Butch Hancock & Jimmie Dale Gilmore McGonigel's Mucky Duck August 4, 2010
Even with a cover charge, spending an evening with Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore, who have known each other for so long and written so many songs enshrined in the Texas-music pantheon, feels a lot like eavesdropping. Not just on the two men onstage, either, but on the thoughts you hardly ever admit having even to yourself.
Great fun, in other words, with the occasional knife to the gut or the heart. Or both.
Aftermath arrived at the Mucky Duck Saturday just in time to see Hancock, Gilmore and a stray wife or kid or two exit their touring vehicle (a silver VW station wagon), and got inside just in time for our photographer to point out former Astros manager Larry Dierker just down the bar. Tuning up, they bantered about negotiating "Kirby Lane" during the post-Rice/UT game traffic and how much the Duck reminded them of the living room of their house off 14th Street in Lubbock.
"We will do requests if we know 'em, and possibly if we don't," Gilmore said.
Accompanied only by their acoustic guitars and Hancock's harmonica, the duo opened with a sunny cover of the Carter Family's "Hello Stranger," one of the few times all night they harmonized; much more often, they either traded verses or one simply let the other sing all on his own. The rounders and ramblers of their shared opener, though, would revisit all night via both men's songs - sometimes carefree, sometimes careworn, but almost always on the move.
Just like in the next song, Hancock's "Just A Wave, Not the Water," warbled by Gilmore as memorably Saturday as on 1993's Spinning Around the Sun:
Well I followed her far and wide with all of my will Water on the move you know it never stands still And I moved every muscle just to prove it can be done Then up some old sad river where snow white lilies float I came to her for mercy but I hardly rocked the boat She seemed surprised that I had caught her But she said babe, you're just a wave, you're not the water
"You should sing that one at every gig, Jimmie," Hancock said softly, causing a few of the moistened eyes in the room to twinkle with laughter.
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"I generally do. I have impeccable taste," replied Gilmore. Laughter. Hancock countered with another account about a woman (the same woman?) as hard to capture as water on "Baby, Do You Love Me Still?"
There was water in the well and fire from the first Were ya burnin' me out or were ya quenchin' my thirst? How could it go so fast from the best to the worst? Baby do you love me still?
After singing his own pensive, ethereal "Treat Me Like a Saturday Night" ("Glad to see you comin'/ Glad to see you go"), Gilmore commented on his friend, "He's kind of like Townes [Van Zandt], except he's still alive." Naturally - and exactly as planned, we're sure - that sent both men to the Townes songbook, first Hancock for a dark and stormy "Waitin' 'Round to Die"...
I came of age and found a girl in a Tuscaloosa bar She cleaned me out and hit it on the sly I tried to kill the pain, I bought some wine and hopped a train Seemed easier than just a-waitin' 'round to die
...and then Gilmore for the much brighter "No Lonesome Tune":
I ain't gonna sing no lonesome tune Ah, babe, I'm a-comin' soon I cannot believe i stayed so long away But a man must look around And you're the sweetest thing I've found Your lost high roller's rollin' home today
Hancock came back with no lonesome tune of his own, "Circle of Love," a rambling melody about two lovers rambling through the Southwest, featuring Dylanesque harmonica and two pigs named Slander and Libel. Gilmore explained how he taught Hancock's son Rory "that same rock and roll chord progression all the ballads are in," and then demonstrated beautifully on Elvis Presley's "I Was the One."
The bonds between these two men, both musically and personally, were never in any doubt, but seemed to strