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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
Kimmie Rhodes
Austin, Central Market Café; 10/30/00

Chris: I was just visiting with Tommy Hancock yesterday, and he said that a lot of people may not know that you're a very talented actress. He wanted me to ask you about your acting.
So I'm gonna start off asking you about something little known about Kimmie Rhodes. Do you wanta tell me about your acting?

Kimmie Rhodes: Let's see…what can I tell you about that? It's all so scattered; I mean, my acting career is a pretty incoherent thing.
I sat down to write a song one day, called "Small Town Girl," and it turned into a play. It takes place on two parallels: "West Texas Heaven" and West Texas. So I wrote this play called Small Town Girl, and a couple of years ago in the Fall I ended up roping all my friends into doing this workshop with me and Joe Sears, from Greater Tuna.
We did this really cool workshop production out at Willie's [Nelson] western town. We set up all the different scenes and we actually moved the audience from set to set. That's probably what Tommy's talking about.
But since then, I've started writing more plays.

Chris: Briefly, what is the story?

KR: When I started writing this play, I realized I was writing this kind of unconscious piece, y'know; I was trying to "say something" through this play. It incorporated a lot of the people from my family and my early childhood and my experience growing up in Lubbock. I sort of based the characters on a lot of that.
But basically, what the story is: It's sort of an avante garde piece in a way, because it does take place on two levels: On the heavenly plain where all these angels are sort of 'punching in to the earthly plain,' and on this real earthy, West Texas setting.

What happens is this little girl at the beginning gets her assignment from this angel. Joe Sears played the angel. This little girl gets her assignment from this angel. He tells her that she has to go down and be born and take care of this pool-hustler, rounder kind of a guy…be born, and be his daughter, and help him find his place in life. 'Cause he's just sort of this guy who's not getting to live his dreams in any way.
Her job is to help him get to a place in his life where he can fulfill his dream. He's actually a very talented man but he's just living this really dull life that's not really gettin' him anywhere. So she gets born and becomes his daughter. The mom - who was played by Sharon Ely - dies soon after. It's just about their adventure and how she helps him.

Then this angel, the last thing he says is as she's leaving West Texas Heaven is, "I'll be with you. I'll always be with you." He shows up as an "angel unaware" throughout the play; as Old Tom the Wino, and later as sort of a magic doll that she's been given - He comes to life and has got his whole circus scene.

Ann Richards said that she felt like she'd just been part of a West Texas Fillini movie. [Laughs] 'Cause it actually incorporates the audience at some points, too; Pretty soon everybody's in the play including the audience. It was really magic
and fun.

I think some of the best pieces you write are ones that you don't know why you're doing it, and you just start. Kinda like what you're doing with this book! [Laughs]. But you're trying to work something out personally through doing it, and there's a message involved; Usually it's a good message because you're trying to make a communication.

So that's what that was about.

Then I went on to write some more plays with Joe Sears, and we formed a little community theater group here in town called Stone Soup Productions. We did a play called Hillbilly Heaven.
Aunt Pearl falls asleep and has a dream that she meets God. God is gonna let her have any Country star she wants come and play for her around a campfire.
It's a musical review; I didn't write the music for it. I only wrote one of the songs. We just all play an array of characters in that.

And now Joe Sears and I are working on another play called Doin' Gods Chores, that we hope to have in production pretty soon in his theater in Cody, Wyoming that he just built. We're gonna do our play there in his theater.

Then I'm working on a couple of pieces on my own that are one-act plays. One's called The Puppeteer. It's more like Small Town Girl; It's somethin' I'm trying to work out, I don't even know what.
And then there's a Halloween piece I'm working on, too; A one-act play about this man who's tryin' to turn everything into wind-up music boxes. These kids wander off into his house on Halloween night, and they soon find out that he's planning on turning 'em into wind-up kids.

Chris: That does sound scary.

KR: So I've been writing lots of plays…musicals.

Chris: It seems like everything is set in Heaven. [Laughs] Or has to do somehow with angels.

KR: Yea, and I don't know why that is.

Chris: Well, this has been coming up a lot lately for me…Sharon and I talked about this; so much of the stuff that's coming from Lubbock: There's just a real spiritual base there, it seems like.

Jo Carol Pierce was talking to me about how people even use "biblical talk" there about things. Maybe is it because it's such a church-going community, that people are thinking about those issues more? Or what is it about Lubbock that seems to be making these people think about this? Or is that just a universal artists' theme?

KR: I don't really attribute my spirituality to going to church in Lubbock. My experience with going to church in Lubbock was sort of contrary to my spiritual beliefs. I mean, nothing bad against any of that, but I didn't really enjoy going to church when I was a kid. But I did sing. That is kind of how I got started singing.

Chris: Did you have to go to church a lot?

KR: No. It was very sporadic in my family…[Laughs]…whether we went to church or not. It was kind of dependent on the climate in the family at the time.

Chris: That's about average, I guess.

KR: But we always went to church for the music more than anything.
I never liked the sermons. I found it boring, and it just always seemed like they were trying to collect money. I guess they need it.

