Fire in the Water, Earth in the Air: Legends
of West Texas Music
"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."
below is the product of one extended "Kerouacian" writing
effort in December of 1997. When I first developed the idea to
explore the phenomena of Lubbock music, art, and creativity,
I sat down at my desk and cranked out what you will read below
in one sitting. I was writing what I had in my heart; And - like
Kerouac - I am loath to go back and try to fix something that
was a product of pure inspiration.
Jesus used to tell them: "No
prophet goes without honor, except in his own country and among
his own kin, and in his own home!"
As a writer, and reader, I have always held the opening sentence
of any work to be of importance as it sets the subliminal tone
and theme for the work. This is true because first impressions
are frequently difficult to overcome. Frequently we humans have
a great deal of difficulty in adjusting our reactions to what
is happening Now rather than based on sensations of prior experience.
Our brain has a built in memory loop, called "reflex,"
to help us deal with the magnitude of information emanating toward
us from the universe, an endless sea of information, at every
moment. This reflex ability, perfected in the animal kingdom,
enables us to react quickly to certain easily identifiable situations.
This is why I am now compelled, at the beginning of a work
on West Texas music, to begin with words that are not my own,
words from the Gospels, and to explain the significance of that
choice. The topic being the amazing legacy of arguably the premiere
musical genius of the electronic recording age of music: Buddy
Holly. The legacy is alive in the west Texas musical offspring
of Buddy Holly. When considering the source of that legacy--being
a West Texan myself and a product of that environment of which
I will now be writing--that verse from The Bible keeps resounding
in my mind:
For Buddy Holly was certainly a prophet of this age which has become so underscored by recorded and broadcasted music. The woof of the Twentieth Century fabric has been laid with the vibrations of recorded music of the Rock-and-Roll age. Our minds, regardless of geography and language, are amok with the sounds of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan (senseless to continue the almost infinite list; reader comprehends the idea); All who attribute their musical careers to the inspiration of Buddy Holly.
When I consider only Buddys voice--his crazy, vibrating, giggling voice--When I hear Buddys voice now on digital compact disk and attempt to listen as I am listening for the first time, like Heraclitus, trying to experience Buddy in the same way the first teenagers of the Fifties--among them the topics of this work, young men named Joe, Jimmie Dale, Butch, Terry--When I hear Buddys voice, I think, "How did Norman Petty, or any presumably sane American, believe that that sound, that absolutely crazy hiccup with no effort to overcome one of the truest regional accents ever captured; How did anyone (Buddy included) believe that sound would become, for lack of a more poetic word, well, "Popular," unprecedentedly, amazingly popular? Or popularitys Twentieth Century American synonym: "commercially successful."
Buddy himself knew his sound would be a success because he
knew--Really knew--the music. And he knew his soul. This is the
substance of a prophet: one who experiences God in creation and
feels Gods voice in the very fibers of his essence to a
point of such intensity that he must share what he feels, sees,
hears with the world. People want to hear what such a person
says because they want to see the truths they feel hidden deep
in their own souls reflected in the world they perceive around
them. Often, the most revered people are people who are being
the truest to their own selves. I contend that one does not become
a prophet by relying on reflex. One becomes a prophet by hearing
the unique messages of his times and expressing them; broadcasting
the ripples into the future. To rely on reflex is to live with
the ghosts of the past and this is not the nature of a prophet.
My topic herein is the Genesis of prophets, people who express truth. Or if the term prophet is too exalted for the powers I will examine [address this question to each individual for personal reaction]. The topic is, at the very least, the genesis of "Genius." Here I examine the question of why so many creative geniuses--And certainly "genius" is an appropriate description of my subjects herein--Why such magnitude of creative genius arises from such an unlikely location as Lubbock, Texas? I am seeking the answer to the question: Why the disproportionate generation of genius artists in such an isolated, xenophobic, conservative, agricultural area such as the South Plains region of West Texas?
For, as the reader will discover, Lubbock, Texas, did not
lose its fertility for the creation of genius when Buddy Holly
hatched from its yolk. A generation of genius, the vanguard of
which--Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Butch Hancock, and Terry
Allen--has emerged from Lubbock to become the major force in
the dissemination of a sound gaining in popularity and what is
known as--not the Lubbock Sound--but The Austin Sound. I will
examine the origins of the creative force behind these artists--Ely,
Gilmore, Hancock, & Allen, among many others--and why the
artists (prophets?) had to go south to Austin, or beyond; down
that road which goes on forever and where the party never ends
(nod to Bro. Robt. E. Keen), to earn an audience and a name for
their sound. Thus my thesis begins seminally, simply:
Therefore, I who feel the opening sentence of any work to
be of utmost importance sublimated my own desire as a writer
to create my own words for opening this account, and I commenced
the work with that quotation from the Gospels:
For we speak of the Austin Sound, not the Lubbock sound.
