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Fire in the Water, Earth in the Air: Legends of West Texas Music
by Christopher Oglesby
Published by the University of Texas Press:
"As a whole, the interviews create a portrait not only of Lubbock's musicians and artists, but also of the musical community that has sustained them, including venues such as the legendary Cotton Club and the original Stubb's Barbecue. This kaleidoscopic portrait of the West Texas music scene gets to the heart of what it takes to create art in an isolated, often inhospitable environment. As Oglesby says, "Necessity is the mother of creation. Lubbock needed beauty, poetry, humor, and it needed to get up and shake its communal ass a bit or go mad from loneliness and boredom; so Lubbock created the amazing likes of Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Butch Hancock, Terry Allen, and Joe Ely."

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"Indeed, Oglesby's introduction of more than two dozen musicians who called Lubbock home should be required reading not only for music fans, but for Lubbock residents and anyone thinking about moving here. On these pages, music becomes a part of Lubbock's living history."
- William Kerns, Lubbock Avalanche Journal

Chris Oglesby Interviews
Andy Eppler
October 17, 2007
via telephone; Andy at his home in LBK, author at his own in Austin

Chris: Andy, the first time we met was at the party in Lubbock celebrating the first anniversary of my book, Fire in the Water, Earth in the Air: Legends of West Texas Music. You are twenty-two years old, so you were a fresh face there representing young Lubbock, the next generation of great musicians. I'm glad to have this opportunity to get to know you better. First of all, tell me about your roots in Lubbock.

Andy: I was born and raised in Lubbock. My dad is a preacher and my mom is also in the ministry. My mom was born in Spokane, Washington, but my dad grew up in Lubbock and went to college here at Tech. His brother is Jim Eppler, who is a pretty popular artist here in West Texas and now all over the country.
When I was growing up my parents worked at a church called Trinity, a big non-denominational church here in town, and now they work for a church called City View. We aren't hard-core Baptists or anything like that; I don't think I'd be here today if they were hard-core Baptists. I grew up in the church, playing worship music; and then I decided I actually wanted to make some money off my talent. I quit writing worship music and started writing what you would call secular music. My parents were very supportive of my playing music in the church. The older I got, the more I wanted to experiment with different types of songwriting, different sounds, and different ideas. I started realizing I could believe all the same things without feeling like I have to write in this tiny little box of church music. That was important for me, as an artist, to be able to branch out and write songs about bank robberies and stalkers and whatever other shit I write about now.
Most of us up here in Lubbock have roots in the church. Kent Mings [of The Texas Belairs] was raised by his grandfather who was a preacher. Church is a pretty common theme through a lot of our lives. I am as Lubbock as you can get: my dad is a pastor and I've been playing music in bars for five or six years and still have not been noticed by much of anybody.

Chris: Now, you say you've been playing in bars for five or six years…You are only twenty-two years old.

Andy: Yeah, I started playing in bars when I was eighteen, and I started playing in coffee shops when I was sixteen. So when I was younger, I had the pleasure of having to sneak into my own gigs; that was just a real delight, to have the fear of being kicked out of your own gig and blackballed around town. But I couldn't play the songs I wanted to play in coffee shops. However, the way I dealt with the problem is that the instant I graduated from high school, I grew a beard by the next week. My family really has a handle on the trait for growing facial hair. I don't remember ever getting carded after that. Usually, they never even asked me how old I was when I booked the gig, because I looked twenty-four or so with the beard. One time, another guy who was opening for me and was the same age I was, he got carded and kicked out. He was good enough not to rat me out. I didn't take advantage by drinking because I wanted to have a good name around town. I wanted to be able to make two hundred dollars a night instead of just playing for tips in a coffee shop.
When people find out now that I am only twenty-two, they'll ask me about haven't I been playing in bars for years. And I reply, yeah, I guess I'm just a sneaky sumbitch.

Chris: What are the venues there in Lubbock which have been friendly to you?

Andy: Shooterz is not really typical of the type of places I usually play at but it is run really well and the people who work there are nice and cool. They've never screwed me over or taken advantage of me. On the rare occasion when something does happen, they always make it up to me. Another place is La Diosa, they've never done me wrong. But there are a couple of places in town where I absolutely will not play, and I am finally getting to the place where I can choose. If a place isn't run to where I can trust the management without making them sign a contract, then I won't play there. Fortunately, I do not play at places where I don't want to play, any more. But I wouldn't be where I am now if I hadn't started playing in bars when I was eighteen.

