30 May 2000


Listening to:  Joe Ely, an intimate acoustic evening live at the Mucky Duck.


Joe Ely


Tonight, I went to see a Texas legend, Joe Ely, perform at the Mucky Duck, this wonderful, intimate venue in Houston that in recent years has consistently made Top 20 acoustic venue lists for the nation.   It's a good match, actually.  For the owners of the bar, their little place is a labor of love, and has been for a while -- in fact, at one point they had brought up personal credit card debt to about $90,000 to keep it going.  Now, it's THE place to see a live show in Houston, because of their hard work and their passion.

Mix in Joe Ely.  For Ely, the music is a labor of love.   For those who don't know Joe, go to his website right now; it will give you some history behind this incredible storyteller with a great sense of how to arrange music.  The Houston Chronicle reviewed one of his shows a while back, and said (loosely paraphrased) to imagine Bruce Springsteen having gone undiscovered back east, or Mellencamp having gone undiscovered in Indiana -- and you have Ely.  The interesting part is that musicians DO know Joe.  On his monumental Letter to Laredo album, Joe has Bruce Springsteen singing backing vocals for two sings!   Yeah, Springsteen.  Doing backing vocals.  Tell me how many people for whom he's done that, boys and girls. 

The shows tonight were incredible.  Joe told some great stories in the first show -- and then he sang some great stories -- and through it all, he was playing some great guitar, a talent I never knew he possessed to that degree, as well as harmonica.  And he threw every bit of himself into it.  Someone who is open to excellence can just listen to the best songs on a Joe album, and be appreciative.   When he's live, like tonight, it doesn't even require that much effort.  Just watch the man produce great music, and clap afterwards because he's earned more than that.

Leo Strauss speaks of knowing an author better than he knows himself.  I think one reason I like Joe so much is that I know him almost as well as he knows himself.  When he picked songs to do tonight -- especially when all sorts of requests were yelled at him and he had to choose from among them -- I felt like I knew exactly why he picked them musically.  Joe looked up at one point during the show and said "Those requests bring back memories.  Every song reminds me of what was happening in my life when I wrote it."  That's how I tend to think of most songs, so I really feel like I understand Joe.

The great thing is, I took Callie's boot CD up to Joe after the first show, and asked him:  "Would you mind signing a boot CD?"  He looked a little surprised, and just asked "Where?"  Both the cover and the CD have a nice crisp Joe Ely signature on them now.  He shouldn't look so surprised.   What a nice guy, though.

So, that's how I spent my evening, listening to Joe.  Not a bad deal at all!  Although I did notice on the Reckless Kelly website that Joe came out and played a few tunes with them on their Nashville swing.  I would have LOVED to have seen that!  Joe has an excellent ear for musical talent, which makes me even more confident in my assessment of RK as one of the best bands to come out of Austin in a long damn time.  That's why the people in our campsite this weekend probably got awfully tired of hearing Joe and Kelly -- because I have this tendency to overindulge in excellence.  In my world, however, no apologies are necessary for that!  In fact, I suspect I should be saying "Your welcome" more than I do.

And Callie's little cd recorder -- what a great thing!  Now it's time for bed.



Copyright (c) 2000, Kevin L. Whited