Fire in the Water, Earth in the Air: Legends
of West Texas Music
"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."
Chris Oglesby Interviews
Bob Livingston was instrumental in the creation of the Austin "Cosmic Cowboy" Movement, as Jerry Jeff Walker's "Gonzo Compadre", an early partner of Michael Martin Murphey, and a long-time devotee of the Kerrville Folk Festival. Bob is active in many boards & committees in Texas regarding music and arts, including on the Board of Directors of the Texas Music Museum.
Chris: Bob, I didnt even know until Lloyd Maines told me that you grew up in Lubbock and went to Lubbock High School. The only other thing I knew about you was the fact that youd been playing with Jerry Jeff [Walker] for a long time, and that youre a big part of the "Austin Music Scene", been around here along time. So maybe you can give me a little bit of your history of how you got from Lubbock to being a musician down here in Austin?
Bob: I went to Lubbock High School and graduated in 1967, the Summer of Love. I was a football player, actually; and Freddie Akers was my football coach, who ended up coming to the University of Texas.
An interesting fella there was Rob Layne. Robbie Layne wasnt a musician but he was a music lover. He was the son of the famous Detroit Lions quarterback Bobbie Layne
Chris: Oh, Bobby Layne! Well, I definitely know who that is! Bobby Layne was a big icon to me growing up in Lubbock. He lived right across the street from where I went to elementary school. He's a legend.
Bob: Well, Rob was his son and was the quarterback at Lubbock High School. Ropbbie was just a complete over-the-top craze-o one of these, yknow, "go to Vegas every weekend to see Elvis" kinda guys...
Chris: His dad was famous for that, too.
Bob: His dad was famous for that; Oh Yea! So Robbie was pretty "out there." I think that he unfortunately died of an overdose - or something like that- not too long ago.
But Robbie was a giant fan of and goods friends with Ely. And he was a friend of mine; We played football together. In any case, music was always a big part of our deal.
People say about Lubbock that everybody that comes out of there is either a musician or a dope dealer or something like that. And thats true to a certain extent, because Lubbock is just so like when I was there, it was dry. There was no way to even get a beer.
And, by God, then I didnt even think of getting a beer. I was a goodie-good kid; my parents both worked for the First Methodist Church in Lubbock. My father was the Activities Director and my mother was the General Secretary of the church. So I grew up in this church environment, but at the same time I had these thoughts of rebellion like other "preachers kids" do.
And I remember an interesting thing about my church that I just flashed on: There was this organist Dorothea Barrett was her name She played the organ for the church I dont know if youve ever went into the First Methodist Church but its humongous, and it had this pipe organ - One of the biggest in the world! And that rose window is one of the biggest in the world!
So Dorothea Barrett would play every afternoon, and Id come down there and listen to her sometimes and would notice a few people kind of sitting around in the back.
And years later Okay, first let me tell you this: When I first met Joe Ely, he was nekkid. He was living in this house, and he and a bunch of people were all Day-Glo body painting each other, and Ely answered the door nekkid!
I had gotten a little tape recorder like
I was walking around at one of those Tornado Jams in Lubbock and doing these little
interviews for fun. I walked up to Ely and said, "Joe Ely,
when I first met you, you were nekkid!" That was my lead
in for this little interview thing I was doin.
Ely was definitely what would be considered a "Lubbock hippie". He was getting in trouble a lot. He hung out with Lance Copland - who was the meanest kid in Lubbock, who would just beat people half to death - and they were big buddies. He was almost like a hoodlum. But then he grew his hair down to his knees and, yknow, would walk around town with one leg painted red and one leg painted white stuff like that
Chris: Just asking for it.
Bob: Just asking for it! And then he got in a band
And pot "Whats pot?" Or reefer "Whats reefer?" I mean, when I was a kid, I didnt know shit! I would just hear peripherally people talk about this stuff Like "Reefer Madness."
Another music thing that happened at the church - For me: What kinda blew my mind was one Sunday night when I snuck out of church and went down into the basement where they had this big television set; I turned it on and watched the Ed Sullivan Show with The Beatles for the first time. It just blew my mind to the max!
So Im like all by myself in the church basement - because
I had heard that these guys The Beatles were gonna be on, and
I gotta see what it was all about, just like everybody else.
You can always remember where you were...What struck me - not
only was their music incredible - but, of course, their hair!
So I got into it. My first band was called the New Grutchley Go-Fastees. Me and Robbie Gamble; Rob Gamble was "Papa Jelly Belly."
Chris: Oh, Yea, Right! P.J. Belly!
