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
"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
"The Legendary Stardust Cowboy"
Via telephone: Stardust Cowboy at home in San Jose, CA
I was at Joe
Ely's house giving them a signed copy of my book, when Joe took a phone call. After wandering
around the yard for awhile talking, Joe came in and handed me
the phone. "The Legendary Stardust Cowboy wants to talk
with you." This was exciting news for me, who writes of
Lubbock musicians; The Legendary Stardust Cowboy may be Lubbock's
most remarkable and puzzling musical genius. As he told me, the
music of the Legendary Stardust Cowboy is "middle-of-the-galaxy,
not middle-of-the- road." Anyone who has heard or seen the
Lege perform knows this is true.
Lubbock native Norman Odam left his hometown for Fort Worth
to start his incredible recording career. A then unknown radio
deejay named T. Bone Burnett, also only 20 years old at
the time, discovered "The Lege" and made his first
recording of his signature song "Paralyzed." Less than
a week later, the Stardust Cowboy signed with Mercury Records.
Soon he made his legendary nationally televised appearances on
the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and Rowan & Martin's
Laugh-In. The cacophonic, almost incomprehensible song "Paralyzed"
made the Billboard Top 100 briefly in 1969, an odd year for music
anyway. Odam felt that any true self-respecting cowboy in the
later 20th Century would not resemble the smooth stars of country
music but would rather be riding the new frontier of 4th dimensional
psychedelia, which is what one experiences when hearing "Paralyzed."
After we spoke on the phone at Ely's home and made an appointment
to do the interview below, Joe talked to me about his old buddy
from Montery High School days. Joe said, "He's just a genius
when it comes to time, almost like an idiot-savant, like Dustin
Hoffman's character in 'Rainman.' I can remind him of a particular
incident, for instance, that occurred when he was playing in
front of the Hi-d-Ho in Lubbock years ago, and he'll remember
the day of the week, date, month and year. He's been calling
me a lot lately, and I started counting and keeping time; I figured
out he calls me every twelve days and stays on the phone for
exactly twenty-two minutes." This was going to be an interesting
and unusual interview for me, no doubt.
The Lege had asked me to call him "at precisely 4:00pm,
pacific daylight time" at his home in Silicon Valley. I
made sure the phone was ringing at exactly that time.
Chris: I've read your 1969 autobiography on your website and enjoyed
the letter posted there from the mission control engineers at
LSDC: They used my song "Paralyzed" to wake
up the space station astronauts but their supervisors told them
not to play it anymore. I guess the astronauts got paralyzed
after awhile. Another song of mine they'd wake the astronaut's
to is "Who's Knockin on My Door?" They'd drink root
beer from coffee cups, just like I'm singing about in that song,
those NASA officials. Back in August, USA Today printed an article
about the different songwriters that had songs played over the
years to wake up the astronauts and mine wasn't on there. They
didn't include the space station astronauts. I told my bass player
that I was going to write them a letter and make them re-write
the article to include my song. They didn't re-write the article
Chris: We'll get the record straight here. I read in
your biography that you grew up on Flint Avenue in Lubbock. That
was my neighborhood when I lived in Lubbock.
LSDC: My sister and I were both born in Lubbock at
the old Methodist Hospital on Broadway and Avenue L, where Dunlap's
Department store was later. My mother and I both worked at Dunlap's,
after I got out of high school. We both worked there at the same
time; she was a sales clerk and I was a janitor. So it took 19
years for me to go full circle, from being born there, to working
in that building later. That's a full circle.
I read in the paper a few years ago that Furr's Supermarket went
bankrupt. That was a long-time institution in Lubbock. I remember
in the early sixties when the Furr Food Store opened out near
34th & Slide, they had the Light Crust Doughboys entertaining
at the grand opening. I went down there and got to see them in
person, stood right in front and watched the show. I also enjoyed
shopping at the Furr's in Caprock Center. Those Furr Family Super
Centers were so big, when you went to the produce department
to get a box of strawberry's, when you got to the checkout counter,
they were already out of season. You needed roller skates or
a skateboard to shop at those stores. Furr's was way ahead of
its time, because here came Wal-Mart super-center stores.