Chris: So you're telling me about working with the management at the venue as opposed to the clientele at the venues; that's a pretty mature position to take. Have any venues been good to you as far as building a fan base?

Andy: The only place where I have developed a real fan base is at a coffee shop called Sugar Brown's, and its all high school kids, like fourteen and fifteen years old. We have such a music culture in Lubbock, and a lot of the kids who really look up to musicians latched on to me and show up to every gig and pack the place. But that is the only place where I can really draw a crowd in Lubbock.
I can go to places like Taos or Boulder and can draw a crowd without having done any advertisement there. They like my music, and I sell a lot of CDs and get a lot of tips. Then I come back to Lubbock and a lot of people don't even know I am alive here.

Chris: Why are you doing so well in these other places? What have you done differently there?

Andy: I have no idea. I guess it's just a different mentality. Maybe they are more appreciative of the arts. When people go out in Taos, they are going to see art or listen to original music. Here in Lubbock, they just want to drink beer and listen to cover songs. That's fine because it can be fun. But my real problem in Lubbock is that I have yet to really find where I fit.
I was born and raised here. I am everything that Lubbock stands for: son of a preacher, playing music and pursuing art. Yet I can't really find where I am supposed to be in relation to Lubbock.
I can't really move away. My family is here and my heart is here. I don't want to leave. But Lubbock is almost forcing me to leave, because I am running out of places where it's worth it for me to play. Well, I've been playing four nights a week for the last year or so here in the west Texas area, a lot of that in Lubbock; so it's not that I've run out of places to play; I may have misspoken there. It's just that it is soul sucking to play songs to a full crowd, songs which you put you heart into, and after every songs there is dead silence. I put up with it because in my mind there are two hundred dollar bills sitting in the audience and they clap after every song. But it is soul sucking. Some times I come home and say, "I'm done with this. I don't want to play for these people any more."
The only guy who I feel like is coming to bat for me here in Lubbock is Don Caldwell. Don Caldwell is a good guy to have on your team, and he's really come out for me this past year. But other than that, it is kind of every man for himself. I don't know how musicians like Joe Ely or Tommy Hancock did it. They grew up in a different generation, and I wonder if there is just a generational difference? Is it really harder now that it was? Were there more opportunities then? Were people more willing to go out and listen to original music back then? Because it doesn't seem like anyone wants it now.

Chris: I will make the point to you that, if you talk to Joe Ely about that, or to any of the other musicians from that generation, you will find that he was feeling exactly the same way you are. Tommy Hancock was a working musicians but it was because he was the house band at the Cotton Club, which was the biggest venue in town. So Tommy and his band were about the only working musicians in town. Several people who played with Tommy's band were not working musicians, including Buddy Holly's brothers Larry and Travis, and the Maines family; I'm talking about Lloyd's daddy and uncles. They weren't professional musicians; they all had day jobs and played music on the side. Joe Ely had some good gigs at Main Street Saloon and Fat Dawg's, but that's not where he made it big. Where Joe made it was England, touring Europe. Only after he got famous like that was he very popular in Lubbock.

Andy: I am in the situation where I don't feel I can get a record contract, because I can't afford to sell all my songs to a record company, because the record companies are all fixing to go out of business. I can't use the record company to take me on tour in Europe to prove that I am something. I have to get over there on my own. And I honestly haven't figured out how to effectively do that.

Chris: It does seem to me, though, that it's a good time to be where you are. For instance, you were able to record your new album pretty much all in your home, produced and designed the whole thing there in Lubbock, and that is a high quality piece of work. Joe Ely would not have had the ability to that back in his day. Tell me about making that record.