Bob: Me and Robbie Gamble and Johnny Tull whos now a big time lawyer in Dallas had this band. It was like a jug band, is basically what it was. We played church functions I mean, we were kids; we were in junior high school.
And I went to Mackenzie Junior High with David Halley I was, I guess, a year older than David
Chris: I didnt realize that Belly grew up in Lubbock.
Bob: Oh, Yea! His father Arthur was one of Lubbocks first big-time oil people. See, Papa Jelly Belly - a lot of people dont realize - was a multi-dog millionaire. He just recently died but he was very, very, very wealthy because he took over his fathers oil business for awhile. Then he moved out to Vegas and died of a heart attack.
So church was big for me. Here I was, this good guy that played
football; I was gonna go play in college but I had a bad senior
I graduated and I went to Tech. I didnt know what I
was gonna do, and I joined a fraternity. Theres NOTHING
to do in Lubbock! My girlfriend was Penny Pearson, who is Tony Pearsons sister; Tony
played in The
Flatlanders. Her dad was Bobby Laynes best friend.
So Id play these private parties and Bobby Layne would
tip me twenty bucks to play "Your Cheatin Heart"
I had never, ever drunk beer in high school, and by the time I got to Tech we were having these parties out in the cotton fields and getting so drunk. I was the champion beer drinker; suddenly I was pouring it down my throat Insane! Insane!
So I went through all that crap and by the time I was a sophomore Remember Rons Ice Cream? On College Avenue? [NOTE: I believe the building hes talking about is what was for years known as J. Patrick OMalleys and is now called Fat Daddys - chris] Down this alley there was a folk club called Alices Restaurant...Well, across from that and in the basement of Rons was this other little facility. I went and talked to Ron and said, "Lets open up a little folk club." He says, "Okay. You got it, You can do it here for free. Ill split the door with you," or something like that.
That was called The Attic.
Were talking about 1968. So I would play there for the
frat guys. The frat guys would come down every Friday and Saturday
and drink beer til they went crazy
They'd bring in
there own beer and eat pizza. I would play like "Proud Mary,"
and I learned others
Chris: So youre saying Joe Ely was really was one of the first ones in Lubbock doing that?
Bob: Oh yea! Absolutely! I mean, you had people like
Tommy Hancock playing Country
music, but that was real short-haired, pure-dee grade-A Country
music; Nobody knew he was droppin Acid every day!
Chris: Altura Towers?
Bob: Yea. It seems to me that there was a club in Altura Tower, because it was in that area that I saw him first. He was sitting down playing, and he had a high-hat, and he would play, "I got the blues for my baby by the San Francisco Bay," and "Candyman," all that stuff old folky, kinda jug-bandy stuff, but cool songs; bluesy, kinda folky and he played that high-hat. I was like, "Yea, Thats so cool!"
So when I opened my club, I went down to the pawnshop and I bought a high-hat. I had this Rickenbacher amplifier of my brothers and this electric guitar. I would plug that sucker in and I would play to all the frat guys who came down there.
Well, I became more and more friendly with Ely, so I started
booking him every Sunday night at this club. The frat guys would
come down there to listen and say, "What is this shit? Come
on! Play "Proud Mary!" Id stand up - And
I was a big guy at that time; I had just finished playing football
and I was BIG; I weighed like 240 pounds - I was in a frat, and
was just as craze-o as any of em, but I LOVED music. Here
was Ely - who, to me, was God - And I would get up and threaten
their lives if they didnt shut up.
Chris: So was this a little bit before the Flatlanders? A year or so?
Bob: Yea. It was right before the time that they started doing that. He started showing up with like 15 20 people, and he would say, "This is my lighting director. These are my background singers. These are my moral support." Hed get all these people in Free, which at that point I didnt even care; I just wanted to hear him play. So hed pack the audience with his own people I mean the place only held like 30 people. It was in a real small basement. Hed get up there and hed sing and I would just flip out listening to him. Of course, he was doing some Buddy Holly things Buddy was long gone but still definitely with everybody.
My brother was in a band. His name is Don
Livingston and he played in a band called The Raiders with Charlie
who was one of the first lead guitar
player guys in Lubbock
Blakely and Stan Smith, who went on to be in The
Sparkles... Do you know them?
Chris: Wasnt Gary P. Nunn in that band?
Bob: Yea. But Gary was not in the original. It was Lucky Floyd, Bobby Smith, who ended up being in the Lost Gonzo Band later a guy named Stan Smith, and the rhythm guitar player I cant remember his name. But they were a four piece; They played The Music Box and The Swinger; Those were the clubs. They were out on 19th Street, where it hits the Brownfield Highway. I saw the Turtles there and Buffalo Springfield at the Music Box. The Sparkles would always play there, and I got to get up and sing with them every once in awhile and sing "Get Off My Cloud" or something like that. But they were THE band. Lucky Floyd was the drummer and one of the greatest singers. The Sparkles were IT.
