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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."

buy the book

"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

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Chris: That’s one of the other stories I’m tryin’ to tell, too: How a lot of the Austin music scene’s current status is because of a lot of these people from Lubbock.

JDG: There was a lot of crossover between them. The people that were "Folk-Rock" kinda oriented people mixing with the Blues and Rock-n-Roll people; That’s sort of what the Austin music scene was. And hard-core country…

First, I started just kinda coming down here occasionally and then being back in Lubbock…

Chris: This was after y’all had done the Flatlanders?

JDG: No. This is way before that. What I was really gettin’ at was that, in one sense, The Hub City Movers was something of an extension or a development of the T. Nickel House Band. Y’see the member-elements? At the beginning, T.J. played in The Hub City Movers, but there was one period when the T. Nickel House Band became a trio of me, John Reed, and T.J. McFarland. We played around in Austin, and then that dissolved and fell apart. I played bass, John played guitar, and T.J. played drums.

Chris: Stand-up bass?

JDG: No. Electric. I wasn’t very good. But we had a following because we had a lot of friends. Most of the time, y’know, our audience was also our friends; The people that heard us at the gigs were also the people that we were all living with.
It was just such a hodge-podge of so many people at that time.
But The Hub City Movers group was after the T. Nickel House Band, and it was elements of…Well, there was Jerry Barnett, who had been in Shiva’s Head Band

Chris: He’s an Austin guy, right?

JDG: He’s actually from San Antonio but we met him in Austin….And Ed Vizzard who was a San Antonio guy but now an Austin guy. Ed played saxophone…And Ike River - he’s dead now - Ike became the lead guitar player, so at one point we had John X. and Ike. That was really a mish-mash.

Chris: What was the music like?

JDG: It was insane! It was a psychedelic Country Folk Rock band…We were real sloppy; We never rehearsed…which was partly my fault. We were all just crazy, doing too many drugs. It was just a good-time, crazy thing. We became the last house-band at the Vulcan Gas Company, so we played every Wednesday night at The Vulcan. There was a band called Whistler that we used to go hear at an old place called Bonnie’s over in East Austin. It was an outdoor barbecue joint; it’s been gone a long, long time. We would go watch that gig and then we would go play our gig late. That would be the supper gig; we’d all hang out there and get drunk, and then go play our gig.

Around that time, the Vulcan Gas Company finally crashed. In the mean time, we’d become friends with Jim Franklin, the artist. So Eddie Wilson - who founded the Armadillo World Headquarters - was at a Hub City Movers gig at a place called The Cactus, a place that burned down later on. Franklin was there and Eddie was there. Somewhere during the break we went outside back in the alley, and Eddie saw the armory. He later went and checked on it, and it became the Armadillo World Headquarters. I believe the Cactus was right on the current spot of Threadgill’s.

Chris: So the Hub City Movers show was integral in the creation of The Armadillo World Headquarters?

JDG: Well, No. That was just the timing of it. See, we already were friends with that crowd. It just so happened that that was the night; in the evolution from the Vulcan Gas Company to the Armadillo World Headquarters, and we were part of that little circle of friends.
So we played the Grand Opening.

Charlie Sauer was also in the Hub City Movers…the bass player.

Chris: And who is he?

JDG: He’s still around Austin; he’s a computer guy now. Actually, he and Angela were old friends. In fact, at one point Angela and Lewis Cowdrey had a band with Jesse Taylor and T.J. And I played with them for a little short period of time. They actually tried to get me to come to California with them, because they set up shop in California.

Chris: At that became Sunnyland Special?

JDG: That was Sunnyland Special. I played bass with them but I didn’t want to leave Austin at that time. So I stayed in Austin to do the Hub City Movers when Sunnyland Special went to California. I guess I was a short-term member of Sunnyland Special.

Chris: You were in Austin for no other reason than it was just the best place to be in Texas at the time?

JDG: I had so many friends here; A lot of Lubbock friends who weren’t musicians. In our circle of friends, the music was always a real important part but we never were exclusively a "musicians gang."

