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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
Norman Odam

"The Legendary Stardust Cowboy"
September 14, 2006
Via telephone: Stardust Cowboy at home in San Jose, CA

I was at Joe and Sharon Ely's house giving them a signed copy of my book, when Joe took a phone call. After wandering around the yard for awhile talking, Joe came in and handed me the phone. "The Legendary Stardust Cowboy wants to talk with you." This was exciting news for me, who writes of Lubbock musicians; The Legendary Stardust Cowboy may be Lubbock's most remarkable and puzzling musical genius. As he told me, the music of the Legendary Stardust Cowboy is "middle-of-the-galaxy, not middle-of-the- road." Anyone who has heard or seen the Lege perform knows this is true.

Lubbock native Norman Odam left his hometown for Fort Worth to start his incredible recording career. A then unknown radio deejay named T. Bone Burnett, also only 20 years old at the time, discovered "The Lege" and made his first recording of his signature song "Paralyzed." Less than a week later, the Stardust Cowboy signed with Mercury Records. Soon he made his legendary nationally televised appearances on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In. The cacophonic, almost incomprehensible song "Paralyzed" made the Billboard Top 100 briefly in 1969, an odd year for music anyway. Odam felt that any true self-respecting cowboy in the later 20th Century would not resemble the smooth stars of country music but would rather be riding the new frontier of 4th dimensional psychedelia, which is what one experiences when hearing "Paralyzed."

After we spoke on the phone at Ely's home and made an appointment to do the interview below, Joe talked to me about his old buddy from Montery High School days. Joe said, "He's just a genius when it comes to time, almost like an idiot-savant, like Dustin Hoffman's character in 'Rainman.' I can remind him of a particular incident, for instance, that occurred when he was playing in front of the Hi-d-Ho in Lubbock years ago, and he'll remember the day of the week, date, month and year. He's been calling me a lot lately, and I started counting and keeping time; I figured out he calls me every twelve days and stays on the phone for exactly twenty-two minutes." This was going to be an interesting and unusual interview for me, no doubt.

The Lege had asked me to call him "at precisely 4:00pm, pacific daylight time" at his home in Silicon Valley. I made sure the phone was ringing at exactly that time.

Chris: I've read your 1969 autobiography on your website and enjoyed the letter posted there from the mission control engineers at NASA.

LSDC: They used my song "Paralyzed" to wake up the space station astronauts but their supervisors told them not to play it anymore. I guess the astronauts got paralyzed after awhile. Another song of mine they'd wake the astronaut's to is "Who's Knockin on My Door?" They'd drink root beer from coffee cups, just like I'm singing about in that song, those NASA officials. Back in August, USA Today printed an article about the different songwriters that had songs played over the years to wake up the astronauts and mine wasn't on there. They didn't include the space station astronauts. I told my bass player that I was going to write them a letter and make them re-write the article to include my song. They didn't re-write the article though.

Chris: We'll get the record straight here. I read in your biography that you grew up on Flint Avenue in Lubbock. That was my neighborhood when I lived in Lubbock.

LSDC: My sister and I were both born in Lubbock at the old Methodist Hospital on Broadway and Avenue L, where Dunlap's Department store was later. My mother and I both worked at Dunlap's, after I got out of high school. We both worked there at the same time; she was a sales clerk and I was a janitor. So it took 19 years for me to go full circle, from being born there, to working in that building later. That's a full circle.
I read in the paper a few years ago that Furr's Supermarket went bankrupt. That was a long-time institution in Lubbock. I remember in the early sixties when the Furr Food Store opened out near 34th & Slide, they had the Light Crust Doughboys entertaining at the grand opening. I went down there and got to see them in person, stood right in front and watched the show. I also enjoyed shopping at the Furr's in Caprock Center. Those Furr Family Super Centers were so big, when you went to the produce department to get a box of strawberry's, when you got to the checkout counter, they were already out of season. You needed roller skates or a skateboard to shop at those stores. Furr's was way ahead of its time, because here came Wal-Mart super-center stores.
I went to Monterey High School and almost got kicked out of school for bringing my guitar up there and entertaining. One time after school some guys wanted to hear me sing, so I stood on the tallest seat in the boy's bathroom as a stage. I was singing and yelling for some guys there in the bathroom and a teacher heard me as he was walking by, and he grabbed me and said, "Let's go see the principal." So we went to go see Floyd Honey, who was the principal there. I told him what I was up to. But he said, "If you ever bring your guitar to school one more time, et cetera, et cetera, you will be expelled for the rest of the semester." I got taken to the principal's office and had my guitar taken away from me numbers of times.
Joe Ely used to watch me out there on the steps of the auditorium at Monterey High School before school started. I would hip-hop around there; I was known as the Hip-Hop Cowboy in those days. People would through dirt clods, money, and sweet-tarts at my guitar trying to get them to go into the hole of my guitar. Once in a while, one of 'em would hit a guitar string and it would go "Zwing!"
I'd bring my guitar up there at Christmas time and hold an annual Christmas fest, singing Christmas songs. Well, I would get caught by a teacher who would take me and my guitar down to the principal's office again. That happened numbers of times. I said, "I saw other kids bringing their guitars to school on a regular basis, and they never got their guitars taken away or called down to the principal's office."

Chris: And you were just singing Christmas songs?

LSDC: Instead of singing something like "Frosty the Snowman," I would sing something like "Frosty Happy Alligator Man."

Chris: So you were jazzing the songs up?

LSDC: Yeah, we were all having a great time with our annual Christmas music festival down there before school started. So between that and square dancing, I had a great time.

Chris: Tell me about the square dancing.

LSDC: That was in P.E. That was the only chance in high school that I had a woman available to hold and squeeze and twirl her around and 'round. Physical education was required the first two years of high school and the third year was optional. Well, I took it the third year so I could get a chance to square dance with the gals. Me and another guy got into a fight over one gal there one time when we were square dancing, so the teacher sent us to the principal's office. We didn't go the principal's office; we just went elsewhere. We just waited around for the next class to start. Yep, we had a lot of fun back then, back yonder.
I would write letters to all the girls; I'd get their addresses from the school roster phone book. Guys would threaten me, to stomp my guts out if I didn't leave their girlfriends alone. I wasn't trying to cause anybody any harm or anything like that.

Chris: What were you trying to do?

LSDC: I was trying to get a date with them. It didn't work out because they'd show my letters to their boyfriends and their boyfriends would follow me different places around town and threaten to stomp my guts in if I ever did it again. They'd say, "You lay off of my girlfriend."

Chris: So you didn't date much in high school?

LSDC: No, I didn't. I didn't date at all in high school. I was the most popular student there, but I couldn't get a date to save my life. If somebody put a gun to my head, cocked the hammer, and threatened to blow my head off if I didn't get a date, I couldn't have done it.

Chris: When you were singing your songs at school, did you ever have any ladies like you then?

LSDC: Oh, yeah! They liked that. I was good for a few laughs but that's it. I wasn't good enough for a date. To this very day, I'm still not married.

Chris: Have you ever had a date?

LSDC: I haven't had a date since November 1988, just a few months before I moved from Las Vegas to here. And I had to pay for that one, from a dating service. That was in Las Vegas, and that didn't pan out either. I think I only got one date. We went out maybe two or three times. I had to call it quits. I couldn't stand her accent; she was from West Michigan. That accent just drove me up the wall. Everything was perfect about her but her accent. I just had to cut her off. Good Night! I couldn't take it. I'd rather hear a dog bark, rather hear a hound dog howl at the moon than to hear somebody with a Michigan accent.

Chris: Speaking of the moon, David Bowie released on his album "Heathen" the song "I think I'll Take a Trip on a Gemini Ship." Did you write that song?

