The Michigan Daily
Monday, January 25, 1988
By Fred Leighton
Joe Ely is best known as a gui-
tarist but he used to be in the circus
That's right, the circus. After spend-
ing some time in New York around
1975, Ely returned to his native
Texas where he joined Ringling
Brothers. "It all happened by acci-
dent," he says. "I'd been up in New
York City just tryin' to get by any-
way I could."
Although Joe Ely has spent much
of his time "just tryin' to get by,'
he's been a big influence on musi-
cians throughout the country. He's
best known for his associations with
other groups, whether playing with
the Clash, or opening for Linda
Rondstadt, Tom Petty, or the
Rolling Stones. But Joe Ely is one
of America's best innovators of
melding country music with rock 'n'
At the same time that Ely found
himself in the circus, he became in-
fluenced by the beat generation writ-
ers, namely Jack Kerouac. "I always
carried them around," he says. "I
could relate to them at that time and
still can. I've been ramblin' around
The combination of the circus and
beat generation writers is the perfect
blend for someone like Joe Ely.
'Especially musicians can relate to
B' ly brij
that stuff, a lot of it is the lifestyle
of a musician, the travelling and be-
ing on the road," he explains. "Kind
- of the general ambiance of romantic
. misery. It was terrible working con-
- ditions, low pay, not anything really
d good, but the thought of it is real
Ely was born in Amarillo, Texas
- and raised in Lubbock - a town
known to many as the home of
- Buddy Holly. It was there that he
first got involved in music, and put
a band together after he returned from
New York. "One time I just decided
to come back and put a band to-
gether," he says. "Because I had a
whole suitcase of songs I'd been
writing, and I got back to Lubbock
in the springtime." That's also when
he joined the circus.
"I went down and watched them
f put it all together, and asked a guy if
' I could start working. He handed me
a sledgehammer and said, 'take off
your shirt and start drivin' stakes.' I
- kind of got inducted without really
- thinking about it. We went around
s to every stop in Texas, New Mex-
I ico, and Oklahoma."
This spirit of perseverance helped
d Ely through hard times. Difficulties
with record labels have plagued his
career in the past, but he's now with
t a new label, Hightone Records, and
things have taken a turn for the bet-
ter. His new album, Lord of the
Highway, suggests a need to travel,
to continually experience.
The new single, "My Baby
Thinks She's French," is doing well,
and has picked up momentum on
video channels. "That kind of took
us all by surprise, because we really
didn't expect it," Ely says. "We
weren't aiming for that whole end of
Ely's songs don't need a lot of
explanation. They come from an era
unconcerned with glitz and glamor.
In 1981 when Ely's acclaimed al-
bum, Musta Notta Gotta Lotta, was
released, there was talk about the
connection between English rock and
American country styles. "I didn't
really understand it either," Ely says.
"Until I found myself over in Eng-
land quite a bit, and I think that
there's a certain part of country mu-
sic that appeals to the English bunch
more so than American rock 'n' roll
The Clash were one bunch of
guys Ely became friends with while
in England. The group was thrilled
to tour with him throughout Texas
in 1982. "Their whole knowledge of
it was stuff like Marty Robbins
gunfighter ballads - things that I
wouldn't have really in a wild guess
thought they'd heard before."
Ely enjoyed England's music
scene. "When we first started going
over there, the whole rock 'n' roll
world in the States seemed to be
kind of jaded and a dead-end street,
whereas in England it was really
alive and vibrant. It was nice to be at
a place where there was really some-
thing different happening."
Ely's influences are what you'd
call diverse. "Earlier times, madmen
like Jerry Lee Lewis, and later on
when I got a band together, the first
wave of English bands, like the
Rolling Stones were influential," he
says. "Then when I left to travel
around, songwriters back to Jimmy
Rogers and Robert Johnson, and on
through, like, Woody Guthrie, the
whole early American guys who first
started getting songs together. Even
now, I listen more to songwriters
than I do to bands, so to speak."
A few days ago, Joe Ely went to
Nashville to work with one of his
favorite songwriters, Guy Clark.
"He's putting together an album of
songs, and he recorded a song I wrote
while I was with the Ringling
Brothers called 'Indian Cowboy."'
Ely was fortunate as a youth to
record in a Lubbock studio owned by
See FROM, Page 8
The Lord of the Highway makes a stop in Ann Arbor tonight to
unload some sweet music. Pick up your package at the Blind Pig
TUESDAY LUNCH FORUM
INTERNATIONAL CENTER,- 603 E. MADISON
January 26 at 12 noon: "Honduras: Economic
Development In Honduras"
Speaker: Elwood "Woody" Holman, Architect,
Former Chairman of Ann Arbor Chamber of Commerce
for additional information -please call 662-5529
Geology in the Rockies
The Ecumenical Campus Center
and the International Center
Feb. 21- 26
Travel and Room Cost $215
Open to All
For more information contact
The International Center
603 E. Madison " 764-9310
International Center needs deposit by 1/29/88
c'mon... thursday's classes aren't all that important
presents comedian Stand Up Comedy
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