Ely given songwriting honor, also named 2016 Texas State Musician
Ely returns to Cactus Theater with band, still delivering 110 percent
By William Kerns
A-J MEDIA ENTERTAINMENT EDITOR
Any Joe Ely performance is considered thrilling news in Lubbock: the city where Ely met and lived with fellow Flatlanders Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock, formed his first bands and served as home
when he was discovered and
began a recording career.
Of late, many of Ely’s Cactus Theater concerts have been “solo” appearances — actually finding him alongside a friend, such as accordion player Joel Guzman. But Friday’s headliner is the Joe Ely Band.
He will reunite with lead gui- tarist David Holt, drummer Davis McLarty and bass guitar player Jimmy Pettit.
Not that this will affect ticket sales.
Cactus owner Don Caldwell remarked, “Joe’s solo shows and full band concerts sell about the same. But he brings his band along less often. So there is more excitement when that happens.”
It could, however, affect his set list.
Without citing examples, Ely said, “There are a lot of songs that I usually do not play when I’m doing a solo, acoustic concert.”
Songs, one could assume, such as “Cool Rockin’ Loretta,” “Musta Notta Gotta Lotta” and “Fingernails.”
Then again, Ely never has been adverse to exceptions. Studio album “Panhandle Ram-
bler,” released in the fall of 2015, includes a number of softer, introspective songs. Yet he promised to introduce this weekend’s fans to live versions of several.
While Ely, 69, excels at solo shows and guitar pulls, he found fame, at least in part, for the
consistent high-energy level of his live shows. The Joe Ely Band, which for years included the late Jesse “Guitar” Taylor on lead guitar and Lloyd Maines adding a sometimes screaming steel, commanded attention from fans, other musicians and the music media.
This is the musician who showed the Clash around Lub- bock. Ely toured with the British punk band and provided backup vocals on Clash hit “Should I Stay or Should I Go.”
The energy level of Ely’s shows has been compared to the energy
in Bruce Springsteen’s shows. It was only natural that these two band leaders, one from the streets of New Jersey and another from the wind-blown West Texas plains, eventually would be introduced and become friends.
Ely was given a Lifetime Achievement Award for Performance in 2007 by the Americana Music Association.
Actor and playwright Jaston Williams, who has worked with Ely in theatrical produc- tions, told A-J Media this week, “I have al- ways been amazed by Joe’s music. I am one of those who refers to Springsteen as a New Jersey version of Joe Ely.”
Maines, who “played, recorded and toured with Joe from 1973 to 1998,” and continues working with him when their schedules allow, stated, “I’ve played more than 2,000 shows with Joe and I was always amazed at the fact that, when he took the stage, he delivered 110 percent. He still does.
“I remember playing the Roxy in Los Angeles in about 1978. We were booked to open for a very well-known country rock band from the West Coast. It was a two-night booking. After the first night, the headliners told their man- ager that they wanted to play first because they did not want to follow Joe again. Yes, Joe could burn it.”
Ely was inducted onto the West Texas Walk of Fame in 1989. Taylor died in 2006 from complications of hepatitis C, and would be posthumously inducted in 2012.
“Jesse had his own sound and you can’t copy it,” said Ely. “But you sure can use the spirit of it.”
He applauds lead guitarist David Holt for ac- complishing just that, recalling many nights when “David was in front of Jesse, watching everything he did. Then he’d go home and work on those licks.
“David Holt was always there when Jesse was there. I love playing with David. And Davis (McLarty) and Jimmy (Pettit) still make one of the coolest rhythm sections.”
The Texas Legislature proclaimed Ely as 2016’s Texas State Musician, the 14th musi- cian to be so honored.
Not quite a month ago, the Texas Heritage Songwriters Association held its 10th annual Hall of Fame Awards Show, at which Ely, Roy Orbision, JD Souther and Will Jennings were inducted, honored for their songwriting skills.
Ely, humble and appreciative, revealed that he has “always been kind of shy around awards and proclamations.”
Asked if he remembers the first good song he wrote, he said, “No, but I remember the first couple dozen really bad songs. Starting off,
making songs was hard for me. It was hard to make the music sound like the words, or cre- ate the feeling or inspiration I wanted.
“I remember, after I got out of high school, I met Butch (Hancock) and Jimmie (Dale Gilmore), and then I picked up Townes (Van Zant hitchhiking), All of them already were writing great songs. How fortunate I was to cross their paths.”
Davis McLarty, who joined Ely’s band after playing drums for years with The Planets, found it easy to complement the headliner in multiple ways.
He stressed, for example, that Ely “always has been a gracious and patient band leader.”
“In more than 25 years with Joe, I never have heard him utter a harsh word to one of his musicians. That observation may be the most amazing, bordering on unbelievable, in my opinion.”