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24 September 2008 @ 06:32 pm
Joe Ely - Live Shots  
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Without a doubt the only record I have in my entire collection that was autographed using a jack-knife! After one of the shows on a two nighter at the Flaming-O in Odessa I presented two albums for him to sign and he whipped out his jack-knife and went after the cover. I wasn't afraid because Joe Ely was someone I used to run into quite a lot in my West Texas days, and he always remembered me and was always really nice to me. The first time I met Joe was backstage at the U2 show in Lubbock, in March of 1981. We both sat talking with the Edge trying to understand his Irish drawl. Joe and his band were the biggest thing around Lubbock at the time, with several albums out on MCA and a tour with the Clash in the UK. He'd brought the Clash to Lubbock on the American leg of the tour, taking them to Buddy Holly's grave (where local legend has it that Mick Jones and Joe Strummer respectfully whizzed on the grave-site). They played a show at the Roxx that I couldn't get into because I was 17 (I also missed the Talking Heads on their 'Fear of Music' tour for this reason as well). Supposedly, the Clash saw Joe Ely and his band do a show in London in 1978-79 and asked them to support them on their next tour, which happened to be for 'London Calling.' The American issue of 'London Calling' has a live shot inside with Ely on stage with the band in a white cowboy hat and white cowboy boots. The inner-sleeve of Ely's album features pictures of Ely's band with guests like Joe Strummer, Topper Headon, Mick Jones and Mickey Gallagher (the Blockhead who played keyboards on both albums). There is also another reference to Joe Ely in the credits of 'London Calling' where it says "M. Jones - Piano, J. Strummer - Pianner" which is a direct reference to the song "Fingernails" where Ely sings "I keep my fingernails long so they click when I play the pianner!" Oh, and one of the shows pictured on LC was the Clash's legendary show at the famous Armadillo World Headquarters in Austin.

Joe Ely was good for the Clash and the Clash was good for Joe Ely. It isn't commonly discussed where they got the infusion of American influences, but by having support acts like Ely and Bo Diddley they went against the grain of punk and new wave influences. With songs like "Brand New Cadillac" it's easy to hear the West Texas influence, and that's probably at least some of the reason I related to the Clash so easily. I only saw the legendary version of Joe Ely's band that recorded this album once, in a down-pour at the annual Tornado Jam in Lubbock in the spring of 1982. They were amazing, and I was blown away by Jesse "Guitar" Taylor's guitar playing and Lloyd Maine's steel guitar. Not too long after that show Ely shocked everyone by disbanding that band and, a few years later, doing the synth-pop country album 'Hi-Res' that was pretty much his 'Trans.' I next crossed paths with Joe Ely at the Clash show in El Paso Texas in the summer of '83. My friend and I were trying to get in the back-stage door and Joe recognized me and waved me and my friend in. The show was the second to the last show before Mick Jones left the band and there was an incredible amount of tension in the room!

Joe Ely was one of the few acts that played the Midland / Odessa area with any frequency (Joe 'King' Carrasco being another), and we always hung out after the shows. I even slipped him one of my tapes of my second album, 'What Am Are,' in 1984 and the next time through he told me he really liked it and and asked if I'd ever heard the Legendary Stardust Cowboy because that's what I reminded him of (I hadn't, and when I finally heard it I didn't think I sounded anything like that, but I see what he was getting at). What is really kind of weird is that when I moved to Austin, where he had moved to years before, I stopped seeing him that often because I was in a very different scene than he was. I probably saw him twice there in the eight years I lived in Austin.

As was often the case with people who moved to Austin from West Texas, I only ever went back there when I really had to. I never missed it, never wanted to go back, and when I did go back it felt so remote and foreign that I couldn't wait to leave, Yet, whenever I listen to this album (and a handful of others by Ely, Terry Allen and Butch Hancock) I actually miss West Texas, and I can feel the bone dry warm air blowing dirt, and feel the prickly tumbleweeds as I pull them away from my car. Nobody lives there without taking something away. Aside from the desire to never go back, I took away an appreciation for this music, and the howl of Lloyd Maines slide guitar solo on "Boxcars" makes a very vivid picture. Ely singing "She Never Spoke Spanish to Me" (pronouncing Spanish as "Spaaaah-nish") provokes the smell of sweat, beer and barbecue. The over-all vibe of this album is quite celebratory, with Ely full of a special kind of energy that made him an amazing show-man. There wasn't even a genre suited for Ely when he did this album. MCA signed him as a country artist but, by the time this album came out, they had to somehow shift his promotion (or lack thereof) into the rock division (forget new wave...MCA was way behind on that in 1980!). I always admired his confusing genre' shifting up through 'Hi-Res' and was more puzzled by his settling into a more predictable path from the later '80s on. It's been fifteen years since I've been to West Texas, and, luckily, hearing this album is the closest I've been to going back!
 
 
the lunatic is: honky tonkin'
happy sad?: relaxedwestexased
what is that?: joe ely band