LSDC: Yes, he released that in summer of 2002 on Columbia. You've heard of T. Bone Burnett from Fort Worth? We're the same age, as a matter of fact. He was my first ever music producer. He never played drums until he played drums on my song "Who's Knocking at My Door?" On the Mercury version of "Gemini Spaceship," he played the vibraphones, the organ, and some other instruments. That part was dubbed in about a week later. One day in T. Bone Burnett's recording studio, I recorded 52 songs, just playing the dobro and singing 52 of my songs on a big reel of tape. That was in the Fall of '68.
Now, Johnny Cash recorded 50 songs in one day, just about three years ago, after his wife June passed away. But I still got him beat by two tunes, so that makes me the Two-Tune Kid.
I met Johnny Cash, back in Lubbock. Did Joe Ely tell you that story? I've got hundreds of stories like that; it could fill a two volume book. Joe Ely is always trying to get me to write my autobiography but it's hard for me to sit down and write a book like that. It would be easier for me to write fiction. I'm good at fiction; I can just sit down and write, write, write from my imagination. But when you're writing a biography about someone, you've got to get all the facts and figures straight and in chronological order. That's more difficult for me to do than sit down and write straight fiction.
There was a radio station in Lubbock called KSEL. I talked with a lady there in October of 1984; Bill McAlester, who was the mayor of Lubbock, owned the station but sold it and they destroyed all the old recordings. They had the first ever recording of "Paralyzed" on reel-to-reel tape. I played the kazoo, harmonica, guitar and rub-board. I tried to get Mr. Corbin, one of the founders of KLLL, to play tapes of my music on his station like they did Buddy Holly to get him started. Well, they listened to it but said it didn't fit the format. Guess what? After my records started coming out on Mercury, they started playing my records. I heard the Corbin's sold KLLL. Do they still play country music on that station?

Chris: It is still the major country station in Lubbock.

LSDC: They use to broadcast out of the Great Plains Life Building, the big fifteen story building downtown that got twisted by the tornado. The tornado couldn't tear it down but the steel structure was twisted around so that the elevator only went up to the 8th floor.
It took me about four hours to write the song "Paralyzed." I couldn't find a song that suited my style enough to record for the KSEL radio talent contest. They were going to give away a thousand dollar savings bond to the winner. So I sat down and wrote "Paralyzed." They started playing it on the radio stations, and I heard the switchboard started lighting up like a Christmas tree. Everybody at Monterey was talking about it. There were request for it for years and years. I knew I had a hit record on my hands. Unfortunately, I was mishandled. T. Bone Burnett's engineer told me that if I had been managed correctly from the start, they could have sold two million copies easily. I had a deal with Mercury Records, that once I sold a hundred thousand records, I could be on the Tonight Show, and I was.
They pressed a hundred thousand copies to begin with; those things have been circulating around the world for years, for decades. People have come across them in The Hague, Holland. People find it in record bins in drug stores and record stores all over the country. They might listen to it and keep it for a few years and they sell it for money. A hundred thousand of those things, man. The first two thousand were printed on my record label Psycho-Suave records. Back in the '80s I met a record collector who showed me a book where it was listed and they wanted about two hundred dollars a piece for them back then.
The song "Paralyzed" has been released to the public on eleven different record labels around the world. I call that the Record of the Twentieth Century. You've heard of the Shot Heard 'Round the World that started the American Revolution? "Paralyzed" was the record heard 'round the world. You either love it or you hate it, when you first hear it; there's no in-between.

Chris: I saw you perform at the Continental Club here in Austin about four years ago, and I loved it. I was totally enthralled.

LSDC: Is that the first time you had seen one of my shows?

Chris: It was.

LSDC: You should have introduced yourself after the show. That show was put on the "Lubbock Lights" DVD.

Chris: Yes, and I am so grateful. It looks fantastic there on that DVD.

LSDC: That was my backup band. My guitarist is from Omaha, Jay Rosen; my drummer Joey Myers is from Coeur d'Alene, Idaho; and the bass player is from Detroit. He was one of the original members of a band called the Dead Kennedys, Klaus Fluoride. That's his stage name. They were founded in 1970, long before he met me. He goes on the road still, with the Dead Kennedys, every month or two to different parts around the world for months at a time. They don't have the original singer; he's one of the only original members left in the band. Then he comes back here and backs me up in the studio for records and for live shows. He lives in Albany, California, in the North Bay area.

Chris: Do you do any regular gigs around the Bay area?