I went to Monterey High School and almost got kicked out of school
for bringing my guitar up there and entertaining. One time after
school some guys wanted to hear me sing, so I stood on the tallest
seat in the boy's bathroom as a stage. I was singing and yelling
for some guys there in the bathroom and a teacher heard me as
he was walking by, and he grabbed me and said, "Let's go
see the principal." So we went to go see Floyd Honey, who
was the principal there. I told him what I was up to. But he
said, "If you ever bring your guitar to school one more
time, et cetera, et cetera, you will be expelled for the rest
of the semester." I got taken to the principal's office
and had my guitar taken away from me numbers of times.
Joe Ely used to watch me out there on the steps of the auditorium
at Monterey High School before school started. I would hip-hop
around there; I was known as the Hip-Hop Cowboy in those days.
People would through dirt clods, money, and sweet-tarts at my
guitar trying to get them to go into the hole of my guitar. Once
in a while, one of 'em would hit a guitar string and it would
I'd bring my guitar up there at Christmas time and hold an annual
Christmas fest, singing Christmas songs. Well, I would get caught
by a teacher who would take me and my guitar down to the principal's
office again. That happened numbers of times. I said, "I
saw other kids bringing their guitars to school on a regular
basis, and they never got their guitars taken away or called
down to the principal's office."
Chris: And you were just singing Christmas songs?
LSDC: Instead of singing something like "Frosty
the Snowman," I would sing something like "Frosty Happy
Chris: So you were jazzing the songs up?
LSDC: Yeah, we were all having a great time with our
annual Christmas music festival down there before school started.
So between that and square dancing, I had a great time.
Chris: Tell me about the square dancing.
LSDC: That was in P.E. That was the only chance in
high school that I had a woman available to hold and squeeze
and twirl her around and 'round. Physical education was required
the first two years of high school and the third year was optional.
Well, I took it the third year so I could get a chance to square
dance with the gals. Me and another guy got into a fight over
one gal there one time when we were square dancing, so the teacher
sent us to the principal's office. We didn't go the principal's
office; we just went elsewhere. We just waited around for the
next class to start. Yep, we had a lot of fun back then, back
I would write letters to all the girls; I'd get their addresses
from the school roster phone book. Guys would threaten me, to
stomp my guts out if I didn't leave their girlfriends alone.
I wasn't trying to cause anybody any harm or anything like that.
Chris: What were you trying to do?
LSDC: I was trying to get a date with them. It didn't
work out because they'd show my letters to their boyfriends and
their boyfriends would follow me different places around town
and threaten to stomp my guts in if I ever did it again. They'd
say, "You lay off of my girlfriend."
Chris: So you didn't date much in high school?
LSDC: No, I didn't. I didn't date at all in high school.
I was the most popular student there, but I couldn't get a date
to save my life. If somebody put a gun to my head, cocked the
hammer, and threatened to blow my head off if I didn't get a
date, I couldn't have done it.
Chris: When you were singing your songs at school,
did you ever have any ladies like you then?
LSDC: Oh, yeah! They liked that. I was good for a few
laughs but that's it. I wasn't good enough for a date. To this
very day, I'm still not married.
Chris: Have you ever had a date?
LSDC: I haven't had a date since November 1988, just
a few months before I moved from Las Vegas to here. And I had
to pay for that one, from a dating service. That was in Las Vegas,
and that didn't pan out either. I think I only got one date.
We went out maybe two or three times. I had to call it quits.
I couldn't stand her accent; she was from West Michigan. That
accent just drove me up the wall. Everything was perfect about
her but her accent. I just had to cut her off. Good Night! I
couldn't take it. I'd rather hear a dog bark, rather hear a hound
dog howl at the moon than to hear somebody with a Michigan accent.
Chris: Speaking of the moon, David Bowie released
on his album "Heathen" the song "I think I'll
Take a Trip on a Gemini Ship." Did you write that song?
LSDC: Yes, he released that in summer of 2002 on Columbia.
You've heard of T. Bone Burnett from Fort Worth? We're
the same age, as a matter of fact. He was my first ever music
producer. He never played drums until he played drums on my song
"Who's Knocking at My Door?" On the Mercury version
of "Gemini Spaceship," he played the vibraphones, the
organ, and some other instruments. That part was dubbed in about
a week later. One day in T. Bone Burnett's recording studio,
I recorded 52 songs, just playing the dobro and singing 52 of
my songs on a big reel of tape. That was in the Fall of '68.
