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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

Article originally appeared in Y'all Magazine - March 2002

The Legendary Tornado Jams
by Chris Oglesby

Spring is the time when music is hoppin' in the air like a March Hare in heat. Music lovers in Lubbock have braved wind, dust, tornadoes, and sleet to break out of the indoor confines of winter and celebrate life out amongst the elements under the broad West Texas sky.
At the close of the '70s, the "Great Age of Outdoor Music Festivals," Lubbock roadhouse rocker Joe Ely had a vision to stage a Spring concert in the park named for Buddy Holly, Lubbock's most famous Rock-n-Roller.
Ely dubbed the event "The Tornado Jam," and planned it for May 11, 1980, the ten year anniversary of the tornadoes which tore through downtown Lubbock, killing 26. The City Council was not amused at the prospect of Lubbock's most devastating disaster being celebrated with an outdoor rock concert. However, Ely reminded the City that, although the tornadoes did arrive on May 11, they also departed on the same day. Ely assured the City that the concert was meant to celebrate the departure and the City awarded the event permit.

Ely recalls, "…the fact that the City agreed to do it thinking it was going to be a little thing, you know, two or three hundred people out at Buddy Holly Park. The first year 8,000 people came. The second year 30,000 people came. The third year: 40 or 50 thousand. It was unbelievable!"
The Tornado Jams grew exponentially in size and notoriety, and have proven to be among the most significant cultural events ever held in Lubbock. Performers included local heroes such as the surviving Crickets, The Maines Brothers Band, and Terry Allen, as well as stars like The Clash, Linda Ronstadt, and Joan Jett. People who attended the Jams still claim those events to be among the most remarkable and joyous in Lubbock history, and many legendary stories arose around those three weekends in Lubbock.

However, it had taken 20 years for the City to cozy up to the idea of honoring a Rock-n-Roller by naming a north-side park after him. After the legendary "mud festival" Jam of '82, the City made it clear that it would be at least as long before there would be any more large outdoor concerts in Lubbock. Citing their concern for the destruction of the buffalo grass as a result of the torrential rainstorm and the traffic of a hundred thousand partying feet, the Council voted to never allow another such Rock-n-Roll bacchanalia in Lubbock's parks.

Of course, the virtually indestructible buffalo grass grew back, and the spirit of Lubbock music has managed to thrive and prosper, as well. In my pursuit of the legends of Lubbock music and culture, I've collected from several people memories of some of the remarkable events surrounding Joe Ely's Lubbock Tornado Jams. Here are some of my favorite Tornado Jam memory snapshots.

Joe Ely: "Fishing for Cadillacs"

Chris: So, what about that Cadillac that ended up in the river?

Joe: The second year, this guy brought his girlfriend to the Tornado Jam. They came out in the afternoon. Her daddy was a lawyer, Harley Huff, and he had
the only Rolls Royce in Lubbock. and this guy had borrowed that car from his girlfriend's daddy to drive it out there, you know, to look cool, so they could kinda' stud around.

And I remember this, Man! We were doing a sound check, late afternoon; I look over and here comes this Rolls. It parks over faced toward the creek, and the two people get out and start walking over to the stage. And I notice that car just roll just a tiny bit. I thought somebody else was in it; I couldn't see. It was pretty far from the stage, so I start kinda' walking over there 'cause I wanted to go over and see that car, anyway. And it started rolling a little faster and pretty soon I yell at those people; I said, "Is that your car?" And they turn around, and by then it had started pickin' up speed.

They'd forgot to set the parking brake and that Rolls rolled into Buddy Holly River, or whatever it's called. I'll never forget this: I ran down to it--they were in a panic, just screaming, running down--I ran down to it, and I remember it went in head first and then it flipped over like a big bubble. It just flipped, and then it turned and just that angel on the hood was the only thing sticking out of the water. It was the most amazing sight.

Chris: It's just classic. You couldn't dream something like that up.