But my best memory of church was at Christmas when they would do their Christmas recital. I was just totally in it for the show-biz aspect of it. I would sing, and I got to be the page-turner for the lady who played the piano.
I didn't like going to church, but I didn't mind going to choir practice at all. So I think it was the musical relief. I loved the singing part where everybody would get the hymnal and everybody would sing.

Chris: Did your family play music? How did you get started? Did you know early on that you wanted to be in show-biz?

KR: I started singing and even kind of making up songs when I was really young. My mom tells me she can remember me just being really young and making up songs around the house.
But I think what happened was: My dad noticed that I loved singing, and I was always singing - I think that I was just sort of born that way - And he sort of cultivated that in me. Church was my earliest experience with singing. I learned to sing harmony really young, so he noticed that.

And I also had a third grade teacher at Dupree…I wish I could remember her name…who noticed that. I think her name might have been Mrs. Davis; I'm not really sure.
But different teachers, and my dad, different people noticed that I was singing a lot for a very young child.

I just have this theory: I think you kinda come to the party already knowing who you are, and you just grow up to be that as quickly as you can.

I think I just kinda jumped on it because as soon as I got to where I could, I got started….Even though I didn't have any idea then; I was just a little kid singing.
In the grand scheme of things I had no idea what I was doing. But my dad really loved it that I sang. He would take me around to car lots where he worked, and I would sing songs for people and they would give me money.

Chris: He was a car salesman?

KR: He also owned a car dealership. Now here's a funny thing for ya' - or I guess it's funny now - We lived in Wichita Falls; My dad had a car dealership and a big tornado came and blew everything away. So what did my dad do? He moved to Lubbock! It's like 'out of the frying pan and into the fire!' So that's what caused us to move to Lubbock when I was about five years old.
He had a car dealership in Lubbock, and then they had that May tornado, that huge big one. By that point he'd built himself back up, and he sold motor homes. He had a lot over by the White Pig, across the street from the Tech stadium. Then that tornado put him out of business again.

Meanwhile, I grew up and then I moved to a family farm up in North Texas, near Wichita Falls again. And then another tornado came and blew Wichita Falls away!

They've kinda been following me all my life. Then juust recently, they had that tornado down by the Pedernales…Well, that was less than a mile from my house! [Laughs]. I thought I was safe in Austin but I guess not! I've always been chased around by tornadoes.

So my dad always was in the car business, but I think that when the motor home business blew away for the last time, I think that pretty much put him out of it.

Chris: So he got you up performing to bring people in to the car dealership on the weekends?

KR: I'd sing. And then my dad and my brother and I -maybe when I was in first or second grade or somethin' like that -My dad organized us into a trio. He would sing bass, and my brother would sing harmony, and then I kind of 'fronted" the band.
We would go sing at…Then, they called 'em "old folks homes." Now, I guess they're called nursing homes. There was this place there called the Golden Age Club; We would go and sing there.

Chris: This was just like a 'good deed' thing to do?

KR: Well, that was our 'gig.'

Chris: Was he trying to get you to practice?

KR: My daddy is a very good-hearted person and it was 'a good thing to do.'
But it was also a place to do it. I don't really know; I never really asked him. I don't know how that ended up happening. Probably, he ran into somebody or somebody saw us at church and asked us if we would come over there.
I'm not sure how we got the gig.

But it was great for me because I got to get out of school and go over and sing!
We learned all these hymns, and one day a month or every two weeks or so, there was this lady who played the piano and everybody would sing hymns.

I remember my first gig with a microphone was the "Dupre Buffalo Bean Supper." I had a teacher who got me to sing "Get Along Little Dogies." I had on a little cowgirl hat. I think it's so funny because my main memory of that night is how bad the sound was. My first actual plugged-in performance had terrible sound. [Laughs]. I didn't know how to use the mic or anything. I guess I was in the third grade.

See, what happened to me was: I didn't plan on growing up to be a singer; I just was a singer. I just started singing, and I didn't question it or aspire to be a singer or anything. I just did that.

What I wanted to do was I wanted to grow up to be a florist. I would take my lunch money and go by the flower shop and spend my lunch money, so I could watch the ladies make the bouquet of flowers. Then I'd take the flowers and give 'em to my teacher or give 'em to somebody on the way to school. It wasn't about the flowers; It was just about wanting to be a florist.
So on my way to Dupree, invariably whenever I could leave the house early enough, I'd walk by the flower shop and spend my lunch money on flowers. So as soon as I got old enough, I quit doing anything and everything that had anything to do with anything except for becoming a florist. So that's what I did. My very first job I went and got a job at a flower shop and learned how to be a florist.

Chris: So that was in high school?

KR: No. I would have been about…See, I had a baby when I was…Well, there's sort of a gray area there where I was just this hippie-chick, and had a baby and got him old enough to stay with the babysitter or his dad or whatever. We moved to a farm in north Texas.

Chris: How old where you about then?