Andy: The title of the CD is "There Is No Underground," and that is really a commentary on the fact that what we used to call the Underground Music Scene is really the music scene now. The stuff we all hear coming from the major record labels is such garbage these days, the only really enlightening and creative art is coming from independent artists who didn't sell their balls to the record company.
I really enjoyed making that record because I took it slow. It probably took me about six months to complete. At first, I was only going to have ten songs. Then I thought about twelve, because I have written between two hundred to three hundred songs to choose from. I have tons of songs but it comes down to picking not the songs I like but the ones which people at large seem to like. We finally decided on fourteen songs, and we were going to have "Lubbock TX" as a hidden track, because I wrote and recorded that song directly onto my laptop computer with a little synthesizer on the guitar to make it sound like it was on an amp, and the vocals were recorded into the built-in microphone in my laptop. That is as low budget as it gets. But I took it down to Acuff Studios and Alan Crossland made it sound all right.
"Lubbock TX" was originally going to be the hidden track but the more I played it live the more response it got. I thought, shit if I'm not careful that is going to be the single off the record, so I decided to give that song its own track. So "Lubbock TX" is the fifteenth song on the album.

Chris: When you say "play it live," I assume you mean playing it locally there in Lubbock?

Andy: Yeah. And it's a funny thing because the song is about being a musician in Lubbock and how horrible it can be. At the same time, it can be really fun and great when you get a good crowd but, man, most of the time it really hammers you. That is what the song is about. But because it has the words "Lubbock, Texas" in it, every time I play it the crowd goes nuts.
I opened for Cross Canadian Ragweed a few of weeks ago at the Lubbock Music Festival and there were about four thousand people in the streets of downtown Lubbock, crowded up at the front of the stage. I'm playing that song, and every time I say the words, "Lubbock, Texas" you see a wave through the crowd with everyone yelling. Apparently, they weren't listening to rest of the song. Because there were eight bands or so playing after that and none of them had a good crowd.
Another thing: at the Lubbock Music Festival they had Cross Canadian Ragweed, a band from Oklahoma, come and play. Come on! With so many great artists in Lubbock, why do we need to go outsourcing for music? I think the bottom line is that the Lubbock crowd wouldn't come out to see a bunch of bands who are from Lubbock. That's part of the frustration; if you have some popular music to serve up on a spoon ready for them to slurp up, they'll like that but the Lubbock crowd is not interested in anyone local who doesn't already have a record deal. To be famous around Lubbock you have to go outside of Lubbock and get approval from some place that Lubbock people think is a big deal. Then you can come back and they will listen to you all of sudden. It's funny because I know that people down there in Austin think that Lubbock is a cool place for music but no one here does.
I don't want to move to Austin but it sure seems like I am going to have to go somewhere and get approval from some place else. Opening up for Joe Ely at the Cactus Theater here in Lubbock and making friends with the Flatlanders certainly helped. That got me in the newspaper, and I am starting to be recognized a lot more around town. But they still won't come out to the shows. I didn't open for the Flatlanders but I did get to hang out backstage with them and visit. Somehow my name got in the paper for that event, too.
Sometimes I am just in the right place at the right time. But Don Caldwell has thrown me every bone I've been chewing on for the last six months. I have been chasing down radio stations across the country that will play my songs. I recently did an interview with a guy named Kevin McDonald, out of Seattle, and my music is starting to get out over there. It seems like I am pretty big deal everywhere else but Lubbock. It's kind of a strange paradox.

Chris: If you could make a living distributing your music outside of Lubbock and still live there with your family, that could a nice situation for you. Cary Swinney has a good balance doing that; he barely markets his music there locally.

Andy: That is a strange deal. I have been talking to Cary about all this, and I still can't figure out how he's gotten to where he is either.

Chris: Part of it may be the quality of what he's doing. Cary has a definite style, and I think a lot of people connect with what he's putting out there. And I do think people are connecting with what you are doing, too. I am impressed that you are doing a lot of the work yourself. You have a good attitude for success.