Now, Johnny Cash recorded 50 songs in one day, just about three
years ago, after his wife June passed away. But I still got him
beat by two tunes, so that makes me the Two-Tune Kid.
I met Johnny Cash, back in Lubbock. Did Joe Ely tell you that
story? I've got hundreds of stories like that; it could fill
a two volume book. Joe Ely is always trying to get me to write
my autobiography but it's hard for me to sit down and write a
book like that. It would be easier for me to write fiction. I'm
good at fiction; I can just sit down and write, write, write
from my imagination. But when you're writing a biography about
someone, you've got to get all the facts and figures straight
and in chronological order. That's more difficult for me to do
than sit down and write straight fiction.
There was a radio station in Lubbock called KSEL. I talked with
a lady there in October of 1984; Bill McAlester, who was the
mayor of Lubbock, owned the station but sold it and they destroyed
all the old recordings. They had the first ever recording of
"Paralyzed" on reel-to-reel tape. I played the kazoo,
harmonica, guitar and rub-board. I tried to get Mr. Corbin, one
of the founders of KLLL, to play tapes of my music on his station
like they did Buddy Holly to get him started. Well, they listened
to it but said it didn't fit the format. Guess what? After my
records started coming out on Mercury, they started playing my
records. I heard the Corbin's sold KLLL. Do they still play country
music on that station?
Chris: It is still the major country station in Lubbock.
LSDC: They use to broadcast out of the Great Plains
Life Building, the big fifteen story building downtown that got
twisted by the tornado. The tornado couldn't tear
it down but the steel structure was twisted around so that the
elevator only went up to the 8th floor.
It took me about four hours to write the song "Paralyzed."
I couldn't find a song that suited my style enough to record
for the KSEL radio talent contest. They were going to give away
a thousand dollar savings bond to the winner. So I sat down and
wrote "Paralyzed." They started playing it on the radio
stations, and I heard the switchboard started lighting up like
a Christmas tree. Everybody at Monterey was talking about it.
There were request for it for years and years. I knew I had a
hit record on my hands. Unfortunately, I was mishandled. T. Bone
Burnett's engineer told me that if I had been managed correctly
from the start, they could have sold two million copies easily.
I had a deal with Mercury Records, that once I sold a hundred
thousand records, I could be on the Tonight Show, and I was.
They pressed a hundred thousand copies to begin with; those things
have been circulating around the world for years, for decades.
People have come across them in The Hague, Holland. People find
it in record bins in drug stores and record stores all over the
country. They might listen to it and keep it for a few years
and they sell it for money. A hundred thousand of those things,
man. The first two thousand were printed on my record label Psycho-Suave
records. Back in the '80s I met a record collector who showed
me a book where it was listed and they wanted about two hundred
dollars a piece for them back then.
The song "Paralyzed" has been released to the public
on eleven different record labels around the world. I call that
the Record of the Twentieth Century. You've heard of the Shot
Heard 'Round the World that started the American Revolution?
"Paralyzed" was the record heard 'round the world.
You either love it or you hate it, when you first hear it; there's
Chris: I saw you perform at the Continental Club here
in Austin about four years ago, and I loved it.
I was totally enthralled.
LSDC: Is that the first time you had seen one of my
Chris: It was.
LSDC: You should have introduced yourself after the
show. That show was put on the "Lubbock Lights" DVD.
Chris: Yes, and I am so grateful. It looks fantastic
there on that DVD.
LSDC: That was my backup band. My guitarist is from
Omaha, Jay Rosen; my drummer Joey Myers is from Coeur d'Alene,
Idaho; and the bass player is from Detroit. He was one of the
original members of a band called the Dead Kennedys, Klaus Fluoride.
That's his stage name. They were founded in 1970, long before
he met me. He goes on the road still, with the Dead Kennedys,
every month or two to different parts around the world for months
at a time. They don't have the original singer; he's one of the
only original members left in the band. Then he comes back here
and backs me up in the studio for records and for live shows.
He lives in Albany, California, in the North Bay area.
Chris: Do you do any regular gigs around the Bay area?
