American Routes Shortcuts: Joe Ely

Nov 2, 2018

Joe Ely
Credit American Routes

Joe Ely, a native of West Texas, absorbed the honky-tonk, western swing and rock ‘n’ roll of his youth. He ran away from home at age 16 to see the world and play music. He later returned to Lubbock and formed the Flatlanders with friends Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock, eventually landing in and leading Austin’s cosmic cowboy scene. Joe Ely continues to make music, dividing his time between the road and the Lone Star state.

Joe Ely: I guess my daddy working on the Rock Island Railroad and my granddad worked on the Santa Fe and a couple other lines there, and we got free passes to ride on the train to different places. You know that experience was part of my whole breaking out of West Texas and starting to write songs.

Nick Spitzer: Set the scene with the Flatlanders, 1970, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Butch Hancock. You guys kind of get together, move in together. Talk about how you met each other and began to live and make music together.

JE: We started playing kind of regularly in people’s living rooms and back yards, and by ’71, we got a house together, and it became kind of a neighborhood hangout. Everybody would come over there after the sun went down, and we’d be playing in the living room. Pretty soon we had a little, you know had a little band, and we didn’t even know it. And we recorded a lot of the stuff that had become our staple songs like “Dallas from a DC-9” and “Treat Me Like a Saturday Night.” We were real happy with the record, but it never came out. It got shelved-

NS: That’s a tough verb isn’t it in the record business?

JE: And after that got shelved, I started writing for my own record, and this record that’s released, Full Circle, is what I imagined that first record to be.

NS: Joe it sounds like just by having your hopes up high all these years you’ve been able to put one foot in front of the other, get on that motorcycle, get in that car, do whatever you did to get down the highway, not necessarily planning it all the time but doing what you cared about.

JE: You know, I’ve played in just about every state and all over Europe, and it’s been a great time. When you grow up in the plains, anything looks good on the other side of that hill.

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