By Lynne Margolis
Most musicians regard touring as a necessary evil, a mere means to the glorious end of standing up on stage and sharing their souls with an adoring crowd. You have to have a special constitution to endure a life ruled by flight delays, unforeseen traffic jams, bad directions, and other kinks that happen along the way. But if you’re smart, or restless, you learn to embrace the experience, to find the romance. If you’re Joe Ely, you craft indelible songs from it, with titles like “Time for Travelin’,” “Highways and Heartaches,” “Drivin’ Man,” or “I’m on the Run Again.” Or you borrow tunes of wanderlust from Butch Hancock (“Lord of the Highway”) and Jimmie Dale Gilmore (“Tonight I Think I’m Gonna Go Downtown”), your running buddies in the Flatlanders—a band named for the
Almost every one of Ely’s songs contains a location, a destination, a place to be going to or coming from. Methods of travel are often mentioned as well, from pickup trucks and Cadillacs to rusty freights and silver birds, on desolate roads, swollen rivers, or wide runways. Rain, wind, and dust often figure in his vivid stories. And the sky … that almost infinite
Even his paintings and digital renderings (he’s a visual artist, too) are filled with images of travel—telephone poles, tires, and cracked, dry earth—sights you might see from a tour-bus window. Or a DC-9 (though these days, he says he could do without seeing
From the June 2008 issue.