LSDC: We did one last Saturday night in Oakland at
a place called the Stork Club. Out front they have a picture
of Stork in boots and spurs and the sign says "Best Country
Music in Town." But they have mostly punk rock bands there
and alternative music.
Chris: So you fit in there?
LSDC: Yep. Boy, in the year 2002, I got all kinds of
publicity with David Bowie recording my song. He recorded one
song called "Cactus" by the Pixies and sang that a
lot on TV that year, too. I found out that any time he sung somebody
else's song on network TV, Sony paid the songwriter five hundred
dollars. David Bowie recorded one of Neil Young's songs on the
same album "Heathen."
Columbia spent a whole lot of money promoting that. That summer,
David Bowie came out here to Mountain View at the amphitheater,
and I got a chance to meet him and had my picture taken with
My latest album is called "Tokyo." It came out about
a year later. Look up Cracked Piston Recordings dot com, and
you'll see it advertised. They're also selling coffee mugs, lunch
pails, aprons, just about everything with my name on it.
Sarah Ferguson found me by reading a book called "Songs
in the Key of Z" and she got in touch with me through Cracked
Piston recordings dot com, and she sent me an autographed picture
and an autographed copy of her latest book that she had written.
She's a photographer like me; we're both into photography. So
I got this letter in the mail from New York City on May 21st,
2003. It says:
"The Duchess of York's office in New York City"
misspelled my name; they put Ordam and they should have put ODAM,
and then my pseudo-name after that. And the letterhead has a
big crown on it, so its official. I hope she's there when I go
back to New York City to perform, so I'll get a chance to see
her and have my picture taken with her. It says:
May 21st, 2003: Dear Mr. Odam, I am writing to you on behalf
of the Duchess of York, who is a huge fan of your work. She recently
purchased 'Songs in the Key of Z' and loves your 'Live in Chicago'
" which came out in July of 1999, and was in John
Cusack's movie "Hi Fidelity."
"She is absolutely fascinated by 'Paralyzed' and would like
to know if there is any Legendary Stardust Cowboy memorabilia
which you can send to her. She also wanted to ask a favor, if
she could receive an autographed photo for a very close friend
of hers, who is also a huge fan. You can autograph a photo to
" Wouldn't that be great if it was Rupert Murdoch?
I don't know if it's him or not. He's an Aussie, isn't he? "That
would be wonderful and we would be forever in your debt. Thank
you so much for your time and I hope to hear from you soon. Please
feel free to contact me at area code (212) 419-7493 or at our
office in New York. Best wishes, Jenean Chapman, Assistant to
the Duchess of York."
I put that away and didn't think that much about it. "The
Duchess of York;" that didn't ring a bell to me at all,
when I read that down at the post office. So I called up Mike
Destiny, he's the owner of Cracked Piston Recordings dot com,
and read the letter to him. He said, "That's Sarah Ferguson,
the lady that advertises on the Weight Watchers commercials on
TV, the one that's red-headed and about fifty years old, got
two teenaged daughters and one is a fashion model." So about
a couple of years later, I was watching her on a TV program,
I think it was Regis Philben; she said she was moving that year
from England to New York City because she spends so much time
in the United States and this America is where her work is. At
that time, she said she was looking for a husband. Regis asked
her, "What kind of ingredients are you looking for in a
husband?" The only thing she said was that he's got to have
a great sense of humor.
You didn't know all that did you? That's why you called me today,
to find all this out. I've just got reams and reams of stories.
Like this one gal was chasing me across a parking lot in Lubbock,
and she took my guitar from me. I was able to get my guitar back
from her, but about the time I grabbed my guitar I slid on the
gravel and busted the thing. All kinds of wild stuff like that.
The police used to chase me off all different properties in Lubbock,
all hours of the night. When I'd have a huge gathering, they'd
take down my name and address but I never went to jail when I
was in Lubbock. I had to leave and go to Fort Worth, to spend
some time in jail there. I didn't have the money to pay the ticket
for driving backwards down a one way street. I didn't know Fort
Worth because I had just been there a couple of days. I told
the cop I had just got there from Lubbock and was trying to learn
the streets. He said, "That's no excuse. You get ticket
now, Kemo Sabe." So that's what happened there. I've got
all kinds of exciting stories to tell. You got any questions?
