Butch Hancock, Joe Ely and Emmylou Harris : West Texas Waltz

In which combining my passions for Cricket and Music I get to share pints of plain with 2 of the greatest modern songwriters ( Guy Clark & Butch Hancock), dance like the dickens and find a motto for life :

‘…Now only two things are better than milkshakes and malts
And one is dancin’ like the dickens to the West Texas Waltz’.

In 1985 I bought my first property.

A flat in Kennington, South of the River Thames.

New daily coordinates.

A three minute walk to Oval Tube Station.

A 15 minute train ride to Oxford Circus for work (Times crossword finished before Green Park).

Eight minutes walk to The Oval Cricket Ground.

The Oval is the home of the Surrey County Cricket Team and a Test Match venue.

Nothing better than to leave work early citing a vital meeting (you can get away with that when you’re the Boss) and instead catch the last couple of hours play of a county match as the late afternoon sun merged into twilight.

Five minutes walk to The Cricketers Pub (now sadly defunct) where between 1985 and 1990 I regularly drank pints of Guinness as I watched a series of brilliant performers give their all to an audience that never numbered above a couple of hundred.

The Cricketers became a home from home.

I became enough of a regular to get Kenny, who ran the bar, greet me with ‘affectionate’ South London Geezer abuse as I ordered my porter.

Pint in hand I would settle down to watch lions of English Roots music like Davey Graham, Ralph McTell and Bert Jansch give master classes in intimate performance.

I seem to remember The Pogues played a week long residency just before they hit the big time.

I say seem to remember because at Pogue’s gigs it was mandatory to drink until you would have to think very carefully indeed before answering the question if anyone asked you what your name was!

THE CRICKETERS PUBLIC HOUSE, KENNINGTON OVAL

Jim, who booked the acts for The Cricketers, must have had very good taste and connections because in addition to home grown talent he also booked world class performers like Steve Earle, Nick Cave with The Birthday Party and Giant Sand.

Absolute highlights for me were the, ‘Texas Texture’ gigs where you could tune in to the Lone Star sensibility of a cult hero like Terry Allen and find that yes indeed, he was :

a panhandling, Man handlin’, Post holin’, High rollin’, Dust Bowlin’…Daddy

and metaphorically lift a can of Pearl to a Texas Treasure.

But, the gig that will always have pride of place in my memory is the one when Guy Clark and Butch Hancock brought in their being and songs the essence of the immense state of Texas to a tiny stage before a hundred folks or so in South London.

For some reason that night I was first in as the doors opened and found sitting quietly at the back sipping pints of plain none other than Guy and Butch.

It wasn’t long before I had presented them with further pints and told Guy that his Album, ‘Old No 1’ with, ‘Let Him Roll’, ‘Rita Ballou” and, ‘Desperados Waiting for a Train’ was in my Top 10 of all time.

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I flat out begged him to sing, ‘Texas 1947’  which I regarded as a good as any Train Song ever written (and dear reader I can confirm that Guy did play the song for me that night).

Turning to Butch I remember saying that it was given to very few song writers to write a truly immortal song but I had no doubt that, ‘She Never Spoke Spanish to Me’ was just such a song.

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I reeled off my favourite lines :

‘Saints and sinners all agree
Spanish is a loving tongue
But she never spoke Spanish to me
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She said, “If you’re from Texas, son
Then where’s your boots and where’s your gun?”
I smiled and said, “I got guns, no-one can see”.
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and said if he played the song that night I would buy him as many pints as he could drink! (and, yes, you’ve guessed it, Butch played it for me).

I also told Butch that his record, ‘West Texas Waltzes & Dust Blown Tractor Tunes’ was a nigh permanent resident on my turntable and that I had framed the cover with the legend, ‘Voice, Guitar and Foot’ on my living room wall.

Image result for west texas waltzes and dust-blown tractor tunes cover image

Again I unhesitatingly launched into some favourite lines :

‘Park your Pickups and Cadillacs, Fords and Renaults

Get up and dance like the dickens to the West Texas Waltz’

‘I count my blessings, not my faults,

I like to dance like the dickens to the West Texas Waltz’

‘…Now only two things are better than milkshakes and malts
And one is dancin’ like the dickens to the West Texas Waltz’.

‘And the other is somethin’, but really it’s nothing’ to speak of it’s something to do

If you’ve done it before, youll be doin’ it some more Just as soon as the dancin’ is through’.

Sure enough when it was Butch’s turn to take the stage his opening salvo was :

Now tell me, didn’t all your aches and pains, your worries and cares, your anxiety and arthritis seem completely cured as you danced like the dickens to the West Texas Waltz!

You can hear ‘Workshirt’ Bob Dylan there and Hank Williams and Jimmy Rogers – the true troubadours of the age.

You can hear the West Texas Wind blowing across the endless plain.

You can hear the tractor engine hummin’ as it turns over the Texas soil.

You can feel the charge in the West Texas Air.

Feel the flat land and the endless Sky.

It’s a song that’s good for dancin’ and romancin’ so grab your sweetheart and jump in your car!

And if anyone asks you why you’ve got such a sloppy grin all over your face why you tell ’em it’s because you’ve been dancin’ like the dickens to The West Texas Waltz.

Now, West Texas Waltz has become something of a Texas Anthem that any right thinkin’ performer form Texas feels honour bound to play to prove their Lone Star credentials.

When Butch was growing up in Lubbock another would be songwriter, two years younger, was growing up a couple of streets away – Joe Ely.

Butch, Joe and Jimmie Dale Gilmore, would later form, ‘The Flatlanders’ a West Texas Super Group!

Swappin’ Songs would become second nature to them.

Joe Ely has always been a natural showman who can get every last drop of juice from a song.

Listen to the sheer vitality and chutzpah he brings to West Texas Waltz.

Go on – Bind up your bunions with band-aids and gauze and …..

 

When speakin’ of dancin’ and romancin’ the thoughts of The Jukebox invariably turn in the direction of Emmylou Harris.

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And, wouldn’t you just know it, with the great Flaco Jimenez on accordion, hasn’t she recorded a deliciously dreamy version of West Texas Waltz just for me and you and every other would be love lorn West Texan.

‘…Now only two things are better than milkshakes and malts
And one is dancin’ like the dickens to the West Texas Waltz’.

Clear the floor!

I will bid you adios with the man himself .

Now your Pickup might need a tune up and who knows your tractor might be actin’ up – but count your blessings, don’t count your faults.

Get out and dance like the dickens to the West Texas Waltz!

 

We al have days when we struggle to tell a cow from a horse.

Only one thing for it – lace up your best dancin’ shoes and waltz away those blues.

‘Cause as we all know by now ;

…. only two things are better than milkshakes and malts
And one is dancin’ like the dickens to the West Texas Waltz’.

 

46 thoughts on “Butch Hancock, Joe Ely and Emmylou Harris : West Texas Waltz

  1. The characters you can meet down the local eh? Bet they were trying to work out exactly who you were Thom. Little did they know the moment was squirrelled away & would see the light of day decades later just as England come good in both cricket & football World Cups. “What about a waltz” as Rigsby was prone to shout out!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Yee Haa! Really enjoyed this Thom. I have very good memories of seeing Guy Clark in London. Emmylou and Flaco are a winning combination. Thanks Dave

    Liked by 2 people

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