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
"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
Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Joe Ely,
and the Cotton Club
by Johnny Hughes, author
of the novel Texas
Elvis Presley was leaning a against his pink, 1954 Cadillac in
front of Lubbock's historic Cotton Club. The small crowd were
mesmerized by his great looks, cockiness, and charisma. He put
on quite a show, doing nearly all the talking. Elvis bragged
about his sexual conquests, using language you didn't hear around
women. He said he'd been a truck driver six months earlier. Now
he could have a new woman in each town. He told a story about
being caught having sex in his back seat. An angry husband grabbed
his wife by the ankles and pulled her out from under Elvis. I
Earlier, at the Fair Park Coliseum,
Elvis had signed girl's breasts, arms, foreheads, bras, and panties.
No one had ever seen anything like it. We had met Elvis' first
manager, Bob Neal, bass player, Bill Black, and guitarist Scotty
Moore. They wanted us to bring some beer out to the Cotton Club.
So we did. My meeting with Bob Neal in 1955 was to have great
meaning in my future. I was 15.
The old scandal rag, Confidential,
had a story about Elvis at the Cotton Club and the Fair Park
Coliseum. It had a picture of the Cotton Club and told of Elvis'
unique approach to autographing female body parts. It said he
had taken two girls to Mackenzie Park for a tryst in his Cadillac.
Elvis did several shows in Lubbock
during his first year on the road, in 1955. When he first came
here, he made $75. His appearance in 1956 paid $4000. When he
arrived in Lubbock, Bob Neal was his manager. By the end of the
year, Colonel Tom Parker had taken over. Elvis played the Fair
Park Coliseum for its opening on Jan. 6th with a package show.
When he played the Fair Park again, Feb. 13th, it was memorable.
Colonel Tom Parker and Bob Neal were there. Buddy Holly and Bob Montgomery
were on the bill. Waylon Jennings was there. Elvis was
19. Buddy was 18.
Elvis' early shows in Lubbock
Jan 6th 1955, Fair Park Coliseum. Feb 13th. Fair Park, Cotton
Club April 29 Cotton Club June 3: Johnson Connelly Pontiac, Fair
Park October 11: Fair Park October 15: Cotton Club, April 10,
1956: Fair Park. Elvis probably played the Cotton Club on all
of his Lubbock dates.
Buddy Holly was the boffo popular teenager of all time around
Lubbock. The town loved him! He had his own radio show on Pappy
Dave Stone's KDAV, first with Jack Neal, later with Bob Montgomery
in his early teens. KDAV was the first all-country station in
America. Buddy fronted Bill Haley, Marty Robbins, and groups
that traveled through. Stone was an early mentor. Buddy first
met Waylon Jennings at KDAV. Disk jockeys there included Waylon,
Roger Miller, Bill Mack, later America's most famous
country DJ, and country comedian Don Bowman. Bowman and
Miller became the best known writers of funny country songs.
All these singer-songwriters recorded there, did live remotes
with jingles, and wrote songs. Elvis went to KDAV to sing live
and record the Clover's "Fool, Fool Fool" and Big Joe
Turner's "Shake Rattle and Roll" on acetates. This
radio station in now KRFE, 580 a.m., located at 66th and MLK,
owned by Wade Wilkes. They welcome visitors. It has to
be the only place that Elvis, Buddy, Waylon, and Bill Mack all
recorded. Johnny Cash sang live there. Waylon and Buddy became
great friends through radio. Ben Hall, another KDAV disc
jockey and songwriter, filmed in color at the Fair Park Coliseum.
This video shows Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Elvis, Buddy and
Wade's dad, Big Ed Wilkes, owner of KDAV, managed country
comedian, Jerry Clower, on MCA Records. He sent Joe Ely's demo tape to MCA. Bob Livingston also sent
one of the tapes I gave him to MCA. This led to a contract. Pappy
Dave Stone, the first owner of KDAV, helped Buddy get his
record contract with Decca/MCA.
