It’s been forty years since a recording with his fellow Flatlanders Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock first put the Amarillo-born rocker on the map. After a busy period that included the publication of a collection of his tour journal entries and a new Flatlanders album, Ely has released the autobiographical Satisfied at Last (Rack ’Em).
You seem to have hit a good spot in your songwriting in the past few years.
It sometimes takes a while for certain aspects of your life to catch up with your writing. This particular time, I feel like everything is in sync.
You have your own studio now. That enables you to work in an entirely different fashion.
It used to be, I would gear up for a record, pull my hair out trying to write, and then go in and record it, not really knowing what it’s supposed to sound like. I have to work on things over and over to get them right. Now I can do it at my own pace.
When you sit down to write, do you feel an obligation to live up to your previous work?
I don’t write for an audience. I write for where I am at the time. There’s a song on the new record called “Mockingbird Hill” that came from an experience talking with this waitress in a truck stop. She had lived in the same area her whole life, and it was what she didn’t say that helped me write this song. I had to fill in a lot of blanks—you don’t really know someone else’s whole story, but you imagine