, it was like, "Sure, We’ll do it!" ‘Cause I couldn’t have afforded that kind of exposure.

Chris: A lot of people are watching those shows, and somebody may be paying attention to the way those girls decorated their house.

That’s fortunate. I guess your family background, like you said, gave you the opportunity to be exposed to the promotion side.

Downé: Growing up with my dad running the record store…We were in retail. So I just grew up around regular dinnertime conversations of, "How can we get more people in the store? How should we display the product?" That was always going on.

Dad I talked about it before moving over to Santa Fe…My approach was…It’s like: McDonald’s comes up with an edible, pretty-good hamburger, and then it’s marketing from then on. It’s like, "How do we get it to the masses?"

So that’s what I said: If I can just come up with some good art that’s marketable – and it doesn’t have to be "great" – then I’ll just put it on the boilerplate, like a hamburger. That’s my approach; If you’re gonna make a livin’ at it then you gotta get it out there.
‘Cause we live in a whole different day and age to where everybody’s got discretionary income. The college kids over here that are living off pizza....Everybody’s got money to blow.

So with that attitude - once it got goin’ - that’s what I always kept in mind when we started licensing to T-shirt companies, greeting cards; I mean we’d let anybody…
And again, I got a lot of flack. I’d get approached at my openings…There’s always gonna be somebody in the crowd that’s gonna lecture me on my success, gonna give me their two cents worth about "Selling out."

What you’d have at your openings, buying your originals are doctors, lawyers, everybody that has mega-bucks. And then I’d meet young people that would be just out of high school or in college, that might be at the show, and they’d have just as much appreciation for my artwork; They’d be there participating and like it just as much as the guy that had beau-coup bucks in the bank, but they couldn’t afford it. So that’s what I tell those critics: "Only the wealthy people get to enjoy my art? That’s not right."
We live in a day and age where we can put these images on T-shirts and stuff, and this college kid can afford a twenty dollar T-shirt. So am I "selling out" just because I’m making it available? I guess you can say but…

Chris: Well, they wouldn’t be buying your image unless it meant something to them.

Downé: Exactly! So I just kept that attitude with it.

It got to where finally people would realize that there wasn’t a barrier at my studio; I was willing to help anybody. I learned that from my dad: I’ve never been afraid of quote "competition." When my dad had the record store, every other college guy wanted to open up a record store. He was always willing to tell them what they needed to do, and it would drive my mom crazy. "You’re giving it all away!" Dad was like, "No, you can help people out and still survive."

So I finally did build a pretty good reputation on one side of Santa Fe with some of the artists. Some who were trying to get going; They were more than welcome to come to my studio, and I’d tell them everything that I did marketing-wise. My attitude was: "The more the merrier! It’s America and there’s room for all of us."

I did have a big studio in a strip center there in Santa Fe for awhile. We had converted part of it into a little make-shift gallery, and we did a bunch of shows for awhile with unknown artists. I’d do the whole thing: Print up the cards, invitations for ‘em and stuff.

Chris: That’s great! There’s some of those good "West Texas values."

One thing I really noticed living in California that was consistently different: It was very hard to become close to people in California. People aren’t very big on opening up to you there, or helping you out.
I had a bad experience where I got left at night at this party at Lake Tahoe…It was 3 degrees outside and NOBODY would give me a ride home. I was thinking, "I can’t believe this! That would never happen in Lubbock!"

Downé: [Simultaneously] That would NEVER happen in Lubbock! Right.

Chris: Somebody would have said, "Sure, Hop in. Where ya’ goin’?"

Downé: Exactly.

Chris: And that’s a true blessing about being from here. I’ve learned that you just don’t get that friendliness & helpfulness as much in other parts of the world.
I think a lot of that is the just from history of the area: If you weren’t helping other people out then you knew that you weren’t gonna get any help and you weren’t gonna make it.

Downé: Exactly. It just feeds on itself, doesn’t it? People are willing to help each other. People are willing to share ideas.