Andy: I am multi-faceted, as far as marketing. I do a lot of my own promotional stunts. For my CD release, I had Kenny Maines open for me, and Junior Vasquez opened, Andy Wilkinson opened, and Doctor Scoob, and Kent Mings, they all opened for me. We had a songwriter showcase and then I played.
Another thing I had thought about doing, marketing-wise for the CD release, was I was going to have an anonymous caller leak to the police that I was going to shoot off fireworks in the street, and when the police and the news show up its just free publicity. And then I would say, "I don't know where you ever heard that." Another stunt I actually tried to put together, but couldn't get it organized in time, was an angry Lubbock-ite bonfire of my CD; get a bunch of people together to call the news and say they are burning Andy Eppler's CD because they are so mad at him for some nebulous reason, and that could get national news coverage, a CD burning. It was a great idea but I just couldn't get it done in time for the release because I thought of it too late. And it was going to be in two waves. I was going to have everyone sign an agreement to where they couldn't talk about how it was organized for two months. Then after two months, when it had kind of faded away, they would all start telling that Andy Eppler planned the whole stunt, and then there would be a second wave of news coverage that I had screwed everybody. It was such a good idea. If I ever make another record, I am going to probably try it out. I just couldn't get it together in time because I thought of it too late.
I designed a T-Shirt slogan: "Lubbock Texas - Where all the best musicians have to move from." When I have enough money to make Andy Eppler T-shirts, I am definitely going to use that one. I don't have enough cash right now to pay for producing the CD and making T-shirts in the same year. I hate to sound all cynical, because I love this town and I love the people here but it doesn't seem that they want what I got; at least not yet, anyway.
I would love to go out and make a name for myself, then come back and live here, maybe have a house in New Mexico where I could get away occasionally. That would be the ultimate for me, to be accepted by this town I grew up in. But it's a glass shell I can't seem to break and I keep bumping my head up against it.

Chris: I do want to encourage you to not feel as if you are alone. All those great musicians before you felt the same way. Nobody in Lubbock wanted to listen to Buddy Holly when he lived there. Natalie Maines never had any independent success in Lubbock. Most of the people I know who knew Natalie Maines before she was in the Dixie Chicks just remember her as Lloyd's daughter who worked at Orlando's Italian food and sang background vocals for the Groobees. That turned out good for Susan Gibson though. Lesson there is: Keep writing good songs and let anyone who wants to record them do so.

Andy: I will let you know when there's a line. I would love it if people would offer to pay me money for not doing anything. Oh, you want to cut me a quarterly check so you can go around and do all the work? Yeah, that sounds okay to me. But nobody has really offered. And I don't think my songs are that universal. I do have a few that I think might be, but I don't think just anybody could play them. I don't think just anybody could pull off singing "C# Minor" which is the first song on the record. I don't think that is so universal to where just anybody could sing it. And my song "Bad Man," I think it takes a certain kind of asshole to play that kind of stuff, and I am that kind of asshole.

Chris: What is your relationship with other musicians there in Lubbock? Is it a vibe where it's just you and a few other guys hold up in the house playing together, wondering what the hell everybody else is doing, while maybe there are a hundred other houses where the exact same thing is occurring?

Andy: Honestly, in west Texas almost everybody plays guitar, so that's not hard to find. I had a couple different drummers I knew play and I even played some drums on the record. I only have three tracks where there are other musicians playing, all the other tracks, I played everything. People like Michael Vasquez, who is Junior Vasquez' son and a pretty good bass player, and Brian Tate played on it, some really great players. I did it right; I went to Scott Faris' studio here in town and asked him to record some drum tracks for me. Scott does design and art and has a sound recording studio called Amusement Park Studios. He also has worked out at South Plains College teaching classes in the commercial music program. We worked out a cash-list barter deal, where I did some things for him. Scott Faris did all the design, too. He gave me a pretty friendly fee. After the whole project was done, I had about a thousand copies in my house and had spent a total of about two thousand dollars.
Anybody can do it. And that's a blessing and a curse. I wish more people were writing original stuff, because even if it sucks it is still something better than "Lady Lumps" or whatever that is.

Chris: Why do you say it is a blessing and a curse to be able to make your own record? What is the curse and what is the blessing?

Andy: The blessing is that you can make a record for not a bunch of money and sell it for fifteen bucks a pop, and actually make money by selling a record. Go figure, that used to be unheard of, to make money from record sales. Since any computer you buy now comes with some kind of recording software, all you have to do is buy a couple of mikes and learn to play guitar and you can put out a record. That's also the curse, however, because when people see you have a record they think, "Whatever. I could make a record." It really comes down to quality. But we've been so indoctrinated by this pop music machine that nobody knows what quality is any more. It is getting so bad that I wish it was the '90s. The '90s were so much better than what we've got going on the radio now.

