The Return of The Flatlanders
Texas Supergroup Releases Second Album in 30 Years
Listen to Ed Mayberry's report.
Listen to a review of the new Flatlanders CD, Now Again, by NPR's Meredith Ochs.
July 21, 2002 -- There are many paths to success in the music industry, but few have been more circuitous than that of The Flatlanders. This year marks the release of the Lubbock, Texas, outfit's second album in 30 years. As Ed Mayberry reports for Weekend Edition Sunday, while the Flatlanders can't exactly be considered prolific, the group has inspired other words of praise, such as "mesmerizing," "classy" and "the standard-bearers for Texas music."
The music of The Flatlanders was influenced by everything from Jimmie Rodgers to the Beatles to Mexican border radio. Jimmie Dale Gilmore united with Butch Hancock and Joe Ely for the first Flatlanders album in 1971, when they were all in their 20s. But that album had trouble drawing interest in Nashville. The following year, they finally found a record company to release it, but only as an 8-track tape.
As a result, few people got to hear the music, and the album in later years took on legendary status. When it was re-released on CD in 1990, after the three principal members had achieved success as solo artists, it was titled More a Legend Than a Band.
The album's appeal is due in part to the group's ability to capture the expansive, windy universe of West Texas, says Austin music writer John T. Davis. It is "a very, very physically imposing, almost intimidating landscape," he says. "There's a lot of force behind it, and I think that reflects in their music."
The three men continued to work together and to perform each other's songs over the years. Hancock churned out albums on his own label. Gilmore released several albums that critics called "country and eastern" music owing to the singer's interest in eastern spirituality. Ely put out rock 'n' roll-influenced albums, and played with bands including The Clash and The Rolling Stones.
After the 1990 re-release of the band's first album, critics started clamoring for a "reunion" -- a concept that Gilmore and Ely found odd. "We never were separated," says Gilmore. "People thought the band broke up, but it never really did."
But they waited quite a while before deciding to record new music under the Flatlanders name. The catalyst was Robert Redford, who commissioned a song from the group in 1997 for his movie The Horse Whisperer. Gilmore says the recording of "South Wind of Summer" put all three men into songwriting mode. "We finally tried it out and it actually worked," he says.
Critics loved the resulting album, Now Again, but program directors at country-music stations essentially ignored it. That's when New York radio jock Don Imus stepped in. During an appearance on CNN's Larry King Live, Imus pledged to donate $10,000 to the favorite charity of the first major-market station to report that any single from the album had made it into the top 10. Earlier this month, Los Angeles station KZLA started playing "Wavin' My Heart Goodbye" every hour. Sales have doubled, and the album recently hit No. 22 on the Billboard country charts.
The band is now on tour, where audiences are being treated to the sounds of a Texas supergroup that is greater than the sum of its parts.
A talk with Los Super Seven on Morning Edition in 1998. Joe Ely was a member of this Mexican-American supergroup, which also included Ruben Ramos, Freddy Fender, and members of Los Lobos.
The official Flatlanders Web site
Virtual Lubbock explores "the Legends of West Texas
Music, Art and Literature," including the Flatlanders.
Joe Ely's Web site
Jimmie Dale Gilmore's Web site
A Butch Hancock fan site