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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."

buy the book

"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 
Kent Mings
J. Patrick O’Malley’s 
Lubbock, TX; 2/2/98

I'm not really sure how Kent and I met. He's about my age. He's been playing in Lubbock for about as long as I've been going out. I guess the first time I ever saw his band - The Texas BelAires - is when they where sharing a regular gig with a band in Lubbock called Squarehead who I was tight with in the late '80s. Later (early '90s?), I remember hanging out one afternoon with Kent at The Continental Club in Austin; He was shooting pool with Jesse "Guitar" Taylor and Eddy Patterson of Stubb's Austin; joined them in a game on a lazy afternoon. 

However, this interview was brought together by David Keller and Tanya So, two of the most die-hard creators and advocates of art and music in Lubbock. They were roommates of Kent's brother Kevin Mings at the time, in the house where Texas Blues legend Angela Strehli grew up. I can't begin to explain how helpful and loving David and Tanya were to me whenever I first came home to Lubbock to write my book.

Kent and I were to meet for the interview at J. Patrick O'Malley's, a tiny pub--right across University Avenue from Texas Tech University--where I had spent much time in college. (It since has changed names, after almost twenty years). The BelAires had the regular Monday night gig there that season.

I was waiting for Kent to show up for sound-check. It was mid-afternoon, and I remember a group of college girls and one guy came in.
I overheard, "The Bel-Aires? Sounds scary. Who's that?"

I chuckle, "Stick around." That was 5:00-'ish.

When I left J. Pat's at 1:00 o'clock that night, that same group of girls was Rockin' and Rollin' like their mothers would not imagine they ever could.
They had learned the ecstasy of the West Texas "hell-raiser" music of The Texas BelAires.

I didn't worry for the girls' safety; I'm sure they got a ride home that night.

This is a sketch I made during the
Monday night BelAires show at J. Pat's - c.o.

Mings: We were at O.L. Slaton Junior High. There were these two little ol’ girls; set of twins. They looked like they were ten years old. Actually, I was at Lubbock High; Kevin & Wes [Kent's brothers] met these two little girls at Slaton - and everybody kinda’ made fun of ‘em, because they were smaller and not pretty, y’know....I think they mighta’ asked if we knew were to get some pot one time. And of course we did. 

But you know, I kinda’ felt sorry for ‘em a little bit. And I thought, "Well, these girls can’t be bad." And we got to be real good friends with ‘em, started hangin’ out with ‘em. They were 14 or 15; they was a year or two younger than us. They looked a lot younger. This was ‘76 or ‘77...
But turned to find out, these girls turned out to be daughters of Ponty Bone, and at that time Ponty Bone was playing with the Joe Ely Band.

Ponty had come in and took custody of the children so they moved in with Ponty. Naturally we just migrated over to Ponty’s house. Had no idea who he was. And, hell, I didn’t have any idea who Joe Ely was - let alone this guy. 
So now we’re over at Ponty’s house all the time. He's got this record collection, Man! Just stacks and stacks! Everything that I had never heard of...From reggae to old ‘30s blues and zydeco and…Amazing stuff.

Then we started getting together to go to these shows; ‘cause Ponty had his kids and he’d be doing the Tornado Jams and all that ... So we started to go to these shows and there was Jesse ["Guitar" Taylor] playin’, and Joe, and Ponty - Man, what a band!
I had always wanted to be a songwriter since I was kid.  And here I was right in the middle of all this shit and I thought, "Man, this is what I want to do."

And this is kinda’ weird that just from that kinda’ chance meeting with those two girls…Had no idea who they were...And then started hangin’ around Ponty and Jesse, goin’ to all those shows....
Of course we was just kids then, y’know. They weren’t like, "Oh, these are gonna’ be the next new guys;" It’z like Ponty told me about a year ago, "Gah, I had no idea when y’all were kids that y’all could play. Y’all were just kinda’ in my way."

Chris: Well, did you know you wanted to write songs and perform before you met all those guys?

Mings: Oh yea! I had a song book when I was about 8 years old.

Chris: But it was just the girls that made you want to go these shows? You didn’t know who these guys in the band were?