KR: I would have been about probably 19 by the time I got my first job as a florist. So then I was good-to-go, 'cause that was all I ever wanted to do. I did that for a lot of years.

And then what happened is, it sort of snuck back up me again. There was never this big plan to grow up and be a performer. Whereas a lot of people go, "I wanta be a guitar player," and they practice, and they get really good, and they have this dream, and they become a guitar player.
But what happened with me was: The same way it sneaked up on me the first time, it sneaked back up on me again. I got a guitar and started to play some chords. I wasn't sure "why" but…
I didn't know that I was a writer. I had no idea that I was a writer.

Chris: A songwriter?

KR: Any kind of a writer. I just didn't know that.

Chris: You just had never picked up a pen to do it?

KR: Well, I had kinda done a little bit of that, y'know. But I didn't think anything about it. I just didn't think of myself as a writer; I just was doing it. I was just writing before I realized that I was a writer.
Then I learned some chords on the guitar. I was in this really peaceful country setting on a family farm outside of this little town called Sunset, Texas, between Bowie and Decatur, near Wichita Falls. So I just started learning to play guitar, and I started singing again, and I started writing. And I was actually writing songs before I even realized that's what I was doing. I was very unconsciously doing it - in the same way, I guess, that I didn't mean to be a playwright either. I just happened to write a play one day, so I guess that made me a playwright! [Laughs].

Chris: What kind of farm was it?

KR: We grew produce.

Chris: Were you actually out there farming?

KR: Well, we decided that we were gonna move out of civilization and move to this farm, y'know; it was sort of during the earth-mama hippie days, the back-to-nature period. So we were doing that. It was really a great farm, and the rent was free! So at first we just started out gardening, and then it ballooned into farming, and then we had a greenhouse business.

But what happened was, my first husband Michael Rhodes and I started farming in the first year of a seven year drought on a dryland farm. So it kept not raining, kept not raining, kept not raining. And then the year we just couldn't go any more - just went broke and couldn't farm any more - was the end of the seven year drought, and it just started raining like crazy! I always say it was God's way of telling me I didn't have to be a squash picker.

Chris: I was gonna say: You've had a lot of disasters chasing you around.

KR: [Laughs] I was just out there asking for it, I guess. I don't know. I was just making it as I went along. I had been working as a florist, and then what I'd do is: I would take off in the summer - which is the slow period for florists in a small town - And we would farm, and then I'd go back to being a florist in the winter. We had a greenhouse business, and we did that. But meanwhile, while all that was going on, unbeknownst to me, I started writing songs, and learned to play the guitar. And I already knew how to sing. I just started singing again.

Chris: Were you writing Country songs, or just whatever came out?

KR: Well…I was just makin' up melodies and stuff like that. Then what happened was I came to Austin and I met T.J. McFarland and Joe Gracey…

Chris: Who is T.J. McFarland?

KR: He used to play in the T. Nickel House Band in Lubbock with Joe and Jimmie and those guys.
Chris: That was way back…

KR: For you! For us it was just like yesterday! The first time I ever saw Joe was in a place called Alice's Restaurant -I think now it's called Mesquites. That was the first time I ever saw Joe. I sneaked over there with a friend 'cause I wasn't supposed to be there.

Chris: Was that before you moved off to the farm?

KR: Oh, way before that. Yea, that was way back there.

Chris: How did you know about him?

KR: I don't even know. I just went there with a friend. Just one of those nights you go somewhere with a friend. The reason how I knew about him is because he was standing right there in the room playin'. He just happened to be were we went! It's a little place.
It was a magic night, though. It was this great little dark kinda smoky little coffeehouse room where I wasn't supposed to be, which made it even more fun. But back then it wasn't a bar. It's just that my mom didn't want me to be there. It's was back in an alley, y'know. So anyway, that's when I first saw Joe.
And I was a lot younger than him, at that point; I don't know; maybe like thirteen or something like that? Now we're about the same age, it seems. [Laughs].

Chris: Yea, You shouldn't have been out. [Laughs]

KR: Well, I always enjoyed the company of people that were older than me.

So what happened was, in '79 I came to Austin and T.J. McFarland introduced me to my now-husband Joe Gracey. Joe Gracey had worked at KOKE-FM here, which was a very progressive radio station that played everything from Lightin' Hopkins to Asleep at the Wheel. Gracey produced Stevie Ray Vaughn's first record. He just had a little studio in the basement of KOKE-FM.
He had just lost his voiced to cancer when I met him and had decided to produced records.

Chris: So at this point, you were just writing for fun?

KR: Yea. I just kinda had a little group of first songs. So met them and we just all loved each other and wanted to do something, so I formed my first band, called Kimmie Rhodes & the Jackalope Brothers. The Jackalope Brothers were Joe Gracey and Bobbie Earl Smith. We started a band and we started makin' my first record. That was the name of it: Kimmie Rhodes & the Jackalope Brothers.
My first recording I did in Austin was in 1979.
So we decided to make a record, and then I started wantin' to be a singer....Again.
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