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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

-continued from page 1-
KR: I liked singing. And I figgered it out - It finally came to me, "Yes! This is what I had always been." I just think I had something I wanted to say.

I don't think that I wished that I was a songwriter and tried to get good at it or whatever; I think I just sort of started writing songs because, as it turned out, I had something to say. Because I didn't even mean to be a songwriter or know that I was a songwriter.
At first I just started writing melodies. And then it turned out, I started really trying to communicate -I wasn't sure what.

I co-wrote some of my first songs with different people; with Bobbie Earl and with Joe Gracey and with a girl named Kim Banks…I wrote some songs with her. Just different people. Then I started not wanting to do that anymore, and I just started writing by myself. I think that's when I really started to express myself. I guess I was about in my early 20s at that point, so I had already had a pretty long life by then! [Laughs]
I guess at the time when most people are starting on their career, I had already had one and it was over, and then I really started my career.

So I met Willie one day; They introduced me to Willie. We were trying to figger out how we were gonna make this first record, and I met Willie out on his golf course with them, and Willie asked me…

Chris: Wait. Who's 'they'?

KR: Well, Bobbie Earl and Joe Gracey and I went out there. They knew Lana Nelson - who's now really been a dear friend of mine for years, but I guess that was probably the day I met her, too.
She introduced me to her dad on the golf course. And Willie said, "How long have you been a singer?" And I said, "Since, I was a child."
And he said, "Do you write songs?" And I said, "Yes."
We had been joking earlier about who was our record distributor, and we were saying, "God," and laughing about it - So then Willie said, "Who's your record distributor?" And we all just blurted out laughin', and Lana said, "Tell him!"
I said, "God!" And we all laughed about that.

And Willie said, "Well, why don't you come out here and make a record?"
So I said, "Okay!" I went out there a couple of weeks later and recorded my first album. They still called them albums back then! A couple of my first songs were on there.

Then the next record I released was called The Man in the Moon. When I did that record…I had met Jimmy Day, who is a legendary steel guitar player who lived here in Austin, had moved here from Nashville. He used to play with Willie and lots of people. He was just this incredible player and a very soulful guy, very true to Country music.
I kinda went more into Country music because it was sort of what was goin' on here in Austin at the time, and I started to listen to that and love it…y'know, the "roots" Country stuff. So The Man in the Moon was a pretty "Country" record.

We had sort of gotten this dream thinking that we wanted to tour Europe, so we got on this label from London and started touring Europe. My friend Wes Magee, who is a London guy who had been coming to Texas a lot and makin' records in Austin; We'd worked with him, so we kinda merged with him and had this whole kinda Euro-Tex thing.

So I had two bands goin' at that point: I had a swing band in Austin. I had to play that music because there was some Western Swing and different things on there. That band had many incarnations; different people would come and go. Richard Bowden played with us some; Junior Brown even played with us some; John Reed…y'know a variety of whoever....

Chris: What was the name of that band?

KR: Uh…It didn't really have a name. I guess I had just started goin' by Kimmie Rhodes by then. And then I had the other band which Wes Magee put together that had kinda the best Country players in London, like B.J. Cole, this great steel player; he plays on all of Sting's records now. There're some great players over there, too.

I had a band over there that I would use over there; and then I had a band over here that I would use over here. Jimmy played in my band a lot. So a lot of that, I think, was really influenced by the time that I spent with Jimmy Day.

Then my next record was called Angels Get the Blues. I think that's really where I started to come into my own as a songwriter. I think some of my first best songs were on that record. One that ended up being a really good song for me was called "I Just Drove By" that Wynonna Judd recorded and Willie recorded. That was on a London label, also.

We toured Europe a lot because I was on European labels. I ended up being on a Swiss label for awhile, and then I was on a French label for awhile.
Then I disbanded because I realized that a lot of the gigs that I was playing around town in dance halls...I was having a lot of fun playing that music but it started to not have a lot to do with what I was writing any more. So I disbanded and I just decided to write songs and kinda work more on the publishing aspect of it, get myself a publishing deal and get my catalog together and do some song-writery things and quit focusing on the singer part of it so much.
Because I started to really get into the song writing at that point, and I had things that I wanted to do. I wanted to write songs for movies and things that you can do when you have a publisher, y'know.
So I started to focus on that for awhile, and a few years went by and I got ready to make a record again, and I made my West Texas Heaven record.

Chris: That takes us back to West Texas and Lubbock.

KR: West Texas Heaven was this whole concept that I started to have that ended up being part of this play I wrote. That song was in that play; It starts it out.

It was the concept that, if Heaven turned out to be just the best version of what you knew to imagine, and all you had ever known was West Texas, then Heaven would look like West Texas - this beautiful, beautiful West Texas. So that was what, in my mind…where that whole West Texas Heaven thing came from.

