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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
Tommy X Hancock
Tommy’s home, Austin; 6/5/00

Tom X is known by many names: Godfather of the Lubbock Mafia, Patriarch of The Supernatural Family Band, and Lubbock' Original Hippie. Hancock was the owner of Lubbock's legendary Cotton Club, and Lubbock's top dance-band leader for decades. Former Crickets member Sonny Curtis has cited Tommy Hancock, as "a strong influence on Buddy (Holly) and us all."
He is the author of a book entitled Zen & the Art of the Texas Two Step

Chris: Tommy, you were saying that you’re more interested in Mysticism than religion. Let’s just start there.

Tom X: To me Mysticism is so interesting. Everything else is just kinda peanuts compared to it. It’s so incredible; That whole idea that "there’s something other than the obvious."

Chris: Is that how you would define "mysticism?" When you say you're "more interested in mysticicsm..."?

Tom X: "Mysticism" as I use the word is "trying to understand the mysteries of the life, the biggest mysteries of all."

And born and raised in Lubbock, I never once suspicioned that anything interesting was goin on. [Chuckles.] Until I took LSD.

Chris: That was the most interesting thing to happen to you in Lubbock? [Laughs]

Tom X: Well, it was the turning point. LSD showed me that there was something wonderful happening all the time, that I hadn’t been conscious of before; And right in that point of my life I started trying to decide, "I’m gonna’ find out what it is; What is this thing called Love?" [Laughs] That’s been 32 years ago, I guess.

Chris: Well, how did that happen? You were in Lubbock when this happened?

Tom X: Me and my family were living a pretty straight life out in West Lubbock. I was in law school, goin’ on to become "rich and powerful." I was sittin' watching PBS and they had a guy this guy layin’ on a table in a hospital room - some kinda laboratory - just laughin’ his ass off. And these doctors standing around with serious faces looking at him. They explained that this LSD drug makes you act like you're crazy. This guy is layin’ there laughing because these guys are all standing around looking at him.…It’s so crazy…I mean: the situation.

I thought, "Man, anything that makes it funny to be around a bunch of doctors, I need to try that out." So me and a friend of mine went out to San Francisco and took some acid to see what was goin’ on out there.
Taking LSD made me realize that there’s something real wonderful, worth spending one’s life doing. I think, basically, that we’re on this planet to have a good time and to experience this planet. That's the purpose of our life.

But at that time I was just joggin’ along trying to beat boredom; And studying mysticism damn sure stops the boredom.

Chris: Were you a working musician before you went into law school?

Tom X: Oh, yea. I had been playing professionally since I was 18 years old. I was about 40 when I went into law school. I had been around Lubbock playing for over 20 years then. I was The party band in West Texas for a long time.

Chris: And your wife Charlene? Was she in the band? Did I read that that’s how you met? She’s a singer…

Tom X: Well, Charlenes’s quite a bit younger than I am. She came into the band about 1968. But she was already well known at the time. She was on a regular weekly TV show. That’s how I knew about her. When my girl singer rang off with the piano player to California, I went to hire another singer, and Charlene was the only one I knew.

Chris: Is she from the Lubbock area, too?

Tom X: Yea. She was from Morton.

So I had read some "holy person" that said, "LSD won’t get you into heaven; That’s not the path. But that it will show you that heaven is there." And that proved to be correct for me. I could see that there was something that I wanted to get into there.

Chris: I’m real interested in the fact that there are so many people that have been connected with Lubbock music that ended up following the person who I’ve seen described at one time as "the Fourteen Year Old Perfect Master of Self." And I don’t know a whole lot about that. But I understand that a lot of people came together around then.

Tom X: I'll give you a brief summary of it. It started out of a group called "The Word" - because we talked all the time. A bunch of guys would get together and talk…

Chris: In Lubbock?

Tom X: Yea. Just a bunch of guys; Just friends, talking and exchanging…This was about the time everybody took LSD. There was all kinds of searching for Truth.
Jimmie Gilmore was the first intelligent person I’d ever run into that was "searching for God." Most of the people around Lubbock were dumb-asses that already found God for themselves. That was the part of Lubbock I’d always shied away from and been careful of, y'know. That’s the same mentality that nailed Jesus to the cross. So I stayed a little shy of that element.

I was raised up around that "Christian" environment. So I knew enough about it to know that it wasn’t my cup of tea. Although, after I took the LSD, I did go check out several churches…

My method for searching for Truth is; I say, "Brother, put your trip on me."
And I’d go do whatever it was they said to do to see if it would wake me up to what was happening.

