The Texas country rocker plays Chickie Wah Wah tonight.
Joe Ely's one of Texas' sons of Townes Van Zandt, like Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock writing acoustic country blues with a counterculture sensibility. Ely always had the strongest rock 'n' roll streak of three, and is the most convincing true country singer as well.
Or maybe he's simply the most convincing country singer for people who come to country from rock 'n' roll. His self-titled 1977 debut found a stronger audience in England than America, where he discovered that The Clash were fans. That album, along with 1978's Honky Tonk Masquerade and 1979's Down on the Drag all sounded like the product of a young man used to driving a pickup a long way without seeing too many people, who could easily get lost in romantic or other kinds of dreams but wasn't as experienced as he thought he was with any of them.
Starting with 1980's Live Shots and 1981's Musta Notta Gotta Lotta, the balance shifted more toward roadhouse rock 'n' roll, and it was the natural extension of what he'd been doing, but record companies were no better at selling one than the other.
Ely has a new novel, Reverb: An Odyssey, and though it's not necessarily autobiographical, it's set in the Lubbock of the 1950s and '60s that he grew up in, so he's describing the world he knows. And since the main character shares Ely's real first name--Earle--it's easy to suspect that the line between fact and fiction in it the book is a fine and porous one.
I recently interviewed Ely for a story that will come out later this year, so I'm pleased that he'll play Chickie Wah Wah Tuesday night--his first New Orleans appearance in so long that neither of us could remember when he was hear last.