The argument could be made that what someone like Larry McMurtry is to Texas letters, Joe Ely is to Texas music.
The characters that live in his songs run the gambit from lowlifes to the larger-than-life. Over the years, Ely has worked with the Clash to Linda Ronstadt to Bruce Springsteen, Jeff Tweedy, Lyle Lovett – truth be known, countless others.
After some 45 years in the business, the influential singer-songwriter is releasing an ode to his roots titled Panhandle Rambler.
Born in Amarillo and raised in Lubbock, Ely is one of those panhandle ramblers. When Ely train-hopped as a teenager, he didn’t appreciate his roots in the panhandle until he had left.
“Every time I’d start a new record I’d always come back to the flatlands,” he says. “It was like a starting place for me for some reason, I guess because of the emptiness. It made me want to fill it up.”
“I don’t know why it is – it’s still a mystery to me. I guess that’s why here I am coming back and discovering some other characters and other places.”
Ely, who has made music ranging from honky-tonk to punk, sang with Mick Jones in Spanish for the background vocals on the Clash hit “Should I Stay or Should I Go” – the other day he heard himself singing on a commercial for a hotel chain.
“There I was singing on the thing and I went, ‘How did that happen?’” he says. “It’s been a long and weird journey.”
Hear more from Ely and songs off of Panhandle Rambler in the audio player above.