Chris: Sure. It was people that were reading and talking about things…

JDG: Right. Creative people that were interested in just everything. We were anti-war activists but we never were very politically oriented, in the sense of joining any groups or anything, but we were "Anti-Vietnam War." But in lots of ways, a lot of us were friends before the Vietnam War happened. That did bring a larger circle of friends together with that as something we held in common. But it wasn’t the cause of our group forming.

Chris: So you were here having a good time in Austin. How did you end up back in Lubbock to put together The Flatlanders?

JDG: Things just started changing for me, personally - my whole perspective. The stuff I was reading and becoming interested in was all shifting around. That’s the kind of stuff that I really don’t want to get into because there’s no simple, one-conversation way to talk about all that...

Chris: That’s cool. I know what you’re saying; So stay away from all of that…

JDG: But I went back to Lubbock. As it happened, Butch and I had been friends since we were twelve years old at Atkins Junior High School and then all the way through. Butch had been living out in San Francisco, Joe had been in Europe, and I had been down in Austin mainly, for the preceding year or so.

Chris: Were you all pretty much doing similar things?

JDG: No, not really. Butch was working for an architect as a photographer. Butch ended up being within one hour of getting his degree from Texas Tech in architecture, and then finally he just hated the academic-bureaucratic world so much that he blew it off. I had been in Austin doing The Hub City Movers thing. And Joe was touring Europe with a show called Stomp; It was kind of a revue: music and theater.

But it so happened that we all came back to Lubbock within a few days of each other. So I was hanging out with both of them, but separately. They didn’t know each other then, but I kept telling Joe, "You gotta meet this old friend of mine that’s been writing some really good songs." So finally, one night I took him over to Butch’s house, and from that night on, the sparks that kinda flew off of that have affected my life and all of our lives ever since.
It was a group of friends that later on became called "The Flatlanders." But that group of friends is still intertwined with each other.

Chris: I’ll say it is!

JDG: And some short time after Butch and Joe and I started hanging out together, Tony Pearson -- who is one of my best friends from high school -- was playing mandolin, and Tony introduced me to Tommy Hancock. I had actually met Tommy before but had really never known him. Tony took us over to his house, and in that period we started hanging out with the Hancock clan. So that sort of marked another platform, another stepping-off place.

We called ourselves The Supernatural Playboys, which was based on - One of the friends in the group had started a health food store: The Supernatural Food Company.

Chris: I think Tommy told me that story: You’d sit around the old pot-belly stove there and play hillbilly music.

JDG: Yea. So later on, oddly enough, the Nashville people – when that came about – didn’t wanta use that name "Supernatural Playboys."

Chris: It does sound a little funky for Nashville.

JDG: So, stupidly I think, we decided to agree with ‘em about that.

Chris: So that’s where the name "Flatlanders" came from? Y’all changed it for the label?

JDG: We changed it at that time, while were there. We said, "Okay, we gotta find a better name. Blah, blah, blah."
And somebody said in conversation, "It is so weird that it took a bunch of flatlanders to come to Nashville and show ‘em how to play hillbilly music." And Steve Wesson said, "That’s it! Flatlanders!" And when Steve said that, all the rest of us went, "Alright! That’s a good name!" We all liked it.

That’s how that happened. The original record was "Jimmie Dale and the Flatlanders." I was actually the only one that really signed the contract with them, which was dumb on my part. But as it turned out, it’s just what happened. I really can’t say that was stupid - That was just what went on at the time.
We ended up completely…See, I wanta say…We were cheated by that whole deal. But on the other hand, we came out with a record. We did made a record in a Nashville studio.

Chris: Okay. So you had that experience in Nashville but it turned out, at the time, to not be a very good experience. Is that why the Flatlanders broke up?

JDG: Those guys in Nashville didn’t have the slightest inkling that they could have made a huge splash with us, because it was in the realm of what Poco and The Flying Burrito Brothers and all of that…the amalgam of Country with the kinda Folk-Rock-Hippie world…

Chris: The Byrds…Right.

