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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

The Greatest Singer I Ever Heard
by Tommy X Hancock

I first heard her soon after the very first television programming began in Lubbock, Texas. A furniture company sponsored a western swing band headed by Jack Huddle which regularly featured this unique talented young lady vocalist. At the time I didn’t think much about it except to remember her amazing talent and beauty. Not being much of a TV fan I didn’t see the program often and only accidentally saw the singer live on the parking lot at the TV station. It was striking how attractive she was in living color.

Still she wasn’t in my consciousness much until later when my own lady singer, Betty Olive, quit our band and moved to California with Willie Pickett our piano man. In those days, a big dance band was much classier with a female singer so our co-manager Jay Bee Westbrook suggested we get the TV singer, whose show had by then gone defunct. Also, she had considerable public recognition on the South Plains of West Texas having had also frequently appeared with other outstanding music groups, notably Pop Echols and The Mayfield Brothers--the eternal best in their respective fields of gospel and bluegrass music.

At our first interview we were impressed with the lady by her professionalism. (She referred to the action as work whereas we thought of it as play.) Her mother Punkin’ Condray would need to travel with us due to her being underage. That too proved to be an asset as Punk was also a great singer and a charming person.

The band at that time was known as the Roadside Playboys, partly because we often played by the side of the road. Our modus operandus was to book a dance job in say, Amarillo, on Saturday night and have an advance crew sell adds to businesses around the town square to sponsor and hour of entertainment at a couple of smaller towns such as Hale Center, Abernathy, Plainview, Tulia en route. Three shows a day naturally led to a considerable amount of boozing for which that band retained a considerable reputation which wasn’t necessarily negation at the time. (In the music world of West Texas, it was common knowledge that if you wanted to drink and play music, the Roadside Playboys might hire you. We consequently got some good players from the Hoyle Nix band where drinking was strictly prohibited.)

Anyway, we dressed good and looked good and handled the booze reasonably well and so were the best money making fun band around for quite some time. The musicianship was always excellent with the likes of Bob Stufflebeme, Billy Manley, Curly Lawler, Homer Logan, and Buddy Wilson on the stage. With players like that we played an incredible spectrum of dance music. Regardless of style, if people wanted to dance to something, we’d play it or learn it. Big brass pop bands, all phases of country and western, Cajun, and Spanish language, blues overlaid with plenty of spunk, energy and boogie woogie.

To this end the greatest singer could do it all. From Ella Fitsgerald to Kitty Wells, she always had it all--the feel, the beat, the soul. With her, we were the best unknown band in the game. When I refer to the best, the greatest, and so forth it is by my own standards, of course. My opinion. I base it mainly on versatility but also, for a singer, on voice quality, timing, taste, pitch, and soul. Not to mention appearance, grace, personality and charm.

She stayed in the band longer that I did. She’s still at it sixty years later.

The Greatest Singer I have ever heard is my wife Charlene Condray Hancock.

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