Lubbock has certainly been guilty, in the past, of not honoring its prophets. That truth is changing, now that a generation has grown since the brief life and sudden death of Buddy Holly. There is, indeed some amount of rising pride in the hearts of West Texans regarding the regions creative fertility and the community has, post-mortem, honored Buddy in many ways. But it is easy to make heroes out of the dead because the dead can be whatever we want them to be; History is alive only in our collective minds and is more easily conformed to our tastes than events of the present which can be shocking and terrifying if viewed from the position of ignorance of what is happening.
I, a child of Lubbock, wish to bring honor to our living geniuses
and recognition to their role in The Austin Sound, ever becoming
a universally pleasing sound.
Omniscience is truly reserved for the mind of God. But I contend
that all truth can be found in the pages of The Bible (though
not to the exclusion of all other works!) simply because that
book encompasses such a vast scope of truths. The pages of the
Bible can support almost any proposition, no matter how dubious
or inspirational. Other commentators have illustrated how the
Bible has been used to justify warfare, slavery, genocide, misogyny
(to the point of witch burning), self-flagellation, and evidence
for cannibalism ("Eat my body? Whats that all about?"
I once heard a young, satirical priest posit).... Need I go on?
In the Twentieth Century, almost nothing The Beatles said to a generation waiting for prophets lies outside the realm of what was said by Jesus himself. No wonder, as John Lennon was harangued for noting, The Beatles were more popular than Jesus at that time: The Beatles were saying the same things people needed to hear, (i.e. All you need is Love) speaking the truth. And The Beatles were on television, right in front of everyones faces. And they were cute and fun and funny. The captains of Jesus' team had gotten ugly and mean at some point in the last two thousand years We all need external assurance that our minds are correct; very few seek to do what they see as outright evil. Indeed, war and misogyny and slavery have all been perpetrated by the most pious of communities. Hitler really believed the Jews to be "evil" and he even found Biblical support for this idea; insane but common behavior for all who rely on reaction and reflex and fear of the unusual and the unknown.
Jesus himself was crucified for blaspheming what the pious
religious leaders of the community perceived to be "The
Truth." The supposed good guys, the Pharisees--who were
the reactionary conservatives of their time--killed the person
we in the west claim brought us our greatest truths, Jesus of
At the recent occasion of the passing of James Stewart, I considered the significance of the movie Its a Wonderful Life; and it occurred to me the message was: "The world that George Bailey lived in--from the confines of small town to the scope of the national mind--was a function of the will of all the minds of his community plus his own intentions." George Bailey lived in a world different from that which existed without him because the world was partly his creation; remove his will as to how the world should be and the product is Pottersville, imperfect and brutal. We truly all create our world together, jointly and severally. We are all different for a reason. "I may not be normal but nobody is," sings Willie Nelson. All our living minds are the individual cells in the brain of God. We, collectively, are the creative force: The mind of a Community. So truth is the perception of that group mind, and that is why that one book, among many, The Bible has been such an enduring force: It can support, give credence and spiritual force to just about any conclusion the group mind may hold.
And with this observation we can begin this search to answer
the question: "Why the disproportionate creative genius
from unlikely Lubbock?" We will examine the mind of the
community and we can begin, in Lubbock, with The Bible.
In beginning this work, one of the first people I contacted
was John Scott, an old acquaintance of mine from Lubbock and
the current operator of a significant legacy of Lubbock, Stubbs
Bar-BQ, a remarkable music venue in downtown Austin. His excitement
was piqued when I described the project to answer this question
that has been posed by many other observers of Texas music before
me: Why such genius from Lubbock?
I recall the summer of 80, the beginning of the Reagan
years, after many of my teenage peers returned from First Baptist
Church Camp. In Lubbock, a land of "Black-and-White,"
the social structure exists for an individual in one of two places:
the churches or the honky-tonk bars. To be a success in Lubbock
means mastering one of these two realms. First Baptist Church
and Broadway Church of Christ are the gathering places for many
of the commercial, social, and political elite. "Networking"
is done at church. Business partners go to church together. And
this church social structure is where the children of those who
are good-looking, successful and materially privileged in Lubbock
But witness the power of group imagination! We have all played
the cloud game: Someone looks up into the clouds and believes
he sees the shape of a rabbit or the faces on Mount Rushmore
or whatever. He indicates to his friend sitting just next to
him: "Look up there! See the rabbit!" The other looks
and after contemplation, in fact, does see the rabbit. Now, the
rabbit is not really up there in the sky. God is not trying to
reveal rabbit-ness in the form of water vapor; But one person
imagined the sight, and projected that image into the others
mind by the power of his suggestion. Both want to see the rabbit,
and so it was there in both of their minds.Group focus: Like
mass visions of the Virgin Mary, like at Fatima. Something happened
there in Portugal at the beginning of this century. Everybody
saw something and decided it was "The Virgin" but the
reports were all versions funneled through this group mind experience.