JDG: They could have done that with "the real thing," but they didn’t know what was going on at all. All they knew was that they liked this music but they couldn’t figure out any possible way of marketing it. They were dumb.

Chris: How did they get ahold of it? Did y’all send these demos off?

JDG: No. We met Sylvester Rice through Nubby Madison who had become a friend; He’s a building contractor. As a matter of fact, he built Monterey High School. And Syl -- who was friends with all the K-triple-L guys and The Maines Brothers and Don Caldwell and those guys – Syl was more kinda tied in with the radio world of Lubbock, and we weren’t at all. Syl introduced us to Country Lou Dee – Lou Driver, who was on KDAV in Lubbock – He and Syl organized us making these tapes in Odessa.

We knew nothing about the music business. Joe was the one that knew the most about it, but he had no connection really with the Country music world; He had been more involved with the Rock world.

They didn’t know how to market The Flatlanders. They had gotten this "little treasure" but…It’s really ironic, because it’s the sort of thing that if they had treated us right they could have ended up having me and Butch and Joe as allies. But they just blew it.
But on the other hand, we weren’t really particularly ambitious to begin with. We weren’t trying to do anything big and huge or anything. It was just fun; We did it for fun. After we recorded it, there was this period where we went, "Oh, Boy! We’ll sell millions!" But that never had been the drive to begin with; It wasn’t why the band was put together to begin with. So it was a fluke that this even happened.

Chris: It was just The Supernatural Playboys!

JDG: Yea. It was a joke! You can tell from the name of the band: It was just for fun. It was just silly.

Chris: Well, it’s startling music. People listen to it and it’s not what they expect to hear, I think. Or people don’t even know exactly what it is, I think.

JDG: Yea. Even still it’s like that. It’s such a weird mix of different elements.

Chris: And y’all are still doing that. Y’all are writing a bunch of new songs now, right? Are y’all are gonna do a Flatlanders album in the future some day?

JDG: There’s a good chance of it. But we’re not setting that as our goal, because that would be counter to they way this deal works.

Chris: I understand. It’s just that - Now you’ve got a lot of people that want that & expect it from you.

JDG: And the chances are very good that we’ll do that; But that’s not the driving thing for us doing that.

Chris: So it’s just for fun now?

JDG: Yea. And we’re all experienced enough now to know that, if something did come of it, it would be useful; It would help us out.

Chris: That is the way you make your living.

JDG: Yea. But the real point now is that Joe and Butch and I like working together, and we wanta do something that we really enjoy doing.

Chris: …Now that you’ve all got some more free-time to spend together…

JDG: Exactly. And a little more understanding both of the business and of ourselves. We work together better than we did when we were younger.

Chris: I heard y’all say this at a show y’all did when you first started performing together again, that it just got silly and goofy when y’all were together, and all the songs just became about silly, goofy things.

JDG: Yea. We never were really serious about writing together until this last phase. Which is good because we all have improved musically and in every way. Plus, the fact that all three of us were able to basically become successful independent of each other…Joe more so than us, but Butch and I both have done our own thing to the point that we’ve all established ourselves as independent entities.

Chris: You do have credit where credit is due, for sure.

JDG: But also we enjoy working together, and there’s a magic to it that even now is greater than the individual pieces. I just feel like we’re extremely blessed and lucky to have that. A lot of people of our age that are just burned out and don’t really have any avenue to do anything different. But with us, it’s like, "Oh, wow! We’re still The Flatlanders! We still can do that any time we want to and that’s always fun!"

The Flatlanders was, in that sense, a much later derivative of the T. Nickel House Band. It still was me and Joe...In fact, in most of that period when the Flatlanders were living together, we didn’t have lots of gigs.
Joe and I played more gigs as a duet – and some solo things – than the band ever played together.

Chris: So the "band" was just primarily for the recording session?