Chris: I've read somewhere that you've written more
songs about space than anybody. Why is that? What is your fascination
with outer space?
LSDC: I'm a big supporter of the space program, through
my tax dollars. Every time I do my taxes, I send a letter off
to the IRS saying: "Please make sure this money goes directly
Chris: Do you want to go up into space?
LSDC: Yes, I do. I want to be on the first trip to
Mars. And I don't care about ever coming back.
Chris: So you'd like to settle Mars, like a cowboy
on a new frontier?
LSDC: Yeah, I want to settle the first ranch on Mars,
and design a space suit for horses. Have you heard my song "Rocket
to Stardom"? It's on the album of the same name. Joe Ely
probably has a copy of that. He's got one of just about everything
of mine. He's got "Paralyzed" on the Psycho-Suave label.
Oh, something else, my video man down in Hollywood found on the
Internet that a huge fan of mine invented a new flower, crossbred
a new flower, a named it after me: The Legendary Stardust Cowboy
All kinds of wild stuff has happened to me. Something else that
my drummer came across
He goes on E-Bay nearly every day,
starting about four years ago. He said to me, "Did you know
there is a Legendary Stardust Cowboy site on E-Bay, where people
are selling your songs, T-shirts, photos of you?" I said,
no I didn't know that. I was over at his house a number of times,
and he's showed me. Nearly every day of the year, there is somebody
trying to sell some Legendary Stardust Cowboy memorabilia. I
never dreamed anything like this would ever happen, back in the
'60s. I heard that somebody downloaded my "Tokyo" CD
on their I-Pod and they're listening to it as they go about their
Chris: I've heard that even when you were a little
boy, you knew you were going to be famous when you grew up.
LSDC: But I had no idea what the details would be;
I couldn't see into the future like Gene Roddenberry. I was just
a regular entertainer, like Johnny Cash; I put out records and
do live shows, and that's it. Now, there's a producer in Austin
named Jim Dunn. He and his partner used to manage recording artists
a long time ago. He's written a script about my life story. He's
been trying to get the money to make that movie. You know, he'd
have different people play me at different stages in my life
and I'd come in at the end of the movie. It could show in theaters
My man in Hollywood, Tony Phillputt who is making a film about
my life called "Cotton-Pickin' Smash," has been talking
with David Bowies' people in New York, and it looks like I'm
going to be playing
at a music festival in New York with David Bowie next spring.
Now, we won't be on the stage at the same time. There will be
other acts there as well, over a week's a time, like Pappalooza,
or something like that. And then there is a possibility of me
being on a network TV show, like Conan O'Brien, to help them
advertise the festival. My name has been mentioned with David
Bowie for some time; do you know the Ziggy Stardust connection?
Its been documented in several books how David Bowie came up
with Ziggy Stardust; the name "Ziggy" came from his
friend and fellow songwriter Iggy Pop and "Stardust"
from my character who he saw on a Laugh-In episode that was shown
on the BBC in January of '69. I was a big influence in David
Bowie's life. When he signed with Mercury Records, a friend of
mine there at Mercury gave him some of my singles. Bowie just
flipped out and said, "This guy is a genius." And he's
been flipping out over my stuff ever since. His persona Ziggy
Stardust was a big part of his career over thirty years, you
know? He made a lot of money off that, and I didn't make a thing,
I've been in Rolling Stone magazine one time and one time only,
in August of '79. There was a guy named Charlie Young, I think,
who listed his ten top favorite recordings of all times, and
"Paralyzed" was number one. His second song was by
the Sex Pistols. He compared my singing voice with Sid Vicious.
I don't know why; I don't even think we sound alike.
I'm also an actor. I've done commercials and movies. I did some
commercials with Andre Agassi, in San
Francisco a couple of years back. He was playing tennis with
another tennis player, and I was in the audience as an extra
with a bunch of others. I took his photograph.
Chris: I saw somewhere you said, "God is my partner
and he is on my side." What does that mean?
LSDC: Just that He's been guiding me all the way through
Legendary Stardust Cowboy performs
at High Line Music Festival NYC- May
The Lege' called recently to
let us know he just returned from a brief tour, culminating with
his performance at David Bowie's High
Line Music Festival in New York City.
you like the interviews you have been reading on virtualubbock.com?
author Christopher Oglesby
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