Joe Ely's Top Five Live Shots, By iFest's Rick Mitchell

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3. Joe Ely's house, mid-'90s: This informal house concert and backyard barbecue, at Joe's homestead up on the ridge outside of Austin, was hosted by MCA Records during SXSW. Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore came up with Joe in Lubbock and formed the core of the Flatlanders, which had recorded one prematurely alt-country album, More a Legend Than a Band, released only on eight-track in the early '70s.

The three compadres sat around Joe's rustic living room, picking guitars, sharing lead vocals and trading songs. Great songs, one after another, mostly new or at least previously unheard by those of us lucky enough to be there. Of course, an album followed, and the Flatlanders are now more a band than a legend, an established touring and recording act that offers Joe a laid-back, cowboy-hat alter-ego to the hard-rocking, leather-clad Lord of the Highway.

2. 12th and Porter, Nashville, early '90s: I happened to be in Nashville on business and was invited to the album release party for Love and Danger, a great rock and roll record released by MCA's country division. Of course, radio did not know what to do with it, but I still listen to it fairly regularly, and I suspect I am not alone.

The band was augmented by Reese Wynans on keys, who had been playing with Stevie Ray Vaughan prior to his sudden and tragic death, and backup vocalists Jonell Mosser and Ashley Cleveland. Joe himself leaned forward into the microphone stand and sang as if his hair was on fire. For artistic courage and charisma, no Nashville assembly-line karaoke cowboy could compare, then or now.

I have one other odd memory of this night. I was standing next to Raul Malo, who at that time was fronting the Mavericks and wearing a big black cowboy hat. Someone came up to him and asked what he thought of Buck Owens. "Who?" said Raul. "Buck Owens," the guy replied. "I know who Buck Owens is," said Raul. "Who the fuck are you?"

1. Rockefeller's, late '80s: They say there's no time like the first time. I had heard Joe's albums prior to moving to Houston to take the job at the Chronicle. I knew his history - ran away with the circus, toured with the Clash, etc. I remember listening to the Lord of the Highway cassette while driving across West Texas en route from California.

But the live show easily exceeded all expectations. The closest thing I could compare it to was hearing Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band for the first time - sheer rock and roll exhilaration, but with a Lone Star swagger instead of the Jersey Shore strut. The band included David Grissom on guitar, Jimmy Pettit on bass and Davis McLarty on drums - not coincidentally, the same band that will be playing with Joe next Friday.

I went back all three nights, joined by my wife on the second and third nights, and we've seldom missed an opportunity to see Joe play live since.

Tickets for the Joe Ely Band's February 11 performance at Rockefeller Hall, 3620 Washington, can be purchased exclusively online at Do not call the club. The 2011 iFest music lineup will be announced from the stage.

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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray