Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


The Flatlanders' album cover (1972)

In the arts, events need not last long to have long-lasting impact. Such is the case with the Flatlanders, a Lubbock, Texas, band from the early 1970s. Though they were together scarcely over a year and produced only one recording, which wasn't released until almost a decade after they'd gone their separate ways, the influence of their music has spanned generations, genres, and geography.

Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and Butch Hancock had become acquainted during their high school years in Lubbock. Reconnecting there in the summer of 1971, they discovered their mutual interests in blues, old-time country music (especially the works of Jimmie Rodgers), and songwriting. The three began performing together, with Jimmie Dale handling the lead vocals, Joe adding harmonica and Dobro, and all playing acoustic guitar and singing harmonies. From time to time, they were joined by several other musicians native to the Llano Estacado: John Reed on guitar, Sylvester Rice on acoustic bass, Tony Pearson on mandolin, and Steve Wesson on saw (a carpenter's ripsaw, bent and played with a violin bow).

The band, called the Flatlanders in celebration of the region's topography, cut several demo tracks at a small studio in Big Springs, Texas. Those led to a recording session in Nashville in February 1972, when Ely, Gilmore, and Hancock recorded seventeen songs, joined by Tommy Hancock on fiddle, Rice on acoustic bass, and Wesson on saw. Gilmore and Butch Hancock each wrote four of the tunes, Lubbock native Al Strehli wrote two, and Al's sister Angela wrote another. The selections were augmented with classic songs by Jimmie Rodgers, Willie Nelson, A. P. Carter, and Harry Choates. The company for whom the session was done, Plantation Records, only released two 45s for airplay: "Dallas" and "Jole Blon." It wasn't until 1980 that an English label, Charly Music, released an LP (The Flatlanders: One Road More) with all seventeen cuts.

The Flatlanders scattered soon after the release of the two singles, but their music has continued to influence new generations of audiences and musicians. In particular, Joe Ely and Jimmie Dale Gilmore are now internationally known for their songwriting, performing, and recording careers, and Butch Hancock has developed a cultlike reputation for his writing. In 1990 Rounder Records released a CD reissue of fourteen songs from the Nashville session. Aptly, it was entitled More a Legend than a Band.

Andy Wilkinson Lubbock, Texas

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