Gotta Lubbock

Long Before Austin Was The Live Music Capital Of The World, A Cotton-Pickin' High Plains City Put Texas On The Map. From Buddy Holly To Jimmie Dale Gilmore, An Oral History Of The State's Most Storied Scene.

Even some Texans don’t know what to make of Lubbock. How can it be so flat? How can such a large city exist in the middle of such desolation? Why would anybody live there? People who do live there tend to smile at such obvious questions. “What you see as bleak and ugly,” says Johnny Hughes, the former manager of the Joe Ely Band, “we don’t. We see it as beautiful.”

Perhaps. Yet when most outsiders use the words “beauty” and “Lubbock” in the same sentence, they aren’t talking about the brown, blasted landscape. They’re referring to something like Jimmie Dale Gilmore’s high, lonesome voice, or Buddy Holly’s deceptively simple rock and roll, or Terry Allen’s elaborate story songs. They’re talking about Lubbock music, and a beauty that, like the terrain’s, is not typical. Indeed, the question Lubbockites get asked more than any other is, How could so much music come out of this windy wasteland? For two generations, Lubbock has produced an unsurpassed number of rock icons and country superstars, brilliant weirdos and working stiffs: Holly, Ely, Gilmore, and Allen, as well as Waylon Jennings, Natalie Maines, Butch Hancock, Tommy Hancock, Jo Carol Pierce, Norman Odam (a.k.a. the Legendary Stardust Cowboy), Delbert McClinton, Sonny Curtis, Mac Davis, John Denver (who went to Texas Tech) and Meat Loaf (who went to Lubbock Christian College). The common denominator connecting them all is “a reckless energy,” says Don Caldwell, who owns Caldwell Studios, a Lubbock recording complex. “Regardless of the style that’s being played, there’s an approach and an attack that comes with the players out here that’s real identifiable.”

How did such a gifted bunch happen to hail from the same place? One simple, unsatisfying reason is that all roads lead to Lubbock. Many musicians grew up on farms and in small towns in the Panhandle and moved to one of the biggest cities around. Long before, in the 1870’s, millions of cows were driven through the area by thousands of cowboys, who wrote and sang songs that would become country music staples. As cotton emerged as a thriving industry in the thirties, Lubbock came to be known as the Hub City of the Plains, because of the four highways that intersect there.

Though the hub has its whimsical side—Lubbock had a town band in the early twentieth century—it is also a city with more churches per capita than any other in the country, one in which you couldn’t buy alcohol until 1972 and still can’t buy a beer in a grocery store. And so, for many musicians, all roads lead away from Lubbock too.

Still, when they look back, it’s usually with affection—and a certain amount of bewilderment. Why Lubbock? Even from a distance, it’s hard to know what to make of it.

The Interviewees

Jo Harvey Allen is an actress and a playwright. She lives in Santa Fe.

Terry Allen, Jo Harvey’s husband, is a singer-songwriter and an artist. He lives in Santa Fe.

Sonny Curtis plays guitar in the Crickets, which was once Buddy Holly’s band. He lives in Nashville.

Joe Ely is a singer-songwriter. He lives in Austin.

Lanny Fiel plays fiddle, guitar, and piano in the Ranch Dance Fiddle Band and teaches traditional country music to children and teenagers. He lives in Lubbock.

Jimmie Dale Gilmore is a singer-songwriter. He lives in Austin.

David Halley is a singer-songwriter. He lives in Nashville.

Butch Hancock is a singer-songwriter. He lives in Terlingua.

Charlene Hancock, the wife of Tommy X Hancock and the mother of Conni and Traci Lamar Hancock, sings and plays keyboard bass in the Texana Dames. She lives in Austin.

Conni Hancock sings and plays guitar in the Texana Dames. She lives in Austin.

Tommy X Hancock is a singer-songwriter, fiddler, and guitarist. He lives in Austin.

Traci Lamar Hancock sings and plays accordion in the Texana Dames. She lives in Austin.

Carolyn Hester is a singer-songwriter. She lives in Los Angeles.

Johnny Hughes formerly managed the Joe Ely Band. He lives in Lubbock, where he is the director of the Petroleum Land Management program at Texas Tech University.

Waylon Jennings is a singer-songwriter. He lives in Nashville.

Virgil Johnson was the lead singer and principal songwriter for the Velvets. He lives in Lubbock, where he is a deejay at KDAV-AM.

Guy Juke is an artist and plays guitar for the Cornell Hurd Band. He lives in Austin.

Bobby Keys played saxophone for, among others, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, and Elvis Presley. He lives in Nashville.

Kenny Maines sings and plays guitar and harmonica for the Maines Brothers. He lives in Lubbock, where he is a county commissioner.

Lloyd Maines is a record producer and plays pedal steel guitar for the Maines Brothers, the Dixie Chicks, and Robert Earl Keen’s band, among others. He lives in Austin.

Steve Maines sings and plays guitar for the Maines Brothers. He lives in Lubbock, where he manages one of the state’s child support enforcement offices.

Davis McLarty was a drummer for the Joe Ely Band. He lives in Austin, where he is a booking agent for several acts, including Kelly Willis and Richard Buckner.

Delbert McClinton is a singer. He lives in Nashville.

Norman Odam is a singer-songwriter who performs as the Legendary Stardust Cowboy. He lives in San Jose, California.

Jo Carol Pierce is a singer-songwriter and a playwright. She lives in Austin.

Angela Strehli is a singer. She lives in San Francisco.

Rob Weiner has edited a book about the Grateful Dead. He lives in Lubbock, where he is a reference librarian at the Mahon Library.

You Either Go Crazy or You Play Music

Guy Juke Alien implantation of fetuses from the Lubbock Lights is my theory. Aliens, in order to enter society, go through the pregnant woman. They send their mind through that. And then Butch Hancock is born.

Davis McLarty My uncle Marvin actually saw the Lubbock Lights because he worked at the Circle Drive-In—he guarded the exit to make sure no one was sneaking in. He said they weren’t flying saucers; they were low-flying geese on one of those weird West Texas … you know the way the sky gets so

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