My friend Charles is in his mid-50’s and grew up in Flatbush Brooklyn. You can hear it in his voice. People who are connoisseurs of Brooklyn accents swear they can tell the difference between Flatbush and Bensonhurst, or many of the other neighborhoods in Brooklyn. But this only works when listening to people Charles’ age and older. These communities with specific accents in Brooklyn are largely gone. White flight to the suburbs and the general homogenization of American culture has made regional differences disappear, or even differences between subway lines in New York. But in people like Charles, you can still hear these lost cultures in his voice.
Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely and Butch Hancock were born in the mid 40’s and grew up in Lubbock. You can hear it in their voices. People who are connoisseurs of West Texas accents swear they can tell the difference between Lubbock and Midland. People who are connoisseurs of Texas Music and Texas singer/songwriters can hear the vestiges of a lost culture also. The remoteness that produced so many great Texas artists has disappeared. Texas has transitioned into mostly a suburban state. The homogenization of country music into Nashville pop and Texas music into Pat Green style hyperbole has made regional Texas voices disappear.
During a brief time in 1972/73 the three members of The Flatlanders lived in a house on 14th street in Lubbock where they wrote songs and invented Alternative Country Music. As Butch Hancock said in between songs during the Flatlanders show The Kessler Theater Friday night “24 hours a day, someone was either asleep or awake writing songs”.
The Flatlanders made a record in Nashville and played at the first Kerrville Folk Festival, winning the Singer/Songwriter Competition. The recordings never had commercial success, and the band broke up. Only a few 8-Track tapes from the first recordings were produced to satisfy contractual obligations. The band mentioned their cartridge is in the “8-Track Hall of Fame”. They aren’t quite sure why there is a Hall of Fame for 8-tracks, or “why we’re in it”.
The three Flatlanders went on to have solo careers that reflected their differing music styles.
Joe Ely is the Rocker of the group. He met the Clash in London, toured with them in the US, and sang back up vocals on “Should I stay or should I go”.
Butch Hancock is the Folk singer/poet, Cosmic Cowboy version.
Jimmy Dale Gilmore is the Honky Tonk Country singer/songwriter. After the group broke he spent the rest of the 70’s in a Colorado ashram (Hindu monastery), and then returned to writing songs in the early 80’s.
This mix of Rock, Cosmic Cowboy Folk and Honky Tonk Country is at the core of Alternative Country still today, but the culture that gave birth to it has been lost in a sea of strip malls.
In front of a full house at The Kessler Friday night, there was no opening act. The Flatlanders brought a bass, drum and lead guitar player to the venue as opposed to the all-acoustic show the last time they played in Dallas. The electric and acoustic parts of the show sounded great. This is standard procedure for The Kessler Theater which remains the best sounding room in Dallas.
The 18 song set included a new composition by Joe Ely called “Nashville Catfish”, where he makes fun of the stereotypical lyrics of Nashville pop songs, and the best version of “Dallas” that I’ve ever heard them play.
The short encore included a Billy Joe Shaver song appropriately named “Live forever”.
Nobody here will ever find me
But I will always be around
Just like the songs I leave behind me
I’m gonna live forever now
And so will The Flatlanders, who created Alternative Country Music in a house on 14th Street in Lubbock, Texas – in a time and place that will never be again.
Coming next month, the story of The Flatlanders published by The University of Texas Press.
I’ve got it on order…