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."
Tom X is known by many names:
Godfather of the Lubbock Mafia, Patriarch of The Supernatural
Family Band, and Lubbock' Original Hippie. Hancock was the owner
of Lubbock's legendary Cotton Club, and Lubbock's top dance-band
leader for decades. Former Crickets member Sonny Curtis has cited
Tommy Hancock, as "a strong influence on Buddy (Holly) and
Chris: Tommy, you were saying that youre more interested in Mysticism than religion. Lets just start there.
Tom X: To me Mysticism is so interesting. Everything else is just kinda peanuts compared to it. Its so incredible; That whole idea that "theres something other than the obvious."
Chris: Is that how you would define "mysticism?" When you say you're "more interested in mysticicsm..."?
Tom X: "Mysticism" as I use the word is "trying to understand the mysteries of the life, the biggest mysteries of all."
And born and raised in Lubbock, I never once suspicioned that anything interesting was goin on. [Chuckles.] Until I took LSD.
Chris: That was the most interesting thing to happen to you in Lubbock? [Laughs]
Tom X: Well, it was the turning point. LSD showed me that there was something wonderful happening all the time, that I hadnt been conscious of before; And right in that point of my life I started trying to decide, "Im gonna find out what it is; What is this thing called Love?" [Laughs] Thats been 32 years ago, I guess.
Chris: Well, how did that happen? You were in Lubbock when this happened?
Tom X: Me and my family were living a pretty straight life out in West Lubbock. I was in law school, goin on to become "rich and powerful." I was sittin' watching PBS and they had a guy this guy layin on a table in a hospital room - some kinda laboratory - just laughin his ass off. And these doctors standing around with serious faces looking at him. They explained that this LSD drug makes you act like you're crazy. This guy is layin there laughing because these guys are all standing around looking at him. Its so crazy I mean: the situation.
I thought, "Man, anything that makes it funny to be around
a bunch of doctors, I need to try that out." So me and a
friend of mine went out to San Francisco and took some acid to
see what was goin on out there.
But at that time I was just joggin along trying to beat boredom; And studying mysticism damn sure stops the boredom.
Chris: Were you a working musician before you went into law school?
Tom X: Oh, yea. I had been playing professionally since I was 18 years old. I was about 40 when I went into law school. I had been around Lubbock playing for over 20 years then. I was The party band in West Texas for a long time.
Chris: And your wife Charlene? Was she in the band? Did I read that thats how you met? Shes a singer
Tom X: Well, Charleness quite a bit younger than I am. She came into the band about 1968. But she was already well known at the time. She was on a regular weekly TV show. Thats how I knew about her. When my girl singer rang off with the piano player to California, I went to hire another singer, and Charlene was the only one I knew.
Chris: Is she from the Lubbock area, too?
Tom X: Yea. She was from Morton.
So I had read some "holy person" that said, "LSD wont get you into heaven; Thats not the path. But that it will show you that heaven is there." And that proved to be correct for me. I could see that there was something that I wanted to get into there.
Chris: Im real interested in the fact that there are so many people that have been connected with Lubbock music that ended up following the person who Ive seen described at one time as "the Fourteen Year Old Perfect Master of Self." And I dont know a whole lot about that. But I understand that a lot of people came together around then.
Tom X: I'll give you a brief summary of it. It started out of a group called "The Word" - because we talked all the time. A bunch of guys would get together and talk
Chris: In Lubbock?
Tom X: Yea. Just a bunch of guys; Just friends, talking
This was about the time everybody took LSD.
There was all kinds of searching for Truth.
I was raised up around that "Christian" environment. So I knew enough about it to know that it wasnt my cup of tea. Although, after I took the LSD, I did go check out several churches
My method for searching for Truth is; I say, "Brother,
put your trip on me."
So this circle of friends We had what we called The Lambs Club. Wed eat at a different Mexican food place every week, and wed get in there and make fun of The Lions Club by doing the old "Lambs Club Roar" Wed all go "Baaaaah!" And we had a lot of fun kicking around what we had learned that week in this search for the Truth.
Finally, it boiled down to the fact that you cant find it in books, and you cant actively talk about it either; The best way to do it is Silence. So that was kind of the end of The Word. [Laughs.] We broke up after that point.
Chris: Was it mostly musician-type people around Lubbock? Who was this group?
Tom X: The music part may have been a coincidence. At that time, I was kind of the focus of the music scene cause I had an ongoing dance band, and these guys would come out and sit-in with me. Wed play acoustic music around somebodys house. That was the origin of the band The Flatlanders that produced Butch, and Joe, and Jimmie and launched their careers. So
Chris: Were they all members of The Word?
Tom X: Yea. Butch and Joe and Jimmie and then a lot of our friends; Jesse Taylor and Richard Bowden and Ponty Bone. We had this music group. We played coustic music around at the Unitarian Church and various other places. That was called The Supernatural Playboys. Tony Pearson had the first health food store in Lubbock. It was called The Supernatural Market; So we were The Supernatural Playboys. Wed sit around the depot stove and play music at that store and act like it was a hunnerd years ago.
But we had a lot of fun playin acoustic music. And making The Flatlanders album was a lot of fun but it wasnt I mean, it was way too "far out" for any kind of commercial venture.
After we had done all the looking for God that we could, and it all boiled down to "The Silence," we realized that we had to experience things as a direct experience. Thats when I and others started goin and asking different types of gurus and people to put the trip on us; gonna try something else; see if anything works. So I was essentially doin that.
