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."
In October 2006, Joe
Ely's publicist hired me to write a bio-piece on Joe, to
be used for media promotions for his spring 2007 tour with
Lyle Lovett, Guy Clark, & John Hiatt; his upcoming new
album "Happy Songs from Rattlesnake Gulch";
and his book "Bonfire of Roadmaps," soon-to-be-published
by the University of Texas Press.
By Christopher Oglesby
Joe Ely awakes from a dream of riding the Pecos with Lilly Langtry on a dirt-bike Harley with dual rifle scabbards and gunning down Judge Roy Bean. As he focuses his waking senses, Ely once again is surrounded by the womb-like motions and sounds of a moving rented tour bus; or is it a jet plane, or the backseat of a taxi, or a freight boxcar? The place is always different but the motion is familiar to Joe Ely, always about to be born into a new adventure.
Ely shares kaleidoscopic recollections of his adventures on the road in the songs from his new album "Happy Songs from Rattlesnake Gulch" and the stories published by University of Texas Press in Ely's new book "Bonfire of Roadmaps," a collection of Ely's road journals and sketches. And like the sure return of a comet, Joe Ely hits the road this spring with fellow travelers Lyle Lovett, Guy Clark, and John Hiatt.
Assume it was inevitable that Joe Ely would live his life in constant motion, getting lost and rediscovering himself on the world's highways, roads, and dusty paths. His forefathers were railroad men, teamsters, and migrants. Joe Ely was born in Amarillo, Texas, 1947, in his father's home, where the Rock Island Line literally ran right through his backyard, with Route 66 spanning the continent just a stone's throw out his front door.
Nothing stays tied down for long in the sweeping winds of the Texas panhandle. Ely's folks eventually wandered down Highway 87 to settle in Lubbock, home of Buddy Holly. As a restless young rock-roller in Lubbock, tired of being hassled for such misdemeanors as associating with hot-rodders and keeping his hair egregiously long for the times, and insatiable for whatever adventure lies out over the High Plains horizon, Ely hit the long road shortly after turning sixteen. Like Huckleberry Finn, or Kerouac's Dean Moriarity, or Ely's spiritual ancestor Woody Guthrie, who came out of the same dustbowl territory, Joe Ely learned that most of what matters in life can best be found on the road.
For more than thirty years, Ely has performed in thousands of cities in scores of countries, has crossed hundreds of borders, frequently with incident and travails beyond his control. Joe Ely has stowed away on freight trains and ferries, hitchhiked with poets, hoboes, outlaws and hard-luck saints, and he has cruised in limos and toured in jet planes with the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, and the Clash. He once was picked up and given a ride by the King of Norway. Joe Ely was also a pioneer of the information superhighways. A whiz with personal computers and graphic art, Joe Ely had a home on the Internet when most folks were still hoping for cable TV.
Due to these intentional ramblings, despite hovering just under the "A-List" radar, Joe Ely may be one of the most recognizable personalities in the world, a one-of-a-kind icon of Texas music cool. When this writer has traveled abroad, I always claim Texas as home. Judging from the response of most Europeans I have encountered, Joe Ely's name is second only to that of J.R. Ewing's as the character most identifiable as Texan. And Joe Ely is flesh and blood.
Impossible to tie down with classifications such a "genre" and "radio format," most folks wouldn't have heard Ely on their local radio station, though his first-edition records sell like gold in music re-sale stores across the globe. However, everyone who has experienced the enthusiastic energy of a Joe Ely live concert, similar to a locomotive blasting full-steam though a West Texas tornado, will never forget.
Joe Ely's amazing recording and touring journey has been filled with paradox. For a man who has spent the lion's share of his life on the highway, sleeping in all manner of inns, tents, under bridges, and naked to the stars above, it may seem ironic that, for more than twenty years, Joe Ely has lived with his wife Sharon in the first and only home Ely has ever owned. But the most lovely paradox about Joe Ely's long-time home on his own "rattle-snake gulch" southwest of Austin is that the house sits quite literally at the end of the road. Directions to Ely's hill country home, described as "Texas primitive," include driving to the dead-end of two state highways, a farm to market road, a gravel lane, and when you literally cannot drive any deeper into the wilderness, you have reached Joe Ely's sanctuary. Back home, Ely has the sacred space to travel the highways in his mind. Always creating and recreating, Joe Ely transforms his journeys into more new records for his fiercely loyal fans, and books to entertain and amaze us all, and drawings, and digital art, and more, more, more.
But sure as the planets move, Ely will be hitting the road again for new destinations and returning to favorite old haunts.
From Joe Ely's book:
Bonfire of Roadmaps
2007 Chris Oglesby
All rights reserved