So this circle of friends…We had what we called The Lamb’s Club. We’d eat at a different Mexican food place every week, and we’d get in there and make fun of The Lion’s Club by doing the old "Lamb’s Club Roar"…We’d all go "Baaaaah!" And we had a lot of fun kicking around what we had learned that week in this search for the Truth.

Finally, it boiled down to the fact that you can’t find it in books, and you can’t actively talk about it either; The best way to do it is Silence. So that was kind of the end of The Word. [Laughs.] We broke up after that point.

Chris: Was it mostly musician-type people around Lubbock? Who was this group?

Tom X: The music part may have been a coincidence. At that time, I was kind of the focus of the music scene ‘cause I had an ongoing dance band, and these guys would come out and sit-in with me. We’d play acoustic music around somebody’s house. That was the origin of the band The Flatlanders that produced Butch, and Joe, and Jimmie and launched their careers. So…

Chris: Were they all members of The Word?

Tom X: Yea. Butch and Joe and Jimmie and then a lot of our friends; Jesse Taylor and Richard Bowden and Ponty Bone. We had this music group. We played coustic music around at the Unitarian Church and various other places. That was called The Supernatural Playboys. Tony Pearson had the first health food store in Lubbock. It was called The Supernatural Market; So we were The Supernatural Playboys. We’d sit around the depot stove and play music at that store and act like it was a hunnerd years ago.

But we had a lot of fun playin’ acoustic music. And making The Flatlanders album was a lot of fun but it wasn’t…I mean, it was way too "far out" for any kind of commercial venture.

After we had done all the looking for God that we could, and it all boiled down to "The Silence," we realized that we had to experience things as a direct experience. That’s when I and others started goin’ and asking different types of gurus and people to put the trip on us; gonna try something else; see if anything works. So I was essentially doin’ that.

Me and my family had moved to northern New Mexico out in an isolated canyon. And essentially, we’d follow anybody that was supposed to be an enlightened person or know anything - even just common friends that we’d run into.
I’d just encourage people to "put the trip on me" ‘cause I wanted to know the Truth.

So Jimmie Gilmore and I had read somewhere that Jeane Dixon had said that, "The Savior is back on Earth," and that he was in India and would be in the United States soon. And Guru Maharaj Ji fulfilled that prophecy. He seemed like one to go check out. So we started to go checking him out, me and Jimmie Gilmore. Jimmie had the experience first and let me know that it was a good one. So I took my family and we experienced it, and it proved to be the correct thing for us.

The words of Jesus that guided me that far. Jesus, in his red-letter edition, said, "The Kingdom of Heaven is within." But when I’d go within, all I’d see was blackness and hear my mind rattlin’ nonsense. And so the thing that sold me on Guru Marahaj Ji is he showed me the heaven within.
In teaching me to meditate, I could see heaven within. The meditation techniques taught me how to get there by myself under any circumstances. That was total freedom. It also wiped out any fears anybody would have about a guru or losing their mind to someone else; Because what the guru - a true "Perfect Master" - does is he shows you that it is there, and he shows you how to get there by yourself under any circumstances.
There’s four different techniques, one of which can be used in front of a firing squad or under the water or anywhere. So that sold me on it. Me and Jimmie both started tellin’ all our friends, "This is the real thing. This is what we’ve been searching for."

Chris: That mysticism seems to have really affected that whole musical community. There’s a lot of spirituality in a lot of those people, nearly everybody who’s coming from way or another. Terry Allen is talking about God or Jesus half the time. Jimmie Gilmore’s pointing towards something out there. Butch is always talking about something that can’t be described.

There's a lot of searching people from Lubbock. There’s a lot of cause to search when you’re out there, I guess.

Tom X: I think that’s part of the phenomenon of Lubbock, is there’s a lot of wonderful people in West Texas but that’s damn near all there is out there as far as any kind of stimulating atmosphere to be around.
If you got a circle of friends that you can be with out there, that’s great. But if you wanta’ take your date out to look at a pretty place and go swimmin’ or anything, you’re shit out of luck.

Chris: Yea. It’s all human creation out there. I think that’s why it gets kinda crazy sometimes. [Laughs]. It’s not always stable.

Do you wanta give me any sort of oral history of The Cotton Club, of the way that it got started or anything interesting you might like to share with posterity? You were telling me a minute ago: It originally was in a different location and it had been owned by someone else. You were the "house band" there, right?