Another disc jockey at KDAV was Arlie Duff. He wrote the
country classic, "Y'all Come." It has been recorded
by nineteen well-known artists, including Bing Crosby. When Waylon
Jennings and Don Bowman were hired by the Corbin brothers, Slim,
Sky, and Larry, of KLLL, Buddy started to hang around there.
They all did jingles, sang live, wrote songs, and recorded. Niki
Sullivan, one of the original Crickets, was also a singing
DJ at KLLL. Sky Corbin has an excellent book about this
radio era and the intense competition between KLLL and KDAV.
All the DJs had mottos. Sky Corbin's was "lover, fighter,
wild horse rider, and a purty fair windmill man."
Don Bowman's motto was "come a foggin' cowboy." He'd
make fun of the sponsors and get fired. We played poker together.
He'd take breaks in the poker game to sing funny songs. I played
poker with Buddy Holly before and after he got famous. He was
incredibly polite and never had the big head. The nation only
knew Buddy Holly for less than two years. He was the most famous
guy around Lubbock from the age of fourteen.
Niki Sullivan, an original Cricket,
and I had a singing duo as children. We cut little acetates in
1948. We also appeared several times on Bob Nash's kid talent
show on KFYO. This was at the Midway Theatre. Buddy Holly and
Charlene Hancock, Tommy Hancock's
wife, also appeared on this show. Larry Holley, Buddy's
brother, financed his early career, buying him a guitar and whatever
else he needed. Buddy recorded twenty acetates at KDAV from 1953
until 1957. He also did a lot of recording at KLLL. Larry Holley
said Niki was the most talented Cricket except Buddy. All of
Buddy's band mates and all of Joe Ely's band mates were musicians
Buddy and Elvis met at the Cotton Club. Buddy taught Elvis the
lyrics to the Drifter's "Money Honey". After that,
Buddy met Elvis on each of his Lubbock visits. I think Elvis
went to the Cotton Club on every Lubbock appearance. When Elvis
played a show at the Johnson Connelly Pontiac showroom, Mac Davis was there. I was too.
The last time Elvis played the Fair Park Coliseum on April 10,1956,
he was as famous as it gets. Buddy Holly, Sonny Curtis,
Jerry Allison, and Don Guess were a front act.
They did two shows and played for over 10,000 people. Those wonderful
I.G. Holmes photos, taken at several locations, usually show
Buddy and his pals with Elvis. Lubbock had a population of 80,000
at the time. Elvis was still signing everything put in front
of him. Not many people could have signing women as a hobby.
Many of the acetates recorded at KLLL and KDAV by Buddy and others
were later released, many as bootlegs. When Buddy Holly recorded
four songs at KDAV, the demo got him his first record contract.
It wasn't just Lubbock radio that so supportive of Buddy Holly.
The City of Lubbock hired him to play at teenage dances. He appeared
at Lubbock High School assemblies and many other places in town.
Everyone in Lubbock cheered Buddy Holly on with his career. The
newspaper reports were always positive. At one teenage gig, maybe
at the Glassarama, there was only a small crowd. Some of us were
doing the "dirty bop." The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal
had photos the next day showing people with their eyes covered
with a black strip. Sonny Curtis mentions that in his song, "The
Real Buddy Holly Story." When Buddy Holly and the Crickets
were on the Ed Sullivan show, the newspaper featured that. The
whole town watched.
Buddy was fighting with his manager
Norman Petty over money before he died. They were totally
estranged. Larry Holley told me that Norman said to Buddy, "I'll
see you dead before you get a penny." A few weeks later,
Buddy was dead. When Buddy Holly died in a plane crash, it was
headline news in the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. Over 1000 people
attended the funeral on February 7, 1959. Buddy was only twenty-two
years old. His widow, Maria Elena Holly, was too upset to attend.
The pall bearers were all songwriters and musicians that had
played with Buddy: Niki Sullivan, Jerry Allison, Joe B. Mauldin,
Sonny Curtis, Bob Montgomery, and Phil Everly. Elvis was in the
Army. He had Colonel Tom send a large wreath of yellow roses.