Chris: So we're back in West Texas Heaven: I know you've done some stuff with Waylon; How did you end up meeting Waylon? Did you meet him through Willie?

KR: I did not meet Waylon through Willie, which you would've thought that would be how that happened…But what happened was: I met a very dear friend of mine, Beth Nielson Chapman, because she wrote a song for Willie called "Nothing I Can Do About It Now"…

Chris: Oh, I love that song!

KR: I was with Sharon…I had heard Willie's record that they were working on, and I had heard the songs. He'd been playing 'em for me in the studio and stuff. And I just fell in love with this girl's writing! I hadn't met her but I wanted to meet her because she was such a great writer!
She wrote this song called "If My World Didn't Have You" which was great. I liked it a lot better than "Nothing I Can Do About It Now", to tell you the truth. It was more of an "album cut."

But Sharon Ely and I were doing a photo shoot with British Vogue magazine, and this French photographer…

Chris: When you say "photo shoot" what was it you were doing?

KR: We were at Willie's western town doin' a photo shoot for this fashion magazine.
Sharon was styling it, and got me and all of her friends, husband included, to be in this photo shoot of people for a whole article on Austin, Texas.

I had on this big cowboy hat and the whole thing…Anyway, it was that day. We went up to the studio and Beth Nielson Chapman was wandering around out front waiting for Willie to get there because she was gonna do some background vocals on the record. I guess Sharon went off to photograph Willie's guitar, and I ended up somehow, like five minutes after I met her, I was at my house with Beth, and we were talking and became great friends after that, and have always stayed in touch. I just talked to her yesterday. We visit all the time.

We ended up playing songs for each other that day. For whatever reason, we ended up spending the whole afternoon together playing songs for each other. I had written a lot of the songs from West Texas Heaven but I hadn't recorded them yet. I was playing her demos and stuff. So she went back home, and she loved my song "I Just Drove By." So she took that, and Waylon had asked her for songs because he had just cut "Old Church Hymns and Nursery Rhymes" which is a great song that she wrote for Waylon that he recorded.
Waylon said, "Give me everything you've got!"
So she gave him this tape of songs, and she hid my song in the middle, me singing this song. That's the kind of person she is, y'know; she's "the big sister" but she shares with the other kids. So she put my song on there, and Waylon called her and said, "Who is this? Who wrote this song? This is NOT you; Who wrote this? I'm gonna cut this song!"
She said, "Well, I didn't write it!" she said, "The one song he picked on the tape, I didn't write!" But she gave him my phone number, and I came home and there was a message on my answering machine from Waylon Jennings! So I played it about five times. I was thrilled!
He left his phone number, so I called him back. He just said, "Send me everything you've got. I love you. I love your writing, and I love your voice. Send me everything."

So I did. I sent him all ten of my songs at that time. [Laughs].

Chris: So were you already doing this theme of this West Texas album?

KR: Yea. I had already started the songs.

Chris: Did y'all make any connection about both being from Lubbock?

KR: I'm sure we had that conversation early on, y'know. He didn't know anything about me when he called me. But we figured that out, I guess, after we started talking. He kind of took to calling me at ungodly hours, like 7 o'clock in the morning or something. So we had decided we were gonna do something together, but we didn't know what.
I got to recording West Texas Heaven, and I said, "Do you wanta record a song with me?" and he said, "Sure." So I sent him a tape of some more songs.
I had always had this song…When I wrote it - I had written it years before but -
I knew that was a great song for Waylon but the first person I ever played that song for laughed, so I had never played it again. It is kind of a funny song; it was supposed to be a protest song but the only theory is "Maybe we'll just disappear." It was funny, but I was so sensitive.

So I sent him a bunch of songs and I thought, "I'll just slip this one on there and he'll barely even notice it, but it'll be the way I'll find out if that really was a good song for Waylon Jennings."
That was the one he picked, that he wanted to do. And he really like this song called "Be Mine" that I wrote. So we ended up doing both of 'em.

Chris: So there's two songs with Waylon on that album?

KR: Yea. And that happened totally independent of the Willie thing. I had just asked Willie. I had done a record with him - some of my songs on one of his records - and then I asked him if he'd do some songs with me on my record.

Chris: I saw the Austin City Limits episode where you played with about my foour favorite songwriters of all times: The one with Waylon, Billie Joe Shaver, Kris Kristofferson, and wasn't Willie there?
And I knew that you were from Lubbock at that point, too, because I had seen you one time at the Broken Spoke and you had said that you were. So I thought, "Wow! That's great! There's this woman songwriter from Lubbock up there with my four very favorite songwriters!"