Tom X: I owned The Cotton Club for a long time. But I never did operate it. My parents operated it. I finally sold it to Joe Ely.

The original Cotton Club was owned by Ralph Lloyd. It was on 50th in old army quonset hut, a gigantic one. It seated sixteen hundred people. My band The Roadside Playboys were the regular band there. We played a lot of the Country hits. We were somewhere between Hank Williams and Bob Wills, if we had to be pegged in that way. But we played a tremendous variety of music. I’ve always done that. I’ve always played a wide variety of music; I liked some things from everywhere, so that’s what I played.

The orginal burned. The Cotton Club that was further out - the one you probably knew - probably seated more like a thousand people. They were both big.

You get that many young cowboys drunk in a place together, and you're gonna have some trouble. So fightin’ was an ordinary, common thing there. And nobody knew how to stop that, how to keep it from happening. Or even if they knew how, they couldn’t instigate it.

[Note: Tommy had mentioned to me earlier that he felt the nightly fighting was the real "dark-side" of the club. The fighting was perennial and just couldn’t be stopped. For a peace-lover like Tommy, this was hard to bear. – Chris]

The Cotton Club had all the great name bands because it was the only club big enough to really make any money for a band between Dallas and L.A. So all the big-name-bands wanted to play there, ‘cause they’d be headed from Dallas to L.A. and back and needed a job in there. Elvis played there three times; And Little Richard. And back before that - in the Big Band days - all the hit bands would play out there. And they had Black bands and Mexican bands…

But Johnny Hughes knows more about The Cotton Club than I do. I was playin’ a lot of other places as well, so I missed a lot of stuff. Johnny was there for most of that stuff.

Chris: So you ended up selling it to Joe Ely later on?

Tom X: He and Stubb were partners there. They went broke, and I had to take it back over.

Chris: Tell me about your music. You have a unique style of music. You said you like a little bit of everything. On the recordings you have out now, there’s a lot of people playin’ on them; big "family style" band. How would you describe your show...your style whenever you were playing?

Tom X: To a dance musician - which is what I am; I’m a band leader - somebody dancing is the equivalent of applause to a concert musician. So I try to make people dance. I play anything I feel I can get ‘em to dance to. And other songs that weren’t particularly dance songs, I try to adapt ‘em to make people dance to ‘em.

Dance music, being my career, was a good way for a beginner to get into music because you didn’t have to be so good. If people could dance to it, the listening quality didn’t have to be all that good. So it’s an ideal place for a beginner to get in.

I was 18 when I got out of the Army. I almost immediately got a job playing the dawg-house bass with a band that was playin’ at the late club from twelve to four, out on the East-side of Lubbock - aplace called Dance Land.
I was playin’ the bass with them, and the first night I played, I made five bucks; And I thought, "Man, this is the way for me to go with my life: Have a good time, and get drunk, party with girls, and get paid five bucks!" [Snaps.]

Chris: So that’s just the first thing you did when you got out of the Army basically?

Tom X: Yea. And I kept on doin’ it for fifty years. [Laughs.]

Chris: That’s interesting. I was gonna ask how you got started. Did your folks play music or anything? Or was that just something to do at the time?

Tom X: Nah. I was about half-raised by my grandmother, and she forced me to take fiddle lessons when I was a kid. So when I went in the Army, I took my fiddle. Because by then, I was old enough t’where I was gettin’ to where I kinda liked music. I was sixteen when I went into the service. I was beginning to like music and I took my fiddle. - The War was over about the time I got to Japan. I was an MP paratrooper in Japan. - And I had my fiddle with me.
So here’s a guy from Texas with a fiddle, and they expect me to play fiddle songs. I had never even heard any fiddle songs. I was trained to be a classical violinist. And I was taking lessons over there, tryin’ to become a better musician. So I got these G.I.s wantin’ me to play fiddle with ‘em. They’d hum songs or a guitar player would pick songs and they’d teach me fiddle songs that way.
So I got to playin’ Country music while I was in the Army. When I got back, of course, that was what you could get a job doin’ professionally.

It just so happened that the first job I had was to play the bass rather than the fiddle. So I played bass for a little while. And then when I started playing the fiddle, I stayed on that for the rest of my career.

I don’t play much music any more. I think of myself as more of a "Dancer," now.

Chris: That's right; So I'd like for you tell me about your book Zen and the Art of the Texas Two Step...

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