Mings: No, no. And I had kinda’ gotten side-tracked. Being poor, I knew I couldn’t make no money playin’ music so I was leanin’ toward law. I was on the debate team and did all that. When I was about 17, I read some books and met a couple of people that turned me against that and made me really wanta’ get back into writing. I started getting back into this music stuff, and I said, "Now I’m back full circle where I wanted it to be." So I started playing guitar and writing songs…

But it was really Ponty and Jesse and Joe - Seein’ them up there "Live" - that re-kindled what I knew I always wanted to do.

Chris: Did you play in any bands in high school?

Mings: No, man, I never did even…I never learned to play guitar until I was almost eighteen years old.
I was goin’ to school. I was writing poetry. So I got a guitar and started learnin’ some chords. I was really into Bob Dylan, y’know, so I was writin’ stuff like old Dylan acoustic stuff.

Joel Searsey taught me my first chords on guitar. I’ve known Joel since junior high. Joel was in my crowd when I met Samara.

Chris: Tell me about Joel ‘cause he was an interesting guy.
[Note: When I first met Joel Searsey, Joel had been telling me about how the "911 people" were pissed off at him because he lived on a rural road and was somewhat concerned about emergency health issues; He was never convinced that 911 had his address correct. "The Post Office keeps changin' my designation." 
So he was calling 911 just to see if they knew where he was. They didn't like that. But apparently Joel was ailing.
He also kept mentioning how he owned a thresher and could make some money if someone would just ask them to thresh their field. However, no one was soliciting such these days. What to do the guitar...

Mings: I met Joel at Lubbock High. We used to call him "Stoned Joel." He was a nut, man.. So I started hangin’ out with him. He was another one of those "lost souls" that nobody would hang around with. For some reason just I’m attracted to those kinda’ people because they’re so interesting…In the high school setting, a "real cool cat" like that… They don’t stand a chance, Man. Like Samara and Rachel - Real cool girls but they didn’t stand a chance in the high school scene, man!
They didn’t have a car. They didn’t date. They didn’t use make-up. They didn’t do the "normal thing."
And I always kinda’ gravitate towards those kinda’ people, I guess.

Chris: Do you think that has anything to do with music? 

Mings: Well, I’m sure it does. Because see, Joel was a third generation musician. His daddy was a professional musician, and his granddaddy. And Samara and Rachel grew up with Ponty, and he was a professional musician. 

I don’t know what happened to me. None of my folks were professional musicians. Of course they were very musical. But it was all in the church.

Chris: [Lubbock music historian] Rob Weiner said to me recently, "The Bel-Aires might be looked at as the ‘Bad Boys’ of Lubbock music, but they had their roots in gospel music," And he didn’t elaborate on that. What’s the story with your gospel roots?

Mings: See, my folks divorced when I was about 7 years old. There were six kids; We had three girls and then three boys, in that order. The three boys - we were the youngest so we went to live with our grandparents ‘cause mom couldn’t take care of us…
And my granddad was a Baptist preacher; So we were always in church. Three times a week. So, yea, Man.

The first times, learning to sing…Mom played the piano, and we all sang. And Ma-maw was always hummin’ hymns while she’s doing dishes.

Chris: So you were singin’ three times a week?

Mings: Aw, man! We were at church three times a week, and then if we had a revival it was FIVE nights a week. But you always had Sunday school and church on Sunday morning. Training meeting on Sunday night. Wednesday prayer meeting on Wednesday. So that’s three times a week we was in church.

Chris: Did that have anything to do with you wanting to play guitar, or is that totally different things?

Mings: No. But it had a lot to do with the way that I think...Y’know, 'cause I read The Bible a lot. It’s a very poetic book, and it’s got a lot of hidden meanings; I seemed to realize that early on. So it really intrigued me - y’know, about the stuff behind what’s written in The Bible.

Chris: It’s hard to talk about this whole Lubbock music thing without at least throwin’ in something about The Bible…[Laughs].

Mings: Right. It’s West Texas.
There’s a line in a song I wrote: "I grew up on the High Plains/ With the cotton and the corn and The Bible and the dust and the wind." And that’s just what you have out here.

Chris: Did y’all - you and your brothers - start playing music at the same time? 