Joe: And then the next year, Steve Moss, who was in charge of kinda' promoting & videotaping the thing, he just thought, well, "Let's kinda' set up a tradition," so he went and bought a Cadillac and just rolled it in the lake himself. So it was kind of a fake thing.

Chris: Alright, that explains it. 'Cause I thought it was a Cadillac…

Joe: Yea, the Cadillac was in the paper, the Rolls never was. The next year ol' Steve just bought an old 'Seventies Cadillac and rolled it in there. He thought well, this is a tradition so let's keep it going. I got a picture of the tow-truck pulling the Cadillac out. I've got my hand on the side of it like it was a big fish.

John Chambers:
"Rock Stars Crash High School Party"
John Chambers graduated from Monterey High School in 1982. John has been a staff writer for Stephen Bochco, both for NYPD Blue and the critically acclaimed but short-lived Brooklyn South, Chris Carter's Millennium, sci-fi cult series Strange World, CSI: Special Victim's Unit and Donald Bellasario's JAG. At the time of the interview, John lived in Venice, California, where I had the opportunity to catch from him the following story.
Chris: Okay, John. I've been wanting you to give a first-hand,
eye-witness account of the Tornado Jam when Linda Ronstadt showed up at your private party.

John: "It was a dark and stormy night." [Laughs] Indeed it was. The party was organized by me and five or six other people - the most infamous of whom being John Scott. I wish I could tell you the other four but it was a long time ago…
[Note: John Scott, MHS Class of '82, began his career by distributing Lubbock's own C.B. "Stubb" Stubblefield's barbecue sauce around the world. Scott is now co-owner of Austin's Stubb's Barbecue & Live Music, one of Austin's premiere entertainment venues and a fitting legacy to Lubbock's east side barbecue & blues shrine. - c.o]

The thing was: My dad was partners with the guy that managed The Maines Brothers Band. So he set it up to have The Maines Brothers play for the party -- which everyone was excited about, in it's own right; It was a cool thing -- at The Cotton Club, which was therefore a doubly cool thing. This was a high school graduation party. It was the night before The Tornado Jam, and they were supposed to have sound-checks for The Tornado Jam that night…And it being an outdoor concert…See, this is where "the dark and stormy night" comes back in…

Chris: Yes! That makes sense.

John: They couldn't do the sound-checks. So, because The Maines Brothers were playing at The Cotton Club…And I don't think it mattered to Joe Ely and company; They could have been playin' for anybody, y'know. It wasn't like Joe Ely and Linda Ronstadt got suddenly excited that there was a high school graduation party…[Laughs] But maybe they did!

I think that Joe had actually gotten in touch with one of the Maines brothers somehow …Maybe he knew that sound-checks were gonna' be "iffy"…and found out that The Maines Brothers were playing out at The Cotton Club.
So we're all a bunch of 17 and 18 year old two-steppin' fools. And then the rumor starts spreadin' that Joe Ely and Linda Ronstadt are gonna' show up. And indeed they did! And it was super-cool.

Linda Ronstadt looked awesome, in just a way…like, she could have been anybody, um…well, that wasn't from Lubbock; and I remember looking at her looking around the party, almost as if she was saying, "Okay, [Laughs] I'm at a high school graduation party at The Cotton Club in Lubbock, Texas, and there's only like seventeen of the most awesome musicians here. We're playing these Buddy Holly covers where Buddy Holly used to play. And there's a bunch of pimply-faced teenagers with their parents in their either 'Lubbock, Texas, casual attire' - which is khakis and some sort of plaid shirt, neatly starched - or some sort of 'Western theme' paraphernalia."
I mean, it was a "big hair" type of party. And then…It was pretty amazing….

At the time that she got there, it was starting to get late. And so I think a lot of people, myself probably included, had been thinking: "No way is Linda Ronstadt going to actually show up!"…So a lot of people had left. And then in she walked.
There were literally almost as many people on stage, as there were people left in The Cotton Club, it seemed.

