To Texan Joe Ely, life is just one big adventure. He has hitchhiked and hopped trains across several continents, joined the circus and even lost his mind for a while. An accomplished musician, actor and playwright, he has toured with The Rolling Stones, The Clash, Carl Perkins and Merle Haggard; shared the stage with Paul McCartney, Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis; and has recorded with Bruce Springsteen. He shared house gigs with Stevie Ray Vaughn and ZZ Top too.To Texan Joe Ely, life is just one big adventure. He has hitchhiked and hopped trains across several continents, joined the circus and even lost his mind for a while. An accomplished musician, actor and playwright, he has toured with The Rolling Stones, The Clash, Carl Perkins and Merle Haggard; shared the stage with Paul McCartney, Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis; and has recorded with Bruce Springsteen. He shared house gigs with Stevie Ray Vaughn and ZZ Top too.
He was not only one of the first musicians on the Internet, but he was one of the first people on the Internet. His peers and musical compadres are people like Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark. He just turned 60, and you would think he’d be about adventured-out by now. You’d be wrong.
“When I left home in the ‘60s, I set out to take in everything that I could take in…and just kind of think of my life as one great big road trip. And I find it incredibly interesting. I never get bored. The music thing…certain things have happened. I’ve made records and had big ol’ tours and things, but I have never thought of it as being a business. It’s more like an adventure than a business.
Ely’s latest adventure is a big one. Not only has he started a record label, but he’s released two albums and written a book as well. “The first record, Silver City,is an acoustic record of songs I wrote right at the beginning of where the book takes place,” Ely explains. “The book is called Bonfire of Roadmaps, and its title came from a tour that is chronicled in the book, back in 1986 or ‘87. We were touring Europe in the middle of February. It was one of the coldest winters in history, and we were in this damned old Fiat bus with no heater. We were zigzagging across Germany, up into Norway, all the way to the Artic Circle…and everywhere we went, we started noticing this pattern. We crossed the ferry at Zeebrugge, and the next morning we picked up the newspaper to see that the ferry had sunk.
“Everywhere we went, the hotel would burn down right after we would check out. There was an avalanche in the Italian Alps where we had just passed through. Disaster seemed to be right on our heels. I closed this one chapter of the book…when the Hotel West burned down in Oslo I said it was probably some poor bastard trying to dry his socks in the bathroom with a bonfire of roadmaps. I took that as the title for the book.
“This is my first book…and that’s one of the reasons I am celebrating it with a couple of records,” Ely continues. “There’s going to be a couple of spoken word things with the book. The book comes with a CD of one of the chapters-with me reading it. The whole thing is kind of a story of the road. It’s not a pretty book; it’s not about the glamour of the road, but more about the actual stuff that happens. I’ve kept road journals ever since about 1968, when I was first kind of going out on the road. I started them not so much as journals…I was just kind of jotting down stuff. I’d see something and I’d just kind of jot it down, or I’d think of a story. This last year I started looking back through old workbooks and finding songs that I had written but never recorded. Last year I recorded probably a hundred songs that I had written at some time in my life, but had never recorded. That’s how I did the Silver City record. Time gives you a different perspective. It’s worked out pretty good though; I’m having a good time. I get to go out and play music with my friends. I can’t think of anything I’d rather do.