Chris: I agree, and the 90's were much more exciting than the 80's when I was in high school and college.

Andy: That's because there was a lot of good music in the 70's, and then the 80s were shit, the 90's were good, now it's shit, and by 2010 I think they are going to be ready to listen to Andy Eppler, if I haven't killed myself. [Laughs]

Chris: You are so young, Andy Eppler.

Andy: I know, and that is about the only thing I got going for me. I have worked so hard at promoting myself, meeting the right people, and maintaining those relationships. My good friend Doug Haines, who goes by Doctor Scoob, recently moved to Austin. I still keep in touch with him because I think Lubbock musicians have to keep in touch so we can help each other. I try to mention Doctor Scoob in any interviews that I do because he was a huge influence on me. He was to me, probably what Tommy Hancock was to a bunch of those older guys; I know Tommy Hancock mentored Buddy Holly to a certain extent. Doug was that way for me. I was nineteen when I met him; we met because we had the same booking agent, who screwed us, along with Scott Faris and a couple of other guys in town. So, all the guys who that guy screwed, we all became really good friends. I am great friends with Scott Faris and Doctor Scoob now, so probably the best thing that has happened to me for my career was getting screwed by that booking agent. Because Scoob hooked me in to booking real gigs, not just opening for some band that nobody's ever heard of; he probably saved my career, as far as that goes.

Chris: So you do all your own booking and promoting now?

Andy: Oh yeah. I can't afford to pay anybody.

Chris: Doctor Scoob played at the Lubbock Music Night which Jeff Kehoe and I had here in Austin a few weeks ago. I really enjoyed meeting and hanging out with him and his friend Fletcher who played mandolin and was kick-ass. That night, Scoob told me that he considers you to be a younger, better looking, more talented version of himself.

Andy: [Laughs] That is probably pretty accurate. So Doug has made the move to Austin. There is a huge difference between the two towns, for sure; however, I have been even close to Austin only one time. My next move is to get on XM Satellite radio and then start trying to infiltrate Austin, Houston, and Dallas.
There is a magazine called Best In Texas, which I always saw around when I was in college at South Plains. I thought someday I would like to be on the cover of that, even though it probably isn't a big deal. But I would take it back to show to Cary Banks and say, "Yeah, who's a Maines Brother now?" That would be awesome. That wouldn't really make me a Maines Brother, but it would feel good. I have talked to Kenny about maybe him giving me an honorary Maines Brother card that I could push on people.

Chris: You are a marketing genius, trying to attach yourself to the Maines family.

Andy: Yeah, it would be cool publicity for them and really good for me.

Chris: Have you ever met Natalie Maines?

Andy: No. But I am good friends with Kenny and I have met Lloyd a few times. I even sent Lloyd my record, and I am sure it is in a very fancy trash bin right now. No, Lloyd is a good guy. I haven't heard back from him but it hasn't been that long ago and I haven't really been on his ass about getting back to me. I gave one to Joe Ely, too. I haven't heard back from him either, but his wife did say she likes it.
I opened for Joe Ely back in July at the Cactus Theater, and then when the Flatlanders came to town I went backstage and hung out with them. Joe was real cool to me, and I think we kind of found each other's rhythm. Every time we've run into each other, he gives me a big handshake. I think if I were to hang around Joe any more we could be close friends. But I would like to say that about almost everybody.
I think the only reason I got the gig opening for him is because he knew my uncle Jim Eppler. But I think he thought that I was Jim's son, and I wasn't about to refute that because then I might lose the gig; so I made sure I had played my set before I mentioned to him that Jim is my uncle.

Chris: What has been your uncle's response to what you are doing?

Andy: He's just proud. He has always had faith in me. My whole family has been behind me in this process, and I think maybe a little bit surprised that I can make a living at it. I don't have another job. My wife and I do this only. We live below our income so we have a little extra on hand, trying to be responsible about it. But I really don't want to go back and dig ditches again. I put in sprinkler systems for parks and that is just about the most miserable job
My granddad used to say to me, "Get a degree even if it's in grass-picking." So I came to him one day and said, "Granddad, I got a degree and it's in commercial music." And he said, "Why didn't you get it in something useful, like grass-picking?" And I tell ya', he was right. He said to me, "If you're going to be a musician, you're going to end up digging ditches first." I thought I would just work hard at it and I did; but by God, I dug ditches first, and I don't know how he knew. I dug ditches for about a year and put up fences for awhile. I worked in a health food store for three years and I've flipped burgers. I mean, I've done it all.
I've never found another job that I like more than making art and showing it to people.