She was playin' and everything was great, when suddenly the sound went dead…Whoever the manager was at The Cotton Club that night had agreed to work until Midnight, and he was tired; ready to go home. And that was that. He turned off the power!

Chris: And sent everybody home?

John: Yea, I think there was plenty of money laid on the table for him, too, which was interesting. I'm sure that he was offered probably more than he had already made for the night, just to keep it open for another hour. But he wasn't gonna' have any of it.

I remember looking over at the older guys in the crowd, y'know, the parents in the crowd trying to…It was almost like…Now I'm just creating fiction: But it was almost like Fran Scott [Note: John Scott's mother; a Ph.D. in philosophy] was over there trying to be philosophical with him, explaining to him the reasons why he should stay and keep it open. And then you have another type of person over there explaining the financial reasons why he should keep it open…[Laughs]

It was just hilarious! Because he was this guy that was like, "Fuck y'all! I don't care who you are, and I don't care who these musicians are: 'Cause I'm goin' home."

Chris: So one of the greatest parties that almost didn't happen was cut short.

John: Yea. It was too bad. But while it was happening, it was pretty amazing.

Chris: I guess that's all that really matters.

John: Let me add this addendum. There's the Christian radio station that was right next-door to The Cotton Club, and then there was a liquor store nearby, right on the other side. So out in the parking lot there was all kinds of strange, interesting juxtapositions: There was The Cotton Club that really…It was still The Cotton Club but certainly no longer in it's "hey-day." And then right next-door to it was this Christian radio station. And then a liquor store, 'cause it was outside of town…It was a little microcosm of Lubbock, probably, right there…

Chris: Yea, you're right about that. Of course, the Christian radio station is still there: K-JAK.

Ponty Bone: "On the Linda Incident"
Ponty Bone was in the original Joe Ely Band on their historic European tour-de-force when they turned on the likes of Pete Townsend, The Clash, and The Rolling Stones to the thunder of West Texas music. Ponty now lives in Austin and leads his own band The Squeezetones.

Chris: I want to ask you about your presence at the Tornado Jams. I'm trying to collect Tornado Jam stories.

Ponty: Well, of course, one of them was the
one where Linda was there. Has anybody told you about us bringing Linda and going out to the Maines Brothers playing that high school graduation party?

Chris: As a matter of fact, my friend John Chambers…

Ponty: Well, we were amazed…I mean, of course, we had
played The Cotton Club many times. We knew it like
the back of our hands…

Chris: How'd y'all end up out there?

Ponty: We were hanging out with her. She hit town like two days early, and we were taking her to all the places to eat. We went to Stubb's. We were just havin' a famous time, just wonderful time. And among other things, somebody said, "Hey, where's Lloyd?"
"Oh, he and his brothers are all out playing a high school graduation party for Monterey." And Joe had the idea -- and she was game -- that we'd all go out there and carry our instruments, y'know, and offer to jam with The Maines Brothers.

Chris: So were y'all wanting to dazzle these high school students or were you just looking for something to do, or what?

Ponty: We just wanted to jam. We just wanted to have fun. And of course, The Cotton Club…if it had been open for a public gig, we probably would have had the gig, anyway. But the idea was really just to have fun. It did occur to us however, when we went out there, how "nonplussed"--I think the word is -- that the high school students and parents were out on the dance floor; you know what I mean? A few of 'em kind of noticed that it was Linda Ronstadt and Joe Ely up there but a lot of 'em didn't really seem to notice!

Mike Burk & Paul Bullock:
"Lubbock's Own Woodstock
Mike Burk is a promoter and long-time friend of Lubbock musicians.
Paul Bullock is a local poet, actor, barn painter, and peaceful revolutionary.

Mike: The three Tornado Jams probably got me more involved in listening to more music than anything else. Because they were absolutely great! They were some of the biggest excitement, most fun that's ever happened
here! My brother Jack was the very first person arrested at the First Tornado Jam!
There was just too much music! Good music! I mean, that was kinda the height of what Lubbock music was, at that time. And I mean everybody participated. I mean, they went off without a flaw, really. Except for the rain on one of 'em that turned it into a big mud-waller. But that was part of the fun…

Paul: But that was one of the best ones they ever had.

