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Happy Birthday Joe Ely … Thanks For The Memories

February 10th, 2017 · Tags:Uncategorized

I am late to the party — a day late and a dollar short — to wish Lubbock’s Joe Ely a happy 70th birthday.  It sounds like quite a party they have planned down in Austin … jealous.

Let’s talk Ely. 


And to talk Ely is to talk Lubbock, no two ways about it, despite his more recent decades in Austin. (Ely is actually from Amarillo and ironically, there seems to be no relation to Amarillo’s other famous Ely … Ron Ely … TV’s golden Tarzan.  I digress …)

After a quick Google, I found some old Ely concert schedules, included in the list was the first time I ever saw Joe play — Jan. 25, 1980, at an upstart nightclub between Amarillo and Canyon, Texas called The Silvertooth.  That was before Ely moved fro Lubbock and before I moved to.  What a great time out on the Canyon E-Way (or that old Amarillo Highway as Terry Allen sung it).  At the time, I thought I didn’t much like country, that is until I heard Ely rockin and helping his band out clickin around on the keyboard:  “I keep my fingernails long so they click when I play the ‘piana.’”




Just two dates later in Ely’s schedule, after a flight across the pond, he opened for my favorites The Clash in London on The Lubbock Calling Tour … er I mean The London Calling Tour, Feb. 15, 1980.

Sadly, I missed The Clash shows in Lubbock that year, when Ely bonded with the Brits.  No doubt Ely was the hardest working man in Lubbock back then.  In the Internet search, more than 50 references to Lubbock shows popped up.  I bet there were more.

The concert I was actually looking for was perhaps the last time I saw Joe E. in Lubbock, at an outside music fest — no not the storied Tornado Jam, a later show — where Joe shared the stage with The Blasters, a rockabilly outfit that produced gentleman farmer/Americana poet Dave Alvin after his stint in LA’s punk act X … I digress.



That outdoor show created so many great memories … thousands of fans, with several beers a piece on the ground … and overhead, an ultra-light aircraft doing low flyovers and figure eight manoeuvres above.  Memories of the crowd coming alive for The Blasters’ minor hit “Marie, Marie.”  And this special moment which I will never forget … a great legend among friends that arose from a somewhat mindless moment.  After several of the aforementioned brewskis my buddy and fellow concert goer decided Joe Ely needed a gimmee cap.

More specifically, my friend decided Ely needed his gimmee hat, I guess.  For whatever reason, my friend took off his hat during a song and threw it at the feet of Ely on stage.  Hmmm … maybe this is a most-sincere sign of appreciation in some culture of which I am unfamiliar.  The rest of the gang all laughed at what a dumb-ass thing to do, and we waited for Joe to put a pointed-toe Tony Llama to the cap, kicking it back our way.  Ha … never missing a beat, Ely bent over and slapped the hat on his head — nearly sideways as the crowd roared approval for the look — and he jumped up to the mike for his next vocal.  My friend had never experienced a more proud moment … I am sure.  It was pure Budweiser magic.

The more famous Ely outings of course were his aptly named Tornado Jams (given Lubbock’s windy history).  For whatever reason, I have always joked that I was conceived at Woodstock … but after later moving to Lubbock I added a new line to my B.S:  “I wasn’t born at The Tornado Jam, but I got there as soon as I could …” Translation:  I missed the first TornJam on May 11, 1980 which featured Ely of course, as well as Stevie Ray Vaughan and another Texas Panhandle son, Jay Boy Adams.

Darn it … missed the second Tornado too.

But three was the charm.  Just a few months after moving to The Hub City, my buddies told me about it — “the biggest event in Lubbock.”  We packed all the cold cans we could carry and headed to T. Jam III as clouds overtook the region.  There were no tornados that day, but it poured and poured … pretty much a deluge all day.  Joan Jett, Linda Ronstadt, The Crickets and others had a covered stage.  Our choice was to go home or drink heavily while rocking/slopping around in the mud of Buddy Holly Park.  We chose B.  (And yes, we destroyed the grass … the lawn that is, much to the chagrin of Lubbock city commissioners … but what an event!)

If the city of Lubbock collectively has regrets, it would have to be the expatriation of Joe Ely … was the final straw really the result of Lubbock city fathers prohibiting any more Tornado Jams hosted at Buddy Holly Park!?!  (Never heard the entire story … but what a shame!)

Living in Lubbock during college years, our gang regularly saw Joe or his big guitar slinger Jesse “Guitar” Taylor … or “the other Rolling Stone” Bobby Keys around town … at Jagger’s joint “Fat Dawg’s” … or at the original Stubb’s Barbecue on “the east side” … or Pyrrha’s Main Street Saloon … playing music or pool or having drinks or stepping on stage to help out New Mexico’s The Planets or whatever.

Flash forward a few tornados … decades later, Joe Ely was a key ingredient in one of my most proud parenting moments — taking my teenage son to a honkytonk and turning him on to some Texas legends: Ely, Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore.  Ely’s early band The Flatlanders had reunited and scheduled a Fort Worth show at the world famous Billy Bob’s Texas.  Despite his early-teen music preferences, I pretty much forced my youngest son to see the show.  A budding musician himself — he liked the show.  Thanks for the dad cred, Joe.

The Flatlanders

A few years later, I ran into Ely’s bandmate Gilmore at Austin’s SXSW Music Festival, walking through the hipster throng, anonymous among all the young dudes, despite his cameo appearance as the stoner bowler “Smoky” in the cult classic “The Big Lebowski.”

No one recognized Smoky! A great example of how time moves on and ushers in so many changes of the guard.  But Joe is still rocking … “Cool Rockin Loretta” as one of Joe’s recordings belts out … a song co-written with another Lubbock guy, an artist from another band, known as Eddie Beethoven … the very Beethoven whose one-time guitar player just happens to be the son-in-law of Gilmore (Smoky) in real life.

Anyway … Happy Birthday Joe … and thanks for the memories!


Know what I sayin?