July 21, 2009

Ely effect

Among other charms, the capital of Texas, Austin, has always attracted up-and-coming musicians. There's a long city tradition of small hard-rocking bands playing their hearts out, and that rollicking music scene both feeds and feeds off the city's always gently eccentric feel.

That icon of the Woodstock generation, Janis Joplin, first made her name belting out Me and Bobby McGee in smoky Austin bars like Threadgill's. In the decades since, cult heroes like the Fabulous Thunderbirds (Tuff Enuff) and Joe Ely (Mustta Notta Gotta Lotta) have rocked a slew of hole-in-the-wall Austin bars, even if they couldn't spell very well. Inevitably, one of those holes in the wall was actually called "Hole in the Wall." (You Austinites -- is it still there?)

An Austin friend woke one morning to find Ely in bed with her roommate; they had picked each other up after his gig the previous evening. That night, my sister pronounced with a smirk when I told her, must have inspired the early Ely rocker, Musta Notta Gotta Lotta, one line in which goes like this: "Please understand me, everything's all right, I just musta notta gotta lotta sleep last night!"

Neither, we presume, did the roommate.

Some years ago, U -- another Austin friend -- and I went to one of those tiny bars to hear Butch Hancock, one more talented Texas singer and pal to Ely. The two had played together on a band legendary in Texas, The Flatlanders.

We were late, Hancock had begun. Outside, three of us stood waiting to enter: U, me and a leather jacket who looked a lot like Joe Ely. Was Joe Ely. He had come, he told us, to hear his old buddy Butch. "I never miss his shows", he said, then asked with a shy smile: "They've heard of me'n'Butch out there in India?"

Inside, Joe Ely sat alone and quiet through the evening, nursing a longneck, unrecognized in the dark. For two impressionable Indians, reared on tales of celebrity noses in the air, it was one refreshing evening, and not just because of the beer. U celebrated with a late night jaunt on his macho red-and-silver Yamaha, ending with a skid and crash, and we found him much later in the hospital with several cracked vertebrae.

The Ely effect, I don't know.


  1. Yup, it's still here, Hole in the Wall...

  2. Glad to hear it's still there! On Guadalupe approaching 29th, if I remember right? I loved that place.