Mike: Joan Jett played. Linda Ronstadt…

Paul: It built to a point where, if not for that rain, and certain people who were involved in the production, The Tornado Jam might very well have gone successfully through the years and been happening right now. They were drawing some big recognition…

Chris: So the "Mud Festival" really killed it? When they
killed the buffalo grass?

Mike: Well, that's what…More than anything else, "Religious
Lubbock" didn't like this goin' on, much less in their public parks, y'know. So basically this is what it wound up to be: Just because it rained and supposedly killed the buffalo grass… Y'know, it's not like the buffalo hadn't ever goddam trampled it before…It was just another excuse.

Paul: Candidly speaking, Steve Moss was doing a lot of the representation for the Tornado Jam as a production. And if you don't know Steve Moss, he could sure rub you the wrong way pretty quick. Especially, when you're on the City Council and you're thinking it's coming from some twenty-five year old who's puttin' his face up against these elders of the city goin', "Dummies! The buffalo walked all over this grass for six million years and it grew back! " They didn't like his attitude…

Chris: The City Council got pissed off at him?

Paul : I think that had a lot to do with it.

Chris: Or they just didn't want any more Rock concerts goin'

Paul: It was a "Generation Gap" clash.

Mike: Well, see right after Woodstock…back in '70…It was
in February, maybe early March…Lubbock came back with, supposedly, what was gonna be as big a concert as Woodstock, a nation-wide deal, just south of town. Well, it rained, snowed, sand blowed, and everything else that day…

Paul: And all fifteen hippies in Lubbock came out.

Chris: So this was gonna be "Lubbock's Woodstock"?

Paul: Oh, Yea! It was gonna be called "The Peace Festival," or something like that. They had big names.

Mike: Yea, these "Big Names" were supposed to come here. But they put it out in the middle of a cotton field out there south of town; They didn't realize that the sand might blow! Oh, it rained and a Norther came through; the sand blew. It was the worst weather you could possibly ever think about in West Texas. I didn't have any intent of going, because I just wasn't into any of that type of stuff at that time in my life. But we drove by it…One other reason why nobody wanted to show up for it is because you had to drive by about a mile of highway patrol cars before you got to it. They had all the highway patrols in the whole State of Texas at this thing. And I'm not kiddin' you; When I say you had to drive through a MILE of highway patrols to get to it, I'm serious…I'm dead-serious. They had more police than they had concert-goers.

Chris: I guess that's why I never heard of it. [Laughs.]

Mike: It never got off the ground.

Paul: I went out there. It was miserable. I think it was a domino effect with the acts. I mean, Santana was gonna be there…If it had been nice, it would have went off. But it was a domino effect. Because one act found out that, "Good Lord! The wind's blowin' forty miles an hour. It's colder than hell. It's dusty. It's just miserable out there." And so all these agents started sayin', "Hey, we're not bringin' our acts out into that. We're not comin'. We're not comin'. We're not comin'." Boom! Just domino…It fell apart. Terrible, terrible disaster for any promoter. But back to the Tornado Jam: The year that Buddy Holly Park had the Tornado Jam that rained…It was actually scheduled for a Saturday. And they cancelled it on Saturday and moved it to Sunday, trying to second-guess the weather…So they actually moved that Tornado Jam. And the storm that came through didn't last, what? Fifteen, twenty minutes? But boy…It was a drencher. I was there early before the music started, and I pitched my lawn chair at the very top of the hill at center stage. I put a tarp underneath me, and I had a tarp pulled over me, and I did not get wet.

Mike: Oh, I did a little more than that. [Laughs, a big belly-laugh.]

Paul: I know. You was probably right down there in the mud, weren't you?

Mike: Yea. I sure was. I had fun that day.

Do you like what you just read?
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

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