In 1977, Joe Ely came blowing out of Lubbock with his first record, Joe Ely, after sowing the early seeds of the High Plains scene with other hardy souls. He’s been delivering the goods ever since. Powerful music that pulses with rhythm and life, full of gritty optimism and unrelenting love.
Ely was born in 1947, in a place where one can gaze out on the horizon and still believe that the world is flat. The men in his family had worked on the Rock Island Railroad Line as far back as anyone could remember, but Joe didn’t take to the miles of steel and the smell of coal. Instead, the growing boy was drawn to music.
Joe’s timing was good, as these were increasingly fertile grounds in the sixties. Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison were sending their signals worldwide. Waylon Jennings was shaping up the long-standing country scene into something else altogether. Lubbock and its environs would produce not only Joe Ely, but also Guy Clark, Delbert McClinton, Don Walser, Terry Allen, Lloyd Maines and his daughter Natalie, Tanya Tucker, Jo Carol Pierce, Jesse Taylor and Joe’s enduring musical partners Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore.
Ely’s father passed away when Joe was fourteen and his mother, stung by the sudden loss, was institutionalized for a year. He and his brother lived with relatives in different cities until they reunited, when Ely dropped out of school to help support what was left of his family by washing dishes and playing his guitar in the honky-tonks of Lubbock.
Like many a West Texan, the rest of the world beckoned and Joe heeded the call. He hoboed around America and ended up working in the theater industry in Europe. He headed home to Lubbock, ready to rock, and formed The Flatlanders with Hancock and Gilmore. By 1974 he had put together the Joe Ely Band with cohorts Taylor and Maines. He started passing around demo tapes and pretty soon he was signed by MCA and released his first solo album in 1974. Joe was up and running.
Joe has lived near Austin for many years, and has been tearing up the clubs and recording studios for close to four decades now. He has performed with The Clash, Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, John Hiatt, Los Super Seven and The Chieftains, and has worked with a host of Texas songwriters, including James McMurtry, Lyle Lovett, Clark, and of course Hancock and Gilmore.
Joe Ely is, first and foremost, a cowboy poet with a steel-trap mind. He can pick it, croon it or waltz it, and he can rock it like a juiced-up quarter horse.
Three things you should know about Joe Ely: (1) a collection of his written musings, Bonfire of Roadmaps, was published in 2007 by the University of Texas Press, (2) in 1992, Ely joined John Mellencamp, Dwight Yoakam, John Prine, and McMurtry in a band called Buzzin’ Cousins to record “Sweet Suzanne” for the soundtrack to the film Falling from Grace, and (3) he wrote songs for the film The Horse Whisperer.