LSDC: We did one last Saturday night in Oakland at a place called the Stork Club. Out front they have a picture of Stork in boots and spurs and the sign says "Best Country Music in Town." But they have mostly punk rock bands there and alternative music.

Chris: So you fit in there?

LSDC: Yep. Boy, in the year 2002, I got all kinds of publicity with David Bowie recording my song. He recorded one song called "Cactus" by the Pixies and sang that a lot on TV that year, too. I found out that any time he sung somebody else's song on network TV, Sony paid the songwriter five hundred dollars. David Bowie recorded one of Neil Young's songs on the same album "Heathen." Columbia spent a whole lot of money promoting that. That summer, David Bowie came out here to Mountain View at the amphitheater, and I got a chance to meet him and had my picture taken with him.
My latest album is called "Tokyo." It came out about a year later. Look up Cracked Piston Recordings dot com, and you'll see it advertised. They're also selling coffee mugs, lunch pails, aprons, just about everything with my name on it.
Sarah Ferguson found me by reading a book called "Songs in the Key of Z" and she got in touch with me through Cracked Piston recordings dot com, and she sent me an autographed picture and an autographed copy of her latest book that she had written. She's a photographer like me; we're both into photography. So I got this letter in the mail from New York City on May 21st, 2003. It says:
"The Duchess of York's office in New York City"…They misspelled my name; they put Ordam and they should have put ODAM, and then my pseudo-name after that. And the letterhead has a big crown on it, so its official. I hope she's there when I go back to New York City to perform, so I'll get a chance to see her and have my picture taken with her. It says:
May 21st, 2003: Dear Mr. Odam, I am writing to you on behalf of the Duchess of York, who is a huge fan of your work. She recently purchased 'Songs in the Key of Z' and loves your 'Live in Chicago' CD…" which came out in July of 1999, and was in John Cusack's movie "Hi Fidelity."
"She is absolutely fascinated by 'Paralyzed' and would like to know if there is any Legendary Stardust Cowboy memorabilia which you can send to her. She also wanted to ask a favor, if she could receive an autographed photo for a very close friend of hers, who is also a huge fan. You can autograph a photo to Rupert…" Wouldn't that be great if it was Rupert Murdoch? I don't know if it's him or not. He's an Aussie, isn't he? "That would be wonderful and we would be forever in your debt. Thank you so much for your time and I hope to hear from you soon. Please feel free to contact me at area code (212) 419-7493 or at our office in New York. Best wishes, Jenean Chapman, Assistant to the Duchess of York."
I put that away and didn't think that much about it. "The Duchess of York;" that didn't ring a bell to me at all, when I read that down at the post office. So I called up Mike Destiny, he's the owner of Cracked Piston Recordings dot com, and read the letter to him. He said, "That's Sarah Ferguson, the lady that advertises on the Weight Watchers commercials on TV, the one that's red-headed and about fifty years old, got two teenaged daughters and one is a fashion model." So about a couple of years later, I was watching her on a TV program, I think it was Regis Philben; she said she was moving that year from England to New York City because she spends so much time in the United States and this America is where her work is. At that time, she said she was looking for a husband. Regis asked her, "What kind of ingredients are you looking for in a husband?" The only thing she said was that he's got to have a great sense of humor.
You didn't know all that did you? That's why you called me today, to find all this out. I've just got reams and reams of stories. Like this one gal was chasing me across a parking lot in Lubbock, and she took my guitar from me. I was able to get my guitar back from her, but about the time I grabbed my guitar I slid on the gravel and busted the thing. All kinds of wild stuff like that.
The police used to chase me off all different properties in Lubbock, all hours of the night. When I'd have a huge gathering, they'd take down my name and address but I never went to jail when I was in Lubbock. I had to leave and go to Fort Worth, to spend some time in jail there. I didn't have the money to pay the ticket for driving backwards down a one way street. I didn't know Fort Worth because I had just been there a couple of days. I told the cop I had just got there from Lubbock and was trying to learn the streets. He said, "That's no excuse. You get ticket now, Kemo Sabe." So that's what happened there. I've got all kinds of exciting stories to tell. You got any questions?

