Three Questions with Legendary Singer-Songwriter Joe Ely

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From the June 2014 edition

Singer-songwriter Joe Ely has quite the resume, having spent more than three decades touring and performing with Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones, the Clash and Tom Petty. Catch Ely and his Tex-Mex country-rock stylings June 8 at The Grand Valley Dale Ballroom. 

Do you have anything new in the works?

I’m working on a new album, working on an old album and finishing up a book. The old album was one that was never released. It’s a record that I think I’d like for people to hear. I’m looking to release it in the next few weeks. And then I’m going to release the new album at the same time as the novel—it’s stories about ramblers and gamblers and freight-train riders and just kind of stories of people I’ve met along the way. I have a great love of the desert from the tip of Texas to California. I just think it’s a really fascinating place, both visually and spiritually. There’s something cleansing about it and also something deadly.

Those are common themes in your music. Did these stories come from growing up in Texas?

When I was a kid, my father had a used clothing store. Texas was a big cotton town, and in the spring and summer, 50,000 workers would come up from Mexico to work in the cotton fields, and they would come to my father’s store to get work clothes. They would bring music with them, and I was always really fascinated with mariachi bands playing. There was something really alive about it and something a bit tragic, too, because the songs were really happy melodies and the stories were dreadful and really sad. They kind of influenced me before I picked up the electric guitar.

You’ve shared the stage with some big names over the years. Do any favorite performances come to mind?

Just the other night, I went down to Houston to see my old friend Bruce Springsteen, and he asked me to come down and play a few songs with him. And it was really an enlightening experience. That’s just a recent one that comes to mind. I’ve been really lucky to work with some really great musicians.