The history of rock and roll is filled with tales of creative partnerships so powerful they split bands apart at the seams. The Flatlanders are an exception to this rule.
Joe Ely, Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore are three of the greatest songwriters Texas has every produced. The men, now in their mid-50s, have been friends since they were teenagers. Three decades after the trio's first album, they've teamed up for a second.
Most recording artists are afraid that fans will forget them if more than two years passes between recordings. The Flatlanders broke that rule too, with 30 years passing between their first and second recordings.
The Flatlanders came out of Lubbock, Texas, in the early 1970s with the raw talent to become a revolutionary force in country music.
But the band's folk and blues style was so far from what the Nashville music industry was seeking that the group's debut was never widely released. Each member of the Texas trio is a celebrated artist in his own right, but as The Flatlanders, they are greater than the sum of their individual parts, which makes Now Again worth the 30-year wait.
Katherine Cole: "What made you decide that now was the time?"
Joe Ely: "Well, now it's now again! It's always been the right time. It just never happened. In between this record and the old record, together we [Ely, Gilmore and Hancock] have probably released 50 albums. It's just never quite happened in this way. The first thing that happened was we actually got kind of commissioned to do a song for the soundtrack album for the movie The Horse Whisperer. That was the first time we actually sat down and wrote together."
Jimmie Dale Gilmore: "The great discovery from that was that we could do it. That it could happen, that the three of us could get together, pick out a time, sit down together and write songs. And love it. Really enjoy doing it. Plus, we loved what we wrote. So, I feel like we discovered this buried treasure."
Jimmie Dale Gilmore is not out of line when he talks about the trio's songwriting. All but two of the tracks on "Now Again" were co-written by the group One exception is Butch Hancock's "Julia", on which he sings lead, with the others chiming in on the chorus.
Katherine Cole: "You looked so happy up on stage yesterday, and that's infectious. There are so many people who get up there and look so dour, like they're not having fun, and you wonder, 'Why are they doing it, if it's not fun?' Is it fun?"
Butch Hancock: "Maybe they think they're still backstage. Backstage is like that. But once you get on stage, oh, it's wonderful."
Joe Ely: "As many roads as we've been down, together and separately, when we do get together, it's a special time."
Katherine Cole: "It sounds like you're going to be together a lot in the near future, with a tour in the U.S., and then you're going to get to go overseas, which you couldn't do last year."
Joe Ely: "Yes. We're just kind of taking everything piece-by-piece. We don't want to turn it into a touring machine, because then it might get to be where we didn't enjoy it. And that's the one thing we said when we first started this record: We were going to do it for the music, not for the business, not for the record company, not for the media or the press or anything. We're going to do this for each other, and for the love of the music. And if the booking agent says, 'Here, I've got 200 days in a row, you can go out and see the whole world,' we'll say 'No.'"
Jimmie Dale Gilmore: "We've already done that."
Joe Ely: "We've done that."
Now Again is more than a reunion album. It's a record with highlights that will likely top most of what comes out of Nashville this year. While Jimmie Dale Gilmore sings in an old country style and Butch Hancock is a folk singer, Joe Ely is a honky-tonk rocker. One listen to "I Thought The Wreck Was Over", and you'll know why his admirers stretch from Willie Nelson, to Keith Richards, to The Clash.