Joe Ely is a can-do artist who's genre of music includes a Texas mix of country, rock, Cajun, Mexican, blues, and everything in-between. He has been described as too rock-n-roll for country and too country for rock but his fans like him just the way he is. Although his work has received rave reviews he hasn't had a hit song.
Joe Ely was born in 1947 in Amarillo, Texas and grew up in Lubbock. After seeing Jerry Lee Lewis performing like a maniac, in the middle of a dust storm for an auto dealer's promotion, he decided that was what he wanted. In 1972 he and a couple of old friends, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock, formed a band called the Flatlanders. They hooked up with a freelance producer and recorded enough music for an album but only a few dozen copies were distributed. The band drifted apart after about a year. Ely hit the road. He played guitar and sang in New York City on subway platforms and street corners for a few months. He also worked as a janitor, a fruit picker and for Ringling Brothers Circus. After a couple of years wandering around he got homesick. He also had a desire to form another band.
Back in Lubbock he contacted some friends and they started playing the local bar circuit. This was about the same time that Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and several other Outlaws were going sharply against the grain of traditional country music. Ely's good song writing skills and broad range of music styles was almost perfect to cover any crossover potential. The band developed quite a following and they were soon signed by MCA. They released three albums but sales were not good. Ironically, there were positive comments in Stereo Review and in the Villiage Voice. MCA dropped them in 1983 and in 1987 an independent label, Hightone, picked them up and produced a couple of albums. Ely's music was being picked up by a younger generation of country fans and rock fans.
The Clash visited Ely's band backstage while Ely was touring in Europe. The Clash showed them around their turf and when they came to the states they asked Ely to tour with them. Ely released a rock album, Live Shots, which disappointed his country fans and as usual had no hits. Nonetheless he says he is grateful that he has at least had an influence on a lot of younger country singers.
Wayne Jancik and Tad Lathrop. Cult Rockers. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995
John Floyd. "Joe Ely Biography" RollingStone.com (http://www.rollingstone.com/artists/bio.asp?oid=1349878)