Mings: Pretty much. I played guitar for about a year. And we got Wesley a bass guitar. Kevin had got some drums. If I started guitar when I was about 17, by the time I was about 18 they had picked up instruments, and we had a little four-piece combo with Joel - a little garage band; We never did do any gigs. We’d play in our backyard ‘til the cops came...

Chris: Tell me about your gig tonight.

Mings: It’s a pretty wild crowd on Monday here. Sometimes they don’t come in at all. But most the times there’s a big crowd usually comes in about 11:00 - 11:30. These fraternities have their chapter meetings on Monday nights, too. So after their chapter meetings, they all come out here and party. But last week we didn’t have much of a crowd at all...So I don’t know.

We used to play at The Spoon a lot. Man, we’d have a line out the door...I mean, once there was a line out the door during a snowstorm, at one o’clock in the mornin’. Some times you just have great nights over there.

Chris: I’ve had some good nights, man.

Mings: Any more though, there’s so many more clubs that have opened up with that Buddy Holly District. You got the Conference Café and Bleachers: two killer sports bars. That knocks a lot of ‘em out. And you got the Daiquiri Bar over there. And you got the martini bar and you got Kyle Abernathy’s and you got Stubb's and y’know…

But if you look, man, there’s a deal like about every ten or fifteen years out here. ‘Cause you had Buddy Holly…Ten or fifteen years after he died, you had ol’ Waylon Jennings come right out of here; out of Littlefield....Made it big. And it wasn’t just Waylon either. Goddamn, you had all kind of pickers in Waylon’s period comin’ out.. About another fifteen years, Ely starts hittin’ it. And not just Ely, either. You had Butch, and Jimmie, and Jesse and all these at the same time. 
But it seems like about every ten or fifteen years this creative stuff just keeps coming back up to the top. Just bubbles and bubbles…and I’m not sure why it happens like that.

Chris: [Laughs] That’s what I’m trying to figure out.

Mings: It may be kinda’ like droughts and flood years. Y’know, you get your drought years, for six-seven years, and then, Bam! You got three years of flood.

I remember them Ely Band days. That’s the days when I was watchin’ them. They had just got done with that Clash tour and that Live Shots! Album and they had just made the move to Austin. See, that’s what got me, right there, man…[pointing to a photo of the panther/guitar tattoo on Jesse Taylor’s bulging right bicep].

Chris: The tattoo.

Mings: When I was a kid, I’d stand there by the stage and I’d watch that sombitch…Jesse had the tattoos and he’d have a sleeveless shirt and the biceps, and he’d be sweatin’. Jesse just sweats like a pig. I mean the first song...He’s drenched. Dude, I’m not lyin’, Man!
And he’d be up there just drippin’ sweat right on the edge of the stage and just tearing the shit of that Les Paul. Them ol’ biceps … 

I thought, "Man, I want a band like that! I want a band like that."

Jesse volunteered to play on our album, for nothing but air fare and meals. So there’s all these people down there at the studio and they were watchin’ Jesse’s in the booth playin’. And I mean he’s just cuttin’ some chops, Man. I mean!…And this little lady - the money person -she was goin’, "Where did you get this guy?" I think they were from New Mexico. They’re older folks. They really had no idea who Jesse Taylor was. All they knew is they had to spend $250 to get him up from Austin, and "What the hell is this?"
Then they come down there after the studio session and they were like, "My God! Where did you find this guy?" I said, "See, I told ya’! Two hundred bucks ain’t shit, man, to get Jesse on this thing!"
They were like, "Man, that guy is amazing! Amazing!"

Chris: So he basically just did it for the plane ticket?

Mings: Yea well, we set up a couple of gigs in town with him and paid him, so he made a little money. He told me a year ago, when I first started this project; he goes, "Man, I want to record on your album." He says, "Man, I work really cheap. For you guys, I work for nothin’!" Well, "Hell, yea! Jess!" So we flew him in and flew him out. Got him a couple of gigs while he was here. Got a little money in his pocket.

-end of interview-

This is a sketch I made of an old sign
on the wall in J. Pat's
- c.o.

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- thanks to Tanya So for the pictures of Kent and The Texas BelAires -

Do you like the interviews you have been reading on
Buy the book by author Christopher Oglesby
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

buy the book

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