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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

This review originally appearred in:
FALL 2008 BOOK REVIEW - pp. 555-556

Fire in the Water, Earth in the Air: Legends of West Texas Music.
By Christopher J. Oglesby. Brad and Michele Moore Roots Music Series. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006. xii + 287 pp. 26 halftones, maps, discography, appendixes, bibliographic references, index. $55.00 cloth, ISBN 978-0-292-71419-9, $22.95 paper, ISBN 978-0-292-71434-2.)

Why Lubbock? How can one explain the wealth of rock'n'roll, country, blues, and jazz artists who come from Lubbock? Why does an isolated, conservative agricultural town like Lubbock, Texas, generate such innovative artists in numbers that seem so disproportionate to its population? Certainly any book about West Texas music must undoubtedly focus on the music and musicians from Lubbock, and these questions predominate those found in Christopher J. Oglesby's fine collection of interviews published by the University of Texas Press as Fire in the Water, Earth in the Air: Legends of West Texas Music.

An oral history of West Texas musicians, writers, and artists, Lubbock-raised and now Austin resident Oglesby conducted twenty-seven interviews between 1998 and 2005, most of them in the years 1998 (six) and 2000 (fifteen). The author makes no claim to completeness. Indeed, Oglesby's collection of "legends" is more the result of serendipity than a master research plan: "The interviewees in this book were simply the ones whose paths crossed mine and who were gracious enough to share time discussing their lives in West Texas" (p. ix). Despite such happenstance, Oglesby presents a remarkably readable contemporary story of West Texas artists and music culture.

In his brief introduction, Oglesby highlights the paradoxes that characterize West Texas: "Despite such avid church attendance, Lubbock has double the national average of sexually transmitted diseases in teenagers and has among the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the country." He also illuminates the dualities: "[I]n conservative Lubbock, one is either a 'partier' or a 'churchgoer."' (p. 3).
The legends range from the familiar-Mac Davis, Butch Hancock, Joe Ely, and Jimmie Dale Gilmore-to the arguably less familiar-Guy Juke, Don Caldwell, and Bobby Keys. Refreshingly, the West Texas women's voice is heard in interviews with Angela Strehli, Sharon Ely, Kimmie Rhodes, Jo Harvey Allen, and Jo Carol Pierce. Missing from this collection is an interview with today's most infamous West Texas musician: Natalie Maines. Oglesby does mention Maines in his introduction, and she and the Dixie Chicks come up during an interview with her father, Lloyd Maines.

How does one compile a collection of interviews and oral histories into a coherent narrative? Oglesby answers this question by rejecting the tendency to simply arrange the interviews alphabetically. Indeed, each interview, introduced by a brief biographical sketch, flows very well from the one that preceded it, revealing just how interconnected the web of influences and connections can be in local music.

Those interested in West Texas music, issues related to music and place, the construction of music and identity, the Lubbock-Austin music connection, and information about musicians not often included in discussions of West Texas music will find much of interest in these interviews. Perhaps after reading this book, readers will agree with Jimmie Dale Gilmore that "regular, everyday people that nobody ever heard of in general are every bit as interesting and as talented as people that get all this spotlight put on them" (p. 224).

Kevin E. Mooney
Texas State University - San Marcos

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