Me and my family had moved to northern New Mexico out in an
isolated canyon. And essentially, wed follow anybody that
was supposed to be an enlightened person or know anything - even
just common friends that wed run into.
So Jimmie Gilmore and I had read somewhere that Jeane Dixon had said that, "The Savior is back on Earth," and that he was in India and would be in the United States soon. And Guru Maharaj Ji fulfilled that prophecy. He seemed like one to go check out. So we started to go checking him out, me and Jimmie Gilmore. Jimmie had the experience first and let me know that it was a good one. So I took my family and we experienced it, and it proved to be the correct thing for us.
The words of Jesus that guided me that far. Jesus, in his
red-letter edition, said, "The Kingdom of Heaven is within."
But when Id go within, all Id see was blackness and
hear my mind rattlin nonsense. And so the thing that sold
me on Guru Marahaj Ji is he showed me the heaven within.
Chris: That mysticism seems to have really affected that whole musical community. Theres a lot of spirituality in a lot of those people, nearly everybody whos coming from Lubbock...one way or another. Terry Allen is talking about God or Jesus half the time. Jimmie Gilmores pointing towards something out there. Butch is always talking about something that cant be described.
There's a lot of searching people from Lubbock. Theres a lot of cause to search when youre out there, I guess.
Tom X: I think thats part of the phenomenon of
Lubbock, is theres a lot of wonderful people in West Texas
but thats damn near all there is out there as far as any
kind of stimulating atmosphere to be around.
Chris: Yea. Its all human creation out there. I think thats why it gets kinda crazy sometimes. [Laughs]. Its not always stable.
Do you wanta give me any sort of oral history of The Cotton Club, of the way that it got started or anything interesting you might like to share with posterity? You were telling me a minute ago: It originally was in a different location and it had been owned by someone else. You were the "house band" there, right?
Tom X: I owned The Cotton Club for a long time. But I never did operate it. My parents operated it. I finally sold it to Joe Ely.
The original Cotton Club was owned by Ralph Lloyd. It was on 50th in old army quonset hut, a gigantic one. It seated sixteen hundred people. My band The Roadside Playboys were the regular band there. We played a lot of the Country hits. We were somewhere between Hank Williams and Bob Wills, if we had to be pegged in that way. But we played a tremendous variety of music. Ive always done that. Ive always played a wide variety of music; I liked some things from everywhere, so thats what I played.
The orginal burned. The Cotton Club that was further out - the one you probably knew - probably seated more like a thousand people. They were both big.
You get that many young cowboys drunk in a place together, and you're gonna have some trouble. So fightin was an ordinary, common thing there. And nobody knew how to stop that, how to keep it from happening. Or even if they knew how, they couldnt instigate it.
[Note: Tommy had mentioned to me earlier that he felt the nightly fighting was the real "dark-side" of the club. The fighting was perennial and just couldnt be stopped. For a peace-lover like Tommy, this was hard to bear. Chris]
The Cotton Club had all the great name bands because it was the only club big enough to really make any money for a band between Dallas and L.A. So all the big-name-bands wanted to play there, cause theyd be headed from Dallas to L.A. and back and needed a job in there. Elvis played there three times; And Little Richard. And back before that - in the Big Band days - all the hit bands would play out there. And they had Black bands and Mexican bands
But Johnny Hughes knows more about The Cotton Club than I do. I was playin a lot of other places as well, so I missed a lot of stuff. Johnny was there for most of that stuff.
Chris: So you ended up selling it to Joe Ely later on?
Tom X: He and Stubb were partners there. They went broke, and I had to take it back over.
Chris: Tell me about your music. You have a unique style of music. You said you like a little bit of everything. On the recordings you have out now, theres a lot of people playin on them; big "family style" band. How would you describe your show...your style whenever you were playing?
Tom X: To a dance musician - which is what I am; Im a band leader - somebody dancing is the equivalent of applause to a concert musician. So I try to make people dance. I play anything I feel I can get em to dance to. And other songs that werent particularly dance songs, I try to adapt em to make people dance to em.
Dance music, being my career, was a good way for a beginner to get into music because you didnt have to be so good. If people could dance to it, the listening quality didnt have to be all that good. So its an ideal place for a beginner to get in.
I was 18 when I got out of the Army. I almost immediately
got a job playing the dawg-house bass with a band that was playin
at the late club from twelve to four, out on the East-side of
Lubbock - aplace called Dance Land.
Chris: So thats just the first thing you did when you got out of the Army basically?
Tom X: Yea. And I kept on doin it for fifty years. [Laughs.]
Chris: Thats interesting. I was gonna ask how you got started. Did your folks play music or anything? Or was that just something to do at the time?
Tom X: Nah. I was about half-raised by my grandmother,
and she forced me to take fiddle lessons when I was a kid. So
when I went in the Army, I took my fiddle. Because by then, I
was old enough twhere I was gettin to where I kinda
liked music. I was sixteen when I went into the service. I was
beginning to like music and I took my fiddle. - The War was over
about the time I got to Japan. I was an MP paratrooper in Japan.
- And I had my fiddle with me.
It just so happened that the first job I had was to play the bass rather than the fiddle. So I played bass for a little while. And then when I started playing the fiddle, I stayed on that for the rest of my career.
I dont play much music any more. I think of myself as more of a "Dancer," now.
Chris: That's right; So I'd like for you tell me about your book Zen and the Art of the Texas Two Step...
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2007 Chris Oglesby
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