Chris: You are good at it and obviously you have the spirit for it.

Andy: I appreciate that. Coming from you, that's a pretty big compliment. I am just stoked to be getting interviewed by the guy who wrote the book on Lubbock music, you know?

Chris: It's nice doing a fresh interview with new young talent. When you read my book, you see that most everybody has had the same troubles you have. I was listening to a Delaney & Bonnie record earlier today, with Bobby Keys playing along with Leon Russell and Eric Clapton. Keys told me the same stories as you, about having to wait in the kitchen of the place he's playing because he was not old enough to go into the venue with the band.
Back to your new record, I am impressed with the variety and virtuosity of it. I don't like to use this word often because I think it has become cliché but I believe I am using it properly when I say that your record is eclectic. There are a lot of different things put together there.

Andy: Thanks. Whenever people ask me how long I've been playing the guitar, I always say, "Long enough to be better than I am." Playing guitar is not really my thing; songwriting is my thing. But you can't just write lyrics any more, just write poetry. People want to hear the music that goes with it.
So I learned my C, G, D.
I do a little percussion and can play some bass because the notes are similar. I even mess with some piano. Most of what you hear on the CD is guitars and rhythm. No big surprises, no oboe solos are anything like that. But the songs all do sound different from each other. It's like if you're going to make a painting, you can't just use one brush. You need different textures and different shades so you get contrast.
I am not a folk artist; I am not a jazz artist. But I like jazz and folk. I like the way that jazz makes me feel. I like funk because I like to move and feel that groove. And I like simple solos. And I can do all that, so why not? I call myself a folk songwriter but it's pretty easy to call yourself that these days because "folk" has kind of lost its meaning.
I still play some old traditional folk songs in my shows, like "I'm gonna lay down my troubles down by the riverside." Because I grew up in the church, stuff like that really moves me. I think, "Yeah, I am going to lay down my burdens after this gig tonight because it stinks and I feel bad." Although it is hard to bitch when you're not digging ditches. But I figure that if those songs have lasted so long, then there is something to them, and if you can't figure out what that is, then you need to get out of this business because you don't understand music and how it affects people. I was just telling my wife that there is just something about a shuffle that makes you say "Yeah!" even if you don't like country music.
The first two tapes I ever got…and its funny because in a way everything I have done since then has been a derivative of the mix of these two…I am almost embarrassed to tell you, it was Boyz 2 Men first tape and the Beach Boys greatest hits. All groovy fun stuff. I had those tapes for years because I couldn't afford a lot else. I also listened to Sting a lot. I don't listen to those tapes anymore but I think something got planted in me a long time ago, with big harmonies and interesting musical structures. I was probably more affected by Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys but Boyz 2 Men can still make me smile.

Chris: We are about to run out of time, so is there anything else you would like to say about being a musician in Lubbock?

Andy: I think that if you have any questions about what I think about being in Lubbock and all its pros and cons, listen to my CD and it will answer every question you have. As far as a definitive quote, I just think Lubbock needs to love its musicians as much as I think the musicians love Lubbock.

[see video of Andy at the Lubbock All-Stars Reunion]

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Fire in the Water, Earth in the Air:
Legends of West Texas Music

"As a whole, the interviews create a portrait not only of Lubbock's musicians and artists, but also of the musical community that has sustained them, including venues such as the legendary Cotton Club and the original Stubb's Barbecue. This kaleidoscopic portrait of the West Texas music scene gets to the heart of what it takes to create art in an isolated, often inhospitable environment. As Oglesby says, "Necessity is the mother of creation. Lubbock needed beauty, poetry, humor, and it needed to get up and shake its communal ass a bit or go mad from loneliness and boredom; so Lubbock created the amazing likes of Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Butch Hancock, Terry Allen, and Joe Ely." - University of Texas Press

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