For the people of Fatima, the only rational explanation to the
bizarre events of that summer before World War I was the appearance
of the Holy Virgin. But no one knows what really happened outside
the mind of the witnesses. Fatima was truly a phenomenon of the
Welcome to the summer of Nineteen-eighty in Lubbock, Texas.
Looks a lot like Arthur Millers Salem in The Crucible,
Being isolated from the rest of the nation by endless miles of empty prairie, many West Texans discovered that if any joy was to be found in life, it was to come from deep inside the individual heart, mind and soul.
Molly Ivins, the outspoken Texas journalist, once addressed the question of why so many musicians hail from Lubbock. She attributed it to all the "they-sayers," as in "They say this, and they say that." Ivins, in her 1987 article titled "Lubbock: Her Teeth Are Stained But Her Heart is Pure", pointed out that in Lubbock there are so many people saying what is right and what is wrong that it is extremely easy for any iconoclast to discover what is "wrong" and perfect it. Perfect it well enough, Ivins added, and Lubbock will honor you on the "West Texas Walk of Fame" featuring a life-size statue of Buddy Holly himself. Tis true: Become a commercial success, like Waylon Jennings, and you will be a prophet honored at home. Behave like Waylon Jennings and avoid material wealth and fame and you will be condemned to fiery pits of hell. In other words (Well, lets be up-front, these are MY words) when Ivins speaks of "they-sayers," she is speaking of that class which still exists, the Pharisees, the self-pious lackeys of The Man. "The Empire never died," to quote novelist Philip K. Dick.
The mother of a good friend from my youth--Ill call
her M.--grew up a few years older than Waylon in Littlefield,
just northwest of Lubbock a few miles. I remember her account
of how, after the death of her father, M. was the eldest sibling
in her home and took on much of the responsibility of helping
her mother raise the younger siblings. M.s younger brother,
who was interested in Rock-and-Roll music, was socializing with
a young Waylon Jennings. (This was before Waylon moved to Lubbock
as a Deejay for KDAV and became a member of Buddy Hollys
band.) My friends mother, M., once told me how she would
never allow Waylon in their home after their daddy died as Waylon
"had already been married and divorced from a girl of terrible
reputation and was nothing but a greaser and a hood."
For every action there is indeed a reaction but, in the realm
of human sociology, Hegel has written, the product of these two
forces creates an entirely new Synthesis. I contend that this
"Black & White" thing mentioned above, this action-reaction,
this dialectic, when left only as the forces of Black and White
in a mindless, un-contemplative, binary, "On-Off",
"Yes-No" system, this system serves only to create
preachers, cops, thugs, and losers. Thats the system Hitler
tried to create. "The Good of the Sterile, Secure Nation
Uber Alles;" this concept of "good" which exists
only in the mind of the insane who cannot even see what is really
good for striking out against all he perceives as different from
himself and therefore evil. But, like the black and white
of the Yin-Yang, blend this conflicting dynamic with the force
of spirit, the Human factor, that force observed as the phenomena
of "Genius", throw the creative-genius-of-life factor
into the function of this dialectic and this is the beginning
of that new synthesis. This is what makes us human; this is the
manifestation of evolution at the human level. "We stand
on the shoulders of giants."
Lubbock is an island in the middle of a prairie so flat that,
as it is said in the common, colorful West Texas exaggeration,
"If you stand on a coffee can, you can see the Rocky Mountains"
(which are over 250 miles away). As a matter of fact, on a clear
night, when atop the tallest building in Lubbock, not 15 stories
high, you can, literally, see the lights of Amarillo, one hundred
and ten miles to the north, over the curve of the earth, literally
beyond the horizon.
The land is devoid of any features for external stimulation
and gives limitless room to the projections of an individual
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. And so Lubbock created Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Butch Hancock, Terry Allen, and Joe Ely. And the never-ending wind blows them down that never-ending road of the Human Spirit.
On one the first days of my quest to write this story of Lubbock
music, I spoke with Jesse "Guitar" Taylor," the
Gangster of Love," Joe Elys frequent guitar player
and the first white man to ever play at the original Stubbs
Bar BQ in East Lubbock. I told him about being young and going
with my dad to Stubbs on East Broadway. My dad was
the basketball recruiter at Texas Tech during the late Sixties
and Seventies and brought the first Negro collegiate basketball
players to Lubbock in 69. In addition, Dad also has been
cited in books on the subject of barbecue as one of the foremost
authorities on back road barbecue joints. So my dad had no fear
of venturing to "the East Side" (which means the "Black
side" of town in Lubbock) in search of the best barbecue
in West Texas.
I began with a quote from nearly two millennia ago and from across two continents. Ill conclude the introduction to this book on the phenomena of Lubbock's font of creativity with words from a song by Hank Williams, Jr., the son of another prophet unhonored at home, a quote closer in time and proximity to the subject at hand, West Texas-Style music. Bocephus says in the song If You Want to Get to Heaven:
Anyone who has seen a performance by Joe Ely, the Lord of the Highway, has lived that sentiment.
or Return to Stories
2007 Chris Oglesby
All rights reserved