Chris: One of the explanations of why there may be that art culture here in Lubbock is because the artists feel a need to bond together in that way and help each other out in order to survive out here. I’m talking about: a "school" of art…a group of friends, or a community of people kinda stuck out here in a small area sharing a similar vision…

Downé: See…I never figgered that, but I know exactly what you’re talking about. But that sounds exactly like so many conversations Melissa and I had living over there in Santa Fe: "Where’s that sense of community?"
We missed that so much. I mean, we had "friends" and all that, but when it got right down to it - the "getting left at the party" scenario, so to speak - there was no one left to be found.
Yea, Boy! That’s a big thing! That’s why we came home finally. And, Man! This is worth everything to us! I want my kids to grow up in this environment. There’s a security in it.
I think that promotes part of this "magic dust" that’s in the West Texas air, whatever it is. There’s something to that...

People aren’t as transient here.

Chris: Yea. [Laughs]. You get kinda stuck out here.

Downé: Lots of people that are from Lubbock are stuck here and are gonna stay here. Whereas when we lived in Albuquerque, I got so sick of every time my son Dylan made a new friend on the block, 6 months later they’re in Illinois. The turn over.
And I grew up here - like you - where I ran with Shane and 4 other guys and we’re all still everybody’s here. We went all the way through school with a pack of people.
That was never gonna happen in Albuquerque. We thought we were gonna stay there but I thought, "Crud!" I was just disappointed. I thought, "Well, shoot. That’s one thing Dylans’ not gonna have is this tight-knit group of friends all the way through." And of course, as time wore on we realized, "No. We ARE gonna have that because we don’t want stay here. We’re gonna go back."

Boy, when I came back it made me appreciate Lubbock like I never did.

Chris: You got a great setup here; your home and your studio, right here by the kids' schools.

Downé: That was part of it. But part of the typical downside of success in a high-profile thing like I was in: You do get caught up in...
Like Waylon said: "Can’t we get back to the basics of love?"

Next thing you know, it’s "a four car garage and we’re still building on." You can't help it. You get in that circle.
Number one: Everybody buying your artwork is wealthy, 9 times out of 10. They’re flying you around to all these galleries. You’re being treated like a Superstar. And being from here – that much more simple background – all of the pomp and ceremony was very impressive. You couldn’t help but start getting caught up in it, and next thing you know, you gotta play the part. Next thing you know, you really do have to pretend. People think you’re a millionaire. You’re in all these magazines.
It’s all part of the fanfare.
Now I can look at it and see it through different eyes cause I know more now what’s really goin’ on. But they’d pick us up in limousines; at the airport there’d be somebody with my name on the sign. And in the back of my mind, I’m thinking: "Geez! I can’t believe they’re doing this! I’m really not that big a deal." 

But it’s part of the image thing. And part of it - I had to stop and appreciate because I had started doing it in my advertising. I understood that that’s part of the "tinsel-town" idea. You can build stuff up in this country; if you get on a roll you can pump it up. 
Does that make sense? You know what I’m sayin’?

Chris: You gotta act like a Rock Star.

Downé: You gotta play the part. Exactly. And after awhile, that began to eat at Melissa and me, and it became sort of a strain on our marriage, even. ‘Cause we finally had the nice cars and a pretty good-sized house, and you just get kinda sucked into.
Then the next thing you know, you wanta be on the board of this or that in your community; or your wife does…Especially, it starts there ‘cause now she’s ‘somebody’ because she’s with me. So now she’s sucked into the whole social thing.

It just finally got after several years, I remember thinking, "Oh, this is great but how did I get here? This isn’t what I wanted. I’m really not this…"
I mean I’m successful but it was like, "I really don’t like driving the Mercedes and always dressing in nice slacks, everything is 'Polo'"

…I know this all probably sounds corny to you, but its real stuff.

Chris: Have you heard Terry Allen’s "Lubbock: on everything" album?

Downé: Oh yea!

Chris: You’re describing that same experience: The country-boy lost in that art environment.

Downé: Exactly! And I couldn’t blame anybody because I was doing it; I was participating and playing the part. I had created it.

But you literally get to the point to where it’s like - And this sounds stupid but this is how it gets - In my mind, it got to where if we hadn’t been out to at least 3 really expensive, high-profile, fancy restaurants in a week…
You got to thinking in the back of your mind, "We gotta go somewhere tonight. We gotta be seen."
You don’t talk this out loud, but it does get that shallow...Just because of the social circle you finally get sucked into through your success. Bein' a part of the country club…It has a whole ‘nother side you just get caught up in.