KR: I was lucky that I was up there.

Chris: How did that happen? There was one woman up there, and it was you.

KR: Well, we were all on the same record label at that point. I had previously done an Austin City Limits hosted by Waylon in Nashville, with Lyle Lovett and Bobby Bare and Beth and a lot of different people. It had a bunch of people that day. And I also did an Austin City Limits with Willie, and it had Rodney Crowell and Emmie Lou Harris, two of my very favorite songwriters.
What happened was, I had recorded West Texas Heaven and it had been out in Europe on a French label for a couple of years. Then I recorded this record with Willie, which Willie put out on Justice Records. I was singing. It was called Just One Love, and I wrote that song. I was singing on it; It had "I Just Drove By" on there, too. They put out Willie's record, and then they called me and said, "Who are you? How did you get on Willie's record?"
So I had West Texas Heaven and I said, "Well, You don't need to know who I am; Just tell me if you want to put this record out or not." So I sent 'em West Texas Heaven, and they said, "Yea! We love this! We wanta put it out!"
It had Waylon singing "Be Mine." Then Waylon did a record with Justice records and re-recorded "Be Mine" on that record. And then Billie Joe did a record for Justice Records. So we were all on the same label.

So I guess it kinda started out Waylon and I were gonna do this Austin City Limits and then it just grew into all the people who were on that label. I don't know, somehow in the background it all came together. It was great fun.

Chris: Mac Davis is another fantastic songwriter from Lubbock. Do you have any opinion on why there are so many talented writers from West Texas? You seem to know a lot of 'em.

KR: No. I really don't know. But if you want a very realistic reason why, I think it's because the radio stations in that area were playing good music. I can't even tell you what the stations where or anything, but I remember when I was a kid that if you didn't like the song on the Country radio, you could turn it and hear Aretha Franklin, or you could turn to the Pop station and hear the Beatles or Bob Dylan, or go to the FM station…There was just a lot of great music being played on the radio.

So, personally -I can't speak for anybody else but - I was totally influenced by that music. It kind of set the tone for the rest of my life…What I compare it to.

Chris: Maybe that's most of what was consuming your life then.

KR: Yea. I loved music. I listened to it all of the time, all day long, everyday. I was either in my room listening to music, or in the car listening to music, or in a restaurant or bar listening to music…always. Or even if we went to church, it was about the music. It was always about the music.

Chris: A lot of people say that about the good radio stations in Lubbock. I guess that was because it was just the biggest market for a huge area of the country, I guess? Maybe it was catering to people there locally rather than a mass market?

KR: Y'know, radio stations were different then than they are now. They were more "mom & pop," and deejays had to go figger out what to play. They played what they liked. Deejays don't even listen to the music anymore; They just play what they're told, a lot of 'em. I mean, it's not always that way. There's still plenty of what they call "Americana Radio." But for the most part, the record business was not this huge thing that it is now. I mean, it's all grown a lot in the last twenty years.

Deejays used to have to go figure out what was good; They had to know whether it was any good or not. For me, when I was a kid, there was a sense of pride in the fact that you were cultivating your taste in music and whether you knew what was any good or not. And now its pretty much just…I don't know, maybe it's still that way on some level but there's a lot of music that people never get to hear because it's pretty much based on something else: Advertising is what it is.

Chris: For along time there, your records were just released in France, where they don't even speak English. A lot of these Lubbock people were big in Europe long before they were big in America. Why is that?

KR: The timing was slightly askew. Waylon and Willie have their own version of how hard it was for them. If it hadn't been for that whole "Outlaw" thing that they created, that changed Country music…Y'know, something like that could come along - and will come along and that will happen again - But I kinda came slightly after that, so I kinda was on the tail end of that.
The thing is, Nashville does a certain kind of Country music that they do, and they always have. And Texas has a certain kind of earthy, singer-songwriter kind of Country music, too. I didn't change or become something I wasn't just to go to Nashville to get a record deal. I was always just this person doing what I was doing. There was not really a market for what I was doing in Nashville as a singer, really.
I went and knocked on doors and beat the pavement and played my tapes for people.
It didn't take long before I figured out that it just was not my town. All you have to do is listen to the radio and figure that out. I started looking for a record deal when Barbara Mandrell was singing "You Can Eat Crackers in My Bed."

But instead of bamming into doors that are closed, what you do is you learn to take the doors that are open and trust that.

So I've been really happy with the way my career went. Because I really have had amazing experiences in Europe, and I love Europe. I've gotten to travel all these places I'da never gotten to go. It really was never about "being famous" for me.

Chris: Yea. You've had more of a "real life" than a big star.