JDG: Yea, right. [Laughs.] Although, we lived in a house together and played.
It really was more primarily for fun; For sitting around the living room having fun - That was what the band was about.

Looking at it like making a family tree or something…See, Guy Juke came into the picture in that Flatlanders time in Lubbock, like in ’71 or something like that; He became a friend of the gang. It’s almost like that same little circle from even before the T. Nickel House Band, in a way, still sort of exists. Its just bigger and bigger, more and more…

We used tell people that the Flatlanders there’s really probably 30 people that could legitimately claim to be members of the Flatlanders, but they weren’t the ones that were there when we did the recording. So that group on the recording became stamped as who the Flatlanders were. Most people don’t even know about Tony and Steve, y’know. Its just Butch and Joe and I are the only ones that are thought of as the Flatlanders. That’s a misperception of the historical facts.

Chris: I hear Jesse Taylor was a Flatlander.

JDG: He was! Jesse actually was. And since Jesse was one of the original members of the T. Nickel House Band, in one sense, The Joe Ely Band was another extension of it…..In a way of looking at it. It’s also completely different, because it was deliberately tailored to a different style of music.

Chris: Right. But Joe’s done a lot of Jimmie Dale Gilmore songs.

JDG: Right. In one sense, Joe continued my musical career for me in the period when I wasn’t doing any professional music.

Chris: What were you doing then?

JDG: That’s when I lived in Denver.

Chris: So that was when you were off doing "personal things."

JDG: [Laughs] Yea.

Chris: So you basically weren’t doing any music for a long period of time…

JDG: I was doing music but I wasn’t doing it professionally. I still was playing a lot and had made a lot of friends in Colorado, but I dropped out of "the music business." I didn’t drop out of music; I dropped out of the music business.
And then in 1980, I came back to Austin.

Chris: Was After Awhile your first album when you came back?

JDG: No. I made two albums on the Hightone label. Joe produced the first one.

Chris: Was that when you first came back?

JDG: No. I was here for five years or so before that. That was like the mid-8os. I came back in 1980. About ’85 or ’87 or so was when we did that.
Butch and I played together and toured together a lot during that time.

And then I did the two Hightone albums. Joe produced the first one, and Lloyd Maines and Bruce Romberg produced the second one.

Chris: What was the name of that one?

JDG: The second one was just called Jimmie Dale Gilmore. The first one was called Fair and Square.

Chris: Back in ’94, I saw Johnny Cash here in Austin at the Frank Erwin Center, and you opened for him. You apologized to the audience that you were a little nervous and explained that you had once seen Johnny Cash perform in Lubbock and Elvis had opened for him. Tell me that story.

JDG: Yea. Elvis opened for Johnny Cash. Like I said, my dad loved music, and he took me and my sister…I would have been probably twelve years old or something like that, or younger…At least they were "co-billed." I don’t really know if Johnny Cash was the headliner over Elvis but they were at least equal at the time, and Elvis played first.

Chris: So you saw Elvis open for Johnny Cash, and there you were - years later - opening for Johnny Cash, also!

JDG: [Laughs] Yea. But the point was that particular night had had such an impact on me: I was a little kid and I saw Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash both just knock the walls out of the Fair Park Coliseum! Later on Terry told me that his dad Sled Allen produced that show.

I guess one other thing that ties in. Terry’s a little bit older than me. When I was in high school, one night at a Halloween carnival at Monterey High School, I went in this one room and there was this guy in there playing the piano. He was playing his own songs!
I already played music and was learning to play the guitar, and I sort of had this ambition to become a songwriter. But I always figgered that you became a songwriter after you were old and had a lot of experience and everything. And the fact that this guy I went to high school with was writing his own songs, really just inspired me and let me know that, "Hey! I can just write a song!"
It had never occurred to me before that a high school kid like me could just write a song like that.

So Terry Allen was really, in a sense, the first person to ever give me the idea that I could write my own songs.
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Buy the book by author Christopher Oglesby
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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