Chris: Did you ever meet anybody in that community that you feel as close to as Shane Bowers?

Downé: Oh, No! I had nobody! I had nobody; And I kept up with Shane through all of that.
But there came a point around ’93 or so that I started getting sick of painting. I just started getting sick of…Well, it’s a cliché but it starts feeling as if you’ve created a monster. 
It’s the same old lang syne: Unfortunately, a lot of us that are successful – and I’m not saying "us" as me; just people in general – In this day in age, we get so many trappings around us. You just can’t help it.

Chris: And you feel like you have to have it, because they world around you is telling you that.

Downé: I guess what I’m getting at is: So many people that make big bucks...It’s relative; Their lifestyle is so "big-bucks", They’re sweating the house payments just as much as anybody…

Chris: They just have a bigger house.

Downé: That’s it exactly. And finally, Melissa and I were like, "Let’s go Home." Start over, revamp and just get back to the basics and enjoy.

That cut us loose from having to deal with all the galleries. I don’t go do any shows. I got sick of that. I didn’t like that. I just got tired of playing that part.

We came home to Lubbock, and I really didn’t paint that much for the first year…I just kinda piddled around.

Chris: Oh really? So you were that burnt out on it? What did you think you were gonna do here?

Downé: Well, I didn’t know. We had kinda gotten to the point where it had all put a real strain on our marriage, so we were kinda rocky when we got back. And of course – and I don’t like to hide anything in that sense – even financially it had kinda gotten upside down.

Chris: ‘Cause you weren’t out there promoting your art any more?

Downé: Well, I was. But I guess that’s what I was alluding to awhile ago: You can get so caught up in it…I mean we had a BIG distribution company called Wet Paint Distribution. We distributed my posters, other artists’ posters; We got into all of it. What starts happening....I’m a good business person but like anything: Things get so big that it’s hard to manage it. You got Big Bucks coming in - hypothetically. You may be running $20,000 coming through, and for a little independent guy that’s great. In my mind, that’s what I’d see. But you lose track of what’s really profit. You forget you got this many phone lines and you’re running all these ads and you’re in this new warehouse…y’know? And you lose track.
You’re just playing with all this money. You feel like you got all this money but…

Chris: You’re just in charge of a big machine, really.

Downé: Exactly. So finally we just put an end to it. Shut everything down. I wasn’t painting anything anymore over there in Santa Fe; I was really just selling posters. That was real lucrative.

When you’re hot and you’re selling that paper, that’s good bucks. You don’t have to paint; you’re just reproducing. You can get one image that’s a hot seller and sell thousands a month on just that one image. And that’s just like printing money.
    Of course the house we had in Albuquerque wasn’t a mansion by any means; But everything is inflated over there compared to here, so we were able to sell the house there -- same square footage -- for twice what this house here in Lubbock costs. So we were able to get things re-organized around; got rid of the fancy cars and the whole bit.
    I bought me a truck. It was silly stuff, but I wanted to do this right.

Chris: When I think of Downé Burns, I think of a pickup truck. And a black cowboy hat.

Downé: Yea. And there I was driving a Mercedes for years, just playing that part. And after awhile it got to where "this is not me." It got to be something that I didn’t want it to be.

Now I’m real fortunate. I look back and I realize I’m so glad I went through all of it because now I have a real appreciation of – and this all sounds so cliché – But just the little things. Okay, the big house: I’ve done that. I’ve had the nice cars. Now I can stand back and go "Okay, I’ve tasted of all of it; This is what’s really important to me."
This is how I wanta do it. I don’t want a big studio. When we first moved back, I painted in the garage. I don’t care if I have something to impress everybody when they come into town to see my studio. Whereas, before, we had a Show Room.

Chris: I think it’s great that your art and your desire to be creative has really brought you a great life here. Lucky as anybody can be.

Downé: Oh yea. Just a cool set-up. And then I finally came up with something new to paint. I got out of my being burned out on painting after being here. I started painting again.