Chris: I've read somewhere that you've written more songs about space than anybody. Why is that? What is your fascination with outer space?

LSDC: I'm a big supporter of the space program, through my tax dollars. Every time I do my taxes, I send a letter off to the IRS saying: "Please make sure this money goes directly to NASA."

Chris: Do you want to go up into space?

LSDC: Yes, I do. I want to be on the first trip to Mars. And I don't care about ever coming back.

Chris: So you'd like to settle Mars, like a cowboy on a new frontier?

LSDC: Yeah, I want to settle the first ranch on Mars, and design a space suit for horses. Have you heard my song "Rocket to Stardom"? It's on the album of the same name. Joe Ely probably has a copy of that. He's got one of just about everything of mine. He's got "Paralyzed" on the Psycho-Suave label.
Oh, something else, my video man down in Hollywood found on the Internet that a huge fan of mine invented a new flower, crossbred a new flower, a named it after me: The Legendary Stardust Cowboy Flower.
All kinds of wild stuff has happened to me. Something else that my drummer came across…He goes on E-Bay nearly every day, starting about four years ago. He said to me, "Did you know there is a Legendary Stardust Cowboy site on E-Bay, where people are selling your songs, T-shirts, photos of you?" I said, no I didn't know that. I was over at his house a number of times, and he's showed me. Nearly every day of the year, there is somebody trying to sell some Legendary Stardust Cowboy memorabilia. I never dreamed anything like this would ever happen, back in the '60s. I heard that somebody downloaded my "Tokyo" CD on their I-Pod and they're listening to it as they go about their daily activities.

Chris: I've heard that even when you were a little boy, you knew you were going to be famous when you grew up.

LSDC: But I had no idea what the details would be; I couldn't see into the future like Gene Roddenberry. I was just a regular entertainer, like Johnny Cash; I put out records and do live shows, and that's it. Now, there's a producer in Austin named Jim Dunn. He and his partner used to manage recording artists a long time ago. He's written a script about my life story. He's been trying to get the money to make that movie. You know, he'd have different people play me at different stages in my life and I'd come in at the end of the movie. It could show in theaters nationwide.
My man in Hollywood, Tony Phillputt who is making a film about my life called "Cotton-Pickin' Smash," has been talking with David Bowies' people in New York, and it looks like I'm going to be playing at a music festival in New York with David Bowie next spring. Now, we won't be on the stage at the same time. There will be other acts there as well, over a week's a time, like Pappalooza, or something like that. And then there is a possibility of me being on a network TV show, like Conan O'Brien, to help them advertise the festival. My name has been mentioned with David Bowie for some time; do you know the Ziggy Stardust connection? Its been documented in several books how David Bowie came up with Ziggy Stardust; the name "Ziggy" came from his friend and fellow songwriter Iggy Pop and "Stardust" from my character who he saw on a Laugh-In episode that was shown on the BBC in January of '69. I was a big influence in David Bowie's life. When he signed with Mercury Records, a friend of mine there at Mercury gave him some of my singles. Bowie just flipped out and said, "This guy is a genius." And he's been flipping out over my stuff ever since. His persona Ziggy Stardust was a big part of his career over thirty years, you know? He made a lot of money off that, and I didn't make a thing, so anyway…
I've been in Rolling Stone magazine one time and one time only, in August of '79. There was a guy named Charlie Young, I think, who listed his ten top favorite recordings of all times, and "Paralyzed" was number one. His second song was by the Sex Pistols. He compared my singing voice with Sid Vicious. I don't know why; I don't even think we sound alike.
I'm also an actor. I've done commercials and movies. I did some commercials with Andre Agassi, in San Francisco a couple of years back. He was playing tennis with another tennis player, and I was in the audience as an extra with a bunch of others. I took his photograph.

Chris: I saw somewhere you said, "God is my partner and he is on my side." What does that mean?

LSDC: Just that He's been guiding me all the way through the music.

Legendary Stardust Cowboy performs
at High Line Music Festival NYC-
May 2007

The Lege' called recently to let us know he just returned from a brief tour, culminating with his performance at David Bowie's High Line Music Festival in New York City.

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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