And heres the deal about Lubbock music: at that time, the fraternities supported it. They were the only people that would pay any sort of money. There were not that many clubs. If you could get a good frat-band you made money.
All the Sparkles did was play music. That was amazing to be able to only play music for aliving, and not have to have another job; They were a working band. They would come down to Austin, and they were the TOP party band at the University of Texas in that time. It was cover stuff, but also one of their big hits was called "Do the Hip;" It was a dance. Those records are worth tons of money today, if you can find em. Usually you find em in Germany or something like that. People know more about Lubbock music in Germany than we know about it.
Chris: It seems that way.
Bob: So there were these bands that were so good they blew your mind! So music started sinking in.
The reasons that I think why people come to music there: Lubbock, number one, was dry. You couldnt have any fun. You couldnt have long hair or youd get killed, yknow. I could tell you some great stories about hair and fraternities and rednecks and stuff. The Vietnam War was happening but Lubbock was They put a pinch on it. It was "Nope. You cant do that or do this!" So you joined a frat, if you could, or you just became "weird" - a kind of an outcast. I wasnt ready to become an outcast. I joined a fraternity so I could get girls.
Everything was so flat, and just hard-angles! But music seemed to round these flat edges off in Lubbock. It was like you could soften things with your music. Its like you could come into your own little world and make it anything you want. And we didnt know about the rest of the world. We just knew the pictures that we saw on TV, and it was so different that we wanted to try to imitate that, to a certain extent.
Music was big in the circles that I ran in, and they certainly
werent leftists or alienated. All the high school kids
went to the Music Box
and the Village Swinger
every weekend, and they danced their asses off. These were Dance
Bands, again. Otis Reading was big with the college people
then. They loved "Black music." Even the rednecks
Robbie Layne was sort of a redneck and people like Tonky
Grist Sands, Busty Underwood
Where do you hear names like this? These guys were all rednecks
but the just loved music! Busty Underwood
was one of my best friends and was the quarterback of the football
team and one of the richest guys in Lubbock. We both bought Gibson
J-45's at the same time and he and I had a duo and played a few
funny gigs. We used to play high school assemblies together at
Lubbock High. He still has his guitar, mine's long gone.
Bob: It was starving for things. Ive talked to Ely about this; He always said, "I love Lubbock. Im not ashamed of it at all. I always tell people Im from Lubbock. Ill always live here." And of course he moved.
Heres a story about Ely: He was living in Austin, and
my brother whos a musician also was playing
on the San Antonio River, down there on whats the River
Chris: So why were you down here again?
Bob: I wasnt really living anywhere then. I was
just kinda hanging out. I would live from week to week in places.
I went down to this place called The River Roost down
on the river, and I was subbing for my brothers gig because
he moved to California; and then I had to leave and go someplace
Chris: When you say you knew what you wanted to do
Bob: I just wanted to make records, to be a musician full-time. I didnt know where I was gonna go, but I just headed out.
Chris: And Aspen was a place where you could get some work and its a nice place to live?
Bob: It was a
place to get some work. My brother was there and he said, "Look,
come up and you can play some after-ski joints and we can do
a duo together." My brother was one of the first guys that
made tons of money doing this, playing in these ski-joints.
Bob: He taught a ton of people. The way he would teach
guitar is he would just teach them the songs, like Otis Reading,
blah, blah, blah
So vicariously, he learned millions of
songs. He had been in this Rock-n-Roll band but when he became
a folk singer in lounges, he found out he could make a lot of
money if he knew "cover" material.
I went out to California to make a living, when this guy "discovered"
me and said, "I can get you a record deal, Boy." I
go out to California. The year is probably 69. I get a
record deal with Capitol Records. I moved up to Wrightwood, California
in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountians, and the reason
I move there is: Im driving down the L.A. Freeway - like
the song - and I see a hitchhiker. Hes from Germany or
something. I said Im from Texas. And he said, [Bob,
in a fake German accent], "Oh, Really? I know only
one other person from Texas and his name is Mike Murphey.
Hes a singer, too."
The reason this is important is: Up to this point, I was a
folk singer and I was writing songs. I had my club in Lubbock,
moved to California, got a record deal on my own, it sort of
fell through, moneys getting low, not knowing what I was
gonna do, and Murphey says, "I got a tour back in Texas;
Come and play bass with me." I said, "I dont
know how to play bass." He said, "Here! Youll
learn. Its easy," and hands me this bass.
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