I had started this lawn service...See, that’s what I did for awhile when we first got back. We were still selling posters but the distribution wasn’t as big, so we weren’t in a bind. I started up this lawn service. I had done lawns before we left; just like everybody in Lubbock has done some lawn business. The lawn business is a Big Deal in this crazy town!

And that’s been a great release because I love working in the yard. That was a therapy for me, and I’ve kept it on. I run the lawn mowing service two days out of the week. I got a crew of three guys...But it gets me out.
I go out Wednesdays and Thursdays, every week, in my over-alls and my cigar and cap where everybody out there knows me as "the lawn guy."
And I think that people would die if they knew me in that whole ‘nother world of the art community. But it’s great! Nobody here knows…It was easy to come back home and just slip back in. Nobody in the neighborhood has any idea - in the ‘art’ sense - of what I did and who I am, and that’s great!

I just like being another little pink house on the block, and I’m just a good ol’ boy here.
That’s great! Fantastic!

And the art is way off. I ship all of this off to New York every Friday. They distribute it. I don’t even answer the phone. If I do even answer that line, I use another name. I normally won’t even pick it up. I just don’t want anything to do with that side of it any more.

Chris: Now, are these paitings you're doing here today going out to be sold as originals? How many originals pieces would you say you have out there? Do you have any idea?

Downé: In this series…I guess it doesn’t matter but some people wouldn’t understand. See this company I’m with right now, I may send them 75 to a hundred originals in a month. So when I come in here and paint, I move! It’s a high volume deal.
I was aware of these type of companies before but my style didn’t lend itself to what they’re doing. So they’re all unique and they’re all original pieces. But to able to work with one of these companies, you have to be a very prolific artist. And I’ve always been prolific....And most artists aren’t.

So that’s always been a real benefit.
When I work, I work fast. I’m like a quick charge battery; I come in and get it all done and then I’m burnt…I’m through.
With these companies I deal with now, it’s all distribution. They’ve got massive distribution so it’s a big numbers game. They’ve got so many galleries that they work with that, even if your work does just medi-okra, they’re gonna sell 40 pieces a month for the artist, in a blink.

Chris: Did they approach you?

Downé: No. We approached them...Once I started painting again, I just started over with a whole new style. I had Melissa sending out portfolios; We mail them out once a month to these companies - a dozen a month. We just knew how it worked, and I knew it’s a numbers game.
That’s what I tell artists that are trying to get going: There is a gallery out there that wants whatever you’re doing. Galleries wanta sell. They’re looking for artists. There’s a gallery out there that wants you, you just have to find it. But most artists will give up after the first 6 rejections or so, and it’s over.

Chris: They feel bad that nobody appreciates what they’re doing.

Downé: But I always ignore that and BOOM! Within 6 months, one of ‘em called. And this Progressive Editions is the company that we really wanted.
They called, and it’s all business. Melissa deals with all that. That really helps, being the artist, because the rejection side of it is tough. I don’t have to deal with it. She screens it all. I don’t have to hear, "We don’t like these colors you’re using here." People don’t realize, unless you’re just made of steel , I don’t care how big you are, that cuts into the core if your an artist.

Final Note
Downé told me this humorous anecdote shortly after the interview:
Near the end of Downé's "gallery show period," Downé was negotiating with a Scotsdale gallery owner regarding using the epithet "An Important American Artist." The gallery owner felt that it was too egotistical and not proper. 
Downé said, "I'm pretty easy to get along with but I can play the part of the 'difficult artist' as well as anybody." After sometime, Downé indicated that he would have to pull his work out of the show if the gallery owner did not use his tag-line for the show.

The gallery owner responded, "But Downé, you're not even dead yet!"

The following month, Downé took out a double-truck 2 page ad in Southwest Art magazine consisting of two white pages; In the upper left hand corner was the phrase: Downé Burns: An Important American Artist ...Followed by a series of photos of Downé in his hat & shades, holding paint brushes, sticking out his tongue, etc.; then, in the lower right hand corner the phrase:
...and he isn't even dead yet!

    Shortly after that, Downé left Santa Fe and returned to Lubbock where he lives happily ever after.

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Fire in the Water, Earth in the Air:
Legends of West Texas Music

"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." - University of Texas Press

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