STORY WRITTEN BY ROB NAGY
For Digital First Media
Texan guitarist Joe Ely’s honky-tonk, Tex-Mex style of rock and roll has been dazzling audiences since the early 70’s.
Masterfully exhibiting a creative diversity on the guitar, Ely, fronting his own band or playing solo, has collaborated and/or performed with Bruce Springsteen, John Hiatt, Merle Haggard, Guy Clark, the Clash and Lyle Lovett, among others.
One of music’s greatest ambassadors, Ely was recently honored for his outstanding commitment to the arts in his home state of Texas. At a ceremony at the State Capitol in Austin, he was appointed the Official “Texas State Musician” for 2016.
“That kind of came out of the blue,” says Ely, from his home in Austin, Texas. “I didn’t see that one coming. Over the last ten years, I think they’ve named — every year — a musician, a poet and an artist. It’s kind of an Official representing the state in whatever field that is.”
“I really don’t know what my duties are (laughs),” adds Ely. “It was great to go up to the Capitol building. So, I guess I’ll find out more about it later. I told them if I had duties to perform, my first wish was to have all the speed bumps removed from the state of Texas (laughs).”
Born in Lubbock, Texas, Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock formed the short-lived group “The Flatlanders” in 1972. Recording at the famed Sun Studios in Memphis, Tennessee, they released a promotional single, Gilmore’s “Dallas.” A commercial flop, the planned album, “All American Music, was initially shelved but later released to satisfy their recording contract.
A year later, the members of the trio each embarked on solo careers, while occasionally reuniting. They released the albums “Now Again” (2002) and “Hills and Valleys’” (2009) and “The Odessa Tapes” (2012), the latter an album featuring unreleased recordings from 1972 recording sessions.
Signed to MCA Records, Ely released his self-titled debut in 1977 and established himself as a solo artist. Ely’s single “All My Love” made the Top 100 U.S. Country Charts. Ely made the Top 40 charts with his 1981 single “Musta Notta Gotta Lotta,” Mainstream Rock (MSR).
Ely’s songs have been featured in the films “Roadie” (1980) and Robert Redford’s “The Horse Whisperer,” which included collaborations with his Flatlanders band mates.
To distance himself from the bureaucracy and the creative control of a major record label, Ely launched Rack’Em Records in 2007. He released his debut album, “Happy Songs from Rattlesnake Gulch,” the same year. Ely has since released “LIVE Cactus!” (with Joel Guzman), “LIVE Chicago 1987!” and the critically acclaimed “”Satisfied At Last” (2011).
“The last few years have been kind of rich finding things,” says Ely. “Now that I started a record company, I’m releasing all kinds of things, like a duet with Linda Ronstadt that we recorded in 1985. I have a collection of material that I’m finding a place for. It’s all part of my life. I figure someone might be interested in it.”
Expanding his creative output, Ely has published two books.
In “Bonfire of Roadmaps” (2007), Ely paints an authentic picture of life on the road through verse and drawings.
“I’ve always carried a sketchbook in my guitar case,” says Ely. “I always carried a journal. The journals tell about ideas I have on the road. The drawings were kind of like an early camera that I carried with me. The songs have just been a part of stories that come by. I just try to grab them as I come. It’s really how my whole life has been with zigs and zags in between. I’ve always tried to just capture the experiences.”
On the heels of his most recent offering, a fictional novel entitled “Reverb” (2014), Ely is nearing completion of his first album in four years.
“I’m going to call it ‘Panhandle Ramblers’,” says Ely. “At the top of Texas, it’s called the panhandle. There are a lot of interesting characters in this whole collection of works and stories about those characters and about my passing through that world. Ramblers and gamblers that I met up and down the road. I’ve got it just about wrestled to the ground. I’ve been working on it for a couple of years now. It will probably be out late summer.”
At 68, Ely never stops looking for a new adventure, a new inspiration in crossing paths with people that enrich his life.
“For me, work is to just to constantly uncover the mystery of living on this earth and the people,” reflects Ely. “It’s never been about going toward some shiny door at the end of the rainbow. It’s all about just trying to capture everything that I’ve run across and to tell about it. I’ve never really stopped because I would not know how to stop (laughs).”
“Looking back on my life and all the places I’ve been, that’s really what has kept me going,” adds Ely. “I’ve been blessed to run into interesting people who are kind of on the same road, on the same path. We share a little bit here and there and then go down opposite roads.”
IF YOU GO
Joe Ely, joined by Joel Guzman, will perform at the Sellersville Theater; located at 24 West Temple Ave., Sellersville, on Wednesday June 3, 2015 at 8 P.M. Tickets can be purchased by calling 215-257-5808 or on-line at www.st94.com. For more on Joe Ely, check www.ely.com