KR: Well, I don't think there's anything wrong with being famous. But I just stumbled into it in the first place. I've just stumbled through my whole life just following whatever dream I had at the time. So I think it's been really miraculous to watch this road just kinda unravel out into whatever I believed my whole career would be.
I wanted to travel, so I got to.

Chris: I think that's a very common thing here; I think of all these people from Lubbock that we're talking about all seem to be people who knew what they wanted to do and stuck with it.
I think that "following the dream" is a big common theme that I've been following with this story. I guess, "Why the hell not?" is the answer if you're from West Texas.

KR: I've had so many great wonderful fabulous nights of being with really talented people who play steel-guitars, and guitars, and basses, and drums, and tambourines and…y'know, I've gotten to have this really rich life, and these incredible nights of playing music with real people. We were together playing music because we loved each other, and we loved the songs, and that's what we wanted to do.
I never had to be in a situation where I was compromising what I wanted to do.
I always got to do exactly what I wanted to do; play any song I wanted to, any night, for anywhere from 5 people to 80,000 people. I've had every size audience you can have; I've done every size television show you can do. I mean, there isn't anything I didn't get.

Maybe I didn't get a huge amount of record sales. But we won't really get into record deals; It's not really about that. I feel like I've been really, really successful, and I've had this incredible life. To me, that's what success has come to mean. Having said that, there's only one thing that will never be able to happen that is kinda sad to me - Because I've written so many more songs than I will ever be able to put on a record - I heard Paul McCartney say one time, "Your songs are like your children and you want the best for them." I pretty much, in some way or another, love every song I've ever written, because they're kinda like a journal of that day, what was going on. And there's something like that that goes with every one of 'em. There's probably getting close to 300 of 'em. And you only get to put like 12 on a record. So I usually try to cram as many as I can on a record, just to get 'em recorded.

But I have so many songs that will never be on a record and nobody will ever hear 'em. I even have songs that I'm forgetting, that people will remind me about and I'll go, "Oh yea! I forgot about that one!"
Somewhere they're on a tape or something. But that's a good problem. That's the only thing that will never be what I want…I guess it's that way for every songwriter who's got a lot of songs. But that's the one thing I can't do anything about.

Chris: You've added another thing to your list accomplishments. I saw that you just recently wrote a book. So there's another writer/artist/actress/playwright from Lubbock. So tell me about the book. The book sounds like a classic Lubbock-type thing to me.

KR: It all pertains to writing. Writing is at the heart of it all, the common denominator. It's a weird thing because, it's just like the plays and just like everything. I did not mean to do it.

Chris: What's it called?

KR: It's called The Amazing After-Life of Zimmerman Fees. Don't ask me where I even thought of that, because the answer is, "I don't know where I got that name." It just came to me. I was with my friend Beth. It was last year right before Christmas. I always go up there right before Christmas and we hang out at her house in Nashville. So we were cooking dinner and we decided to go but twinkle lights. We turned off the soup, and we were just gonna go get some twinkle lights and come back and decorate the tree after we ate dinner. We got to this Target parking lot, and we were the only people in the parking lot besides these two shoppers. This car hit these two people! And knocked 'em down and their packages went flying! There was this whole scene of these people getting hit by this car in this parking lot.
Everybody turned out to be okay, but the car was smoking. The doors were locked and we couldn't get it opened. This whole emergency took place. Everybody went to the hospital and everybody was okay, thank God.
But a few weeks later, I was sitting under my grape arbor just sitting there kinda looking at the sky, thinking and stuff. And this whole story started coming to me called The Amazing After-Life of Zimmerman Fees. I started thinking, "I don't want to write a book! I mean, if you write a book, first you gotta write it, and then you gotta go find a publisher…The last thing in the world that I need is to start something else that I have to go do!"

Chris: I know the feeling.

KR: I was just like, "Go to somebody else! I'm not gonna do it!" But it just kept haunting me. So finally I got up from the arbor and I went to my computer, and I started writing. The main character Zimmerman Fees gets hit in the Target parking lot and killed in the second paragraph of the book.
I thought, "Great! How am I gonna write a book when the main character just got killed in the parking lot!" So I just kept going with it.
It's real "stream-of-consciousness."

What happens is he goes off into his after-life; It becomes this whole metaphysical thing. And then on the 7th page it turned into a cookbook all of a sudden! I was like, "Okay, we're just going with it! Fine! Now it's a cookbook! Whatever you say!"

It was like it had a life of its own, so I just kept writing. I'd just sit down and write and let it go where ever it wanted to go.
It's just a complete stream-of-consciousness mess!

But it all kinda brought itself together and everything, and in the end it all makes sense on some level. It's just the same way that I wrote Small Town Girl. I just started and couldn't stop myself.

-end of interview-

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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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