In 1976, I was managing the Joe
Ely Band. They had recorded an as-yet -to-be-released album for
MCA Records. I was in Nashville to meet with the MCA execs. They
wanted Joe to get a booking contract and mentioned some unheard
of two-man shops. Bob Neal, Elvis' first manager, had great success
in talent managing and booking. He sold his agency to the William
Morris Agency, the biggest booking agency in the world, and stayed
on as president of the Nashville branch.
I called the William Morris Agency and explained to the secretary
that I did indeed know Bob Neal, as we had met at the Cotton
Club in Lubbock, Texas when he was Elvis' manager. He came right
on the phone. I told him the Joe Ely Band played mostly the Cotton
Club. He said that after loading up to leave there one night,
a cowboy called Elvis over to his car and knocked him down. Elvis
was in a rage. He made them drive all over Lubbock checking every
open place, as they looked for the guy. Bob Neal invited me to
come right over.
Bob Neal played that, now classic, demo tape from Caldwell Studios
and offered a booking contract. We agreed on a big music city
strategy: Los Angeles, New York, Nashville, London, and Austin.
Bob drove me back to MCA and they could not believe our good
fortune. The man had been instrumental in the careers of Elvis,
Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Johnny Rodriguez, and
many others. The William Morris Agency sent the Joe Ely Band
coast to coast and to Europe, first to front Merle Haggard, then
on a second trip to front the Clash. The original Joe Ely Band
were Lloyd Maines, steel
guitar, Jesse Taylor,
electric guitar, Steve Keeton, drums, and Gregg Wright,
bass. Ponty Bone, on accordion,
joined a little later. The band did the shows and the recording.
The recorded tunes were originals from Joe Ely, Butch
Hancock, and Jimmie
However, some of the William
Morris bookings led to zig zag travel over long distances to
so-called listening clubs. When I complained to Bob Neal, he'd
recall the 300 dates Elvis played back in 1955. Four guys in
Elvis' pink Cadillac. When Buddy made some money, he bought a
pink Cadillac. Joe Ely bought a pristine, 1957 pink Cadillac
that was much nicer than either of their pink Cadillacs.
When I'd hear from Bob Neal, it was very good news, especially
the fantastic, uniformly-rave, album and performance reviews
from newspapers and magazines everywhere. Time Magazine devoted
a full page to Joe Ely. The earliest big rock critic to praise
Joe Ely was Joe Nick Patoski, author of the definitive and critically-acclaimed
Willie Nelson: An Epic Life. After one year, MCA was in turmoil.
Big stars were leaving or filing lawsuits. We were told they
might not re-new the option to make a second record. MCA regularly
fired everyone we liked. Bob Neal thought the band should go
to Los Angeles for a one-nighter.
He booked the Joe Ely Band into the best known club on the West
Coast, the Palomino, owned by his dear pal, Tommy Thomas. We
alerted other record companies. They drove back and forth to
L.A. in a Dodge Van to play only one night. Robert Hilburn, the
top rock critic for the Los Angeles Times, came with his date,
The Joe Ely Band loved to play music. They started on time, took
short breaks, and played until someone made them stop. Robert
Hilburn wrote that Ely could be, "the most important male
singer to emerge in country music since the mid-60s crop of Waylon
Jennings, Merle Haggard, and Willie Nelson." The long review
with pictures took up the whole fine arts section of the biggest
newspaper in the country. Hilburn praised each of the band individually.
He was blown away when they just kept playing when the lights
came on at closing time. After that, several major record companies
The last time I saw Bob Neal was at the Old Waldorf in San Francisco
on February 22, 1979. Little Pete, a black drarf who was
always around Stubb's Bar-B-Q, was traveling with the band. To
open the show, Little Pete came out and announced, "Lubbock,
Texas produces the Joe Ely Band!" Then he jumped off the
elevated stage and Bo Billingsley, the giant roady, caught
him. Bob Neal, the old showman that had seen it all, just loved
originally appears on www.virtualubbock.com
Anyone may make copies of this one article or post it on any
web site. Thanks to Chris Oglesby and Larry Holley.
Johnny Hughes is the author of the novel Texas
Read Buddy Holly: Master Dreamcrafter, Rock-n-Roll Messiah
by author Christopher Oglesby [11/2000 ]