Joe Ely continues the tradition of great Texas music

The old cliché holds true in Texas, where there are only two kinds of music: good music and bad music. And a lot of it is good.

Not only has the state been a hotbed for great talent for decades, but something about the dust and sun and the cross-cultural pollination of being so close to Mexico has made it possible for artists to ignore lines between genres.

So blues pioneer T-Bone Walker laid the groundwork for Chuck Berry’s later quintessential rock-and-roll guitar licks. Freddy Fender warbled about being lovesick and letting his teardrops fall in both Spanish and English, his music infused with the galloping conjunto rhythms and accordion melodies, and hit both the Country and Pop charts. Clarence Gatemouth Brown played killer blues, stone country and toe-tapping swing. Lyle Lovett could veer from his James Taylor folkie-isms to his big-band (er, “Large Band”) forays into swingy rhythm and blues.

Doug Sahm, about whom an entire encyclopedia of music could be written, started as a country guitar prodigy but quickly absorbed blues and rock and played music like the British Invasion until he met marijuana, and scooted to San Francisco to become a psychedelicized hippie before returning to Texas to play country again. His shows could run the gamut from conjunto music to rich R&B to killer blues and rock.

Jerry Jeff Walker’s a folkie and a country legend but he’s just as remembered for sloppy, drunken rock and roll about sangria wine and a killer pop song, “Mr. Bojangles.” Another signature tune, “London Homesick Blues,” written by yet another Texas songwriter, is the theme song for “Austin City Limits,” the PBS show that brings all these wonderful Texas sounds to a genteel, yuppified national audience. Genre-busting is a sport in Texas.

There are so many stories to tell about music from Texas, that some get lost in the flood. One that deserves telling is the tale of Joe Ely, a singer-songwriter who’s always had one foot in stone country and the other in rowdy rock and roll, and a hand in R&B and the other in folk music. Continue reading