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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

- continued from page 1-
Chris: Now, tell me about you growing up. Tell me about Cary Swinney.

Cary: I can remember lying when I was a kid; just tellin’ flat-out fuckin’ lies to somebody.

Chris: What for?

Cary: To create a better story. It was always to create a better story. Some kids would just maybe tell some story. But I’d figure out a way…I wanted to get their attention with the story.

So I’d just flat-out lie to them.

It wasn’t flat-out lyin’ so much as it was just HUGE exaggerations of what actually went down. You know what I’m sayin’?

Chris: Yea, Sure.

Cary: And some people won’t admit that they lie. But we lie all the goddamn time! We do! About everything! Hell, we lie to ourselves mostly.

I get so put-out with these guys that are lyin’ to themselves. You see some of these musician-types…You know what I’m talkin’ about? They walk in and they pull this "woe is me" attitude, in front of the crowd and everything. "Oh, Life’s just been a struggle!"
And I think to myself, "If you don’t like it, why don’t you go fuckin’ mow lawns or something? Don’t go parade around this bar and let us look at how poor you’re doin’.
Figure out something else to do, if you don’t like yourself or your life! Or if music is that tragic to you, then DO SOMETHING ELSE!"…It just pisses me off!

Chris: Okay! Talk to me about why you’re doin music.
I hear what pisses you off. I can hear it in your voice. But I’m trying to get back to you, though. I like hearing what you’re sayin’ but…

You’re from O’Donnell. We learned how to pronounce that on the radio today: 'OH' Donnell. And you lived there because your dad did what? Why were you there?

Cary: I was there because my mother and father were both from there. My mother was the daughter of a farmer and my dad was the son of a guy who owned a car dealership there, a Chevrolet dealership. My mom and dad met in high school and were high school sweethearts. And then like I say in a song: "Ducks In a Row": You’re raised with whatever you have. You don’t really have a lot of control over that. My parents are real nice, opened-minded people. But in the beginning we did got to church every Sunday just like everybody else did.

And the church we went to was the Church of Christ. Why? Because that’s where my mom and dad’s parents went, so that’s where we went. You really didn’t have a lot of choice in the matter.
Being raised in O’Donnell was…I liked O’Donnell. My imagination runs wild when I think about O’Donnell. It was a different time. I have really strange memories of it.

Chris: You were tellin’ that story on the radio about "Hoss Cartwright" giving you chocolate milk. What was the story with that?

Cary: It was real simple. It didn’t amount to anything. I just remember the man - Dan Blocker - walking into the room, and there were some of us children there. I was sitting on a couch. Dan Blocker had made his way through the room; Everybody was wantin’ to visit with him and stuff.
Finally he kinda’ got to where I was sittin’ - over there next to the couch - and he just asked me if I would like a glass of chocolate milk.

It means absolutely nothing, and no one probably remembers it but me. It was just something that happened; Like a little impression that is left on your brain. Some people call those "blue moments." I don’t know why they call ‘em that but…

O’Donnell was really cool, y’know. ‘Cause we lived right on the southern edge of town. So we had snakes and frogs and horny toads and rabbits. All kinds of shit like that.
We had horses. I had a Shetland pony named Prince; my brother had a horse named Trixie. So we rode our horses…Not constantly but, we were able to have fun…I say, "We rode our horses." Really, we just rode them at special occasions, like rodeos…

But it was different. Kids don’t know…I had a guy from O’Donnell walk up to me the other night where I was playin’ and he said, "Do you realize how lucky we were to have been in O’Donnell as children. Because," he said, "O’Donnell was a good twenty years behind the rest on the country, Number One." And he said, "And in some odd way it was like a Norman Rockwell painting."

The town square was still alive and well at that time. It’s all dead now. It’s gone. If you go back now, it just makes you sad to even have to look at it. But at one time, there was a thriving little town there. I say "thriving."…For what it was… You had two or three grocers. You had dry cleaners.

You believed in Santa Claus ‘cause they told you that he was real. God would send you to Hell but Santa Claus would bring you gifts. So, "Why didn’t God take over Santa Claus’ role," was what I wanted to know. He fucked up right off the bat!

Chris: [Laughing] You said earlier that you felt like you were "really conservative" when you were younger. Were you conservative when you went off from high school? You were telling me earlier that you were kind of a "big, mean guy" in high school.

Cary: I don’t know that I was "mean." I wasn’t mean to other people. I was just on the football team, and I played middle linebacker. We were trained to be mean. I’m not sayin’ that I was mean to people; I never "picked on" anyone in my life or anything like that.

Chris: You were just trained to be aggressive or "superior."

Cary: I was trained to be aggressive; Yes. When you were a kid in a small town like that, you are trained to be aggressive.

And the football coaches and all that…I look back on it now and it’s embarrassing! Embarrassing! Because I now realize that these jackasses were getting paid $30,000 a year to run my ass into the ground. And I thought this was all "cool" at the time, for some reason.

But it didn’t take but my freshman year at college to realize that I had been duped. And I had been duped in a Big Way! And I fought it. And then I just thought, "Goddamn! I cannot believe that I had been indoctrinated into that shit!"

Chris: Okay. Tell me about that; How did you discover this, and what exactly is it that you discovered?

Cary: I went off to college, and I discovered that "everybody was a middle linebacker from their hometown football team." [Laughs] And I was like, "This is Horseshit! This is just shit, y’know. I’ve been fooled."

Chris: So you just basically thought it was all about being the middle linebacker when you went to Tech?

Cary: No. When I went to Tech, of course, I didn’t play football or anything like that. I’m just sayin’ that I was a fool in a lot of ways.

Chris: What would you have done if you hadn’t discovered that? I mean, what would you be doing right now if you had not learned that?

Cary: Good question. [Pauses]

I don’t know. I was still probably - in my class - considered kind of an oddball, because I liked to play the guitar and write songs when I was 11, 12, 13, 14…

So I wasn’t just "that." But that was a part of who I was. And there wasn’t anything you could do about…It wasn’t just me; It was the whole class. I mean, every boy in the class was on the football team.

We were just drinking and trying to get laid, y’know. And smokin’ a little grass, maybe, here and there. But mostly we were drinking a lot of booze on the weekends, and doin’ every thing we could to get some pussy. That was the name of the game; That was it. And it was very stupid. But...We were kids in a small town. I mean, that’s what you do.

Chris: Well, then I guess then O'Donnell or Perryton is really small because... Explain to me how coming to "the big city of Lubbock" changed you?
What happened to you in Lubbock? Was it just realizing that everyone else around you was like that, and you were kinda’ tired of it?

Cary: Yea!
But you know what: At the same time though, those things - that conservative approach...Y’know, standing immediately to your feet when The Star Spangled Banner started, which I don’t do anymore.... I mean, I do stand, out of respect. But I kinda’ mostly just look at everybody and I think, "Good God! It’s almost like we’re fixing to raise our hands to Hitler or something."

But those conservative things that you got and I got as a child, also…They probably made you have manners and respect for other people. So if I came out of it with anything, I did come out of it with that.

Politically speaking, I changed. I changed a lot, and I continue to change. Sometimes I find myself listening to the Libertarian point of view, and what they’ve got to say. And I find myself listening to the reality of the over-populated prison problem that we have, and all of that shit. We’re becoming more and more of a socialist country all the time, and it’s just happening so gradually that it’s happening right under our noses and we don’t even see it.

Chris: Yea. We were talking about that at lunch. I mean, you’re very right….But we both could go off on that forever…

Tell me a little bit about you friendship with Robin Griffin… I know he's one of the great guitar players from Lubbock...

Cary: Robin is real easy. You know how you travel with somebody sometimes and they’re always kind of a little bit of a pain in the ass? Robin is not a pain in the ass. He’ll drink the beer hot. He doesn’t care. And if there’s only cigarettes left in the ash tray, then "We’ll start smokin’ those if that’s all we got left," kinda’ guy. You know what I’m sayin’? He’s never pissin’ and moanin’ about anything.

Chris: Well, how’d you meet him?

Cary: There were some people that wanted us to meet, actually. They kinda’ threw us together at a place called Juan in a Million. This would have been about 10 years ago. I had started singing. I started tryin’ to get out professionally a little bit about in 1988.

Chris: Where were you doing that? What were the venues you started out in?

Cary: I was invited to play at the Texas Café…The Spoon. Didn’t play there very much. It was more of a fraternity hangout. It wasn’t right for me. The place I really started was Great Scott’s Bar BQ.

That’s a whole different deal out there...You know, I still get e-mails all the time from people that went to school at Tech during that time, that graduated and since moved off to Timbuktu…They send e-mails to me; They see it as a "romantic time." I don’t necessarily….

But there was a magic to the place. There really was. I say, "a magic"...If there can be such a thing.

Chris: So you were playing there when people were wanting you to hook up with Robin Griffin.

Cary: He had a damn good band.

Chris: Well, tell me a little about the Robin Griffin Band.

Cary: The Robin Griffin Band was a lot of original material. But the stuff they did that wasn’t originals, God they could do so well. They could do some old Allman Brothers stuff, I mean really good. They put their own personality into it. They actually did a couple of ol’ Willis Alan Ramsey tunes; they put ‘em to Rock-n-Roll. Their song selections were really good. And he had this monstrous voice. And he’s got that long red hair, kind of tall guy. Kind of a thin kind of a…He has a certain look about ‘im…

He’s just probably one of the nicest sonofabitches I’ve ever met. He told me one time, He said, "Of all the people that are in this business," Robin told me, he said, "Jesse Taylor’s one of my favorites."

Chris: Oh, yea. They’re a lot alike.

Cary: That’s true…because every time I’ve been around Jesse he’s just been a prince of a guy. He really is. You know how some guys, when they start to make it a little bit, they pull the "cool" bullshit on you? And they start playing this game in their own head. It’s only goin’ on in their own goddamned head. They think that I’m buying that for some reason; that they are somehow in a different place.
Jesse’s not like that. Jesse does not seem to be affected by his "notoriety" or whatever it is that he has, in the least! That’s what makes him a beautiful person, I think.
Now, I don’t know him intimately. I’m not a "close personal friend" of Jesse Taylor’s. But I do know this: I know that when you’re around people, you either behave in a particular way or you behave another way. He knows how to behave.

He doesn’t seem to be affected by any of this. And I think that’s great. I think that’s what makes him special. Again, I know he’s not a close personal friend of mine…

Well, it makes an impression on ya’. Some people are kinda’ aloof. They get in this business, and I guess it makes ‘em that way. I mean, even on such a small level, I guess, if you wanta’ behave that way, you can. Even if you’re just the guy that…Y’know, some guys, they just perform down at the…I guess you can kinda’ tell that I’m kinda’ sick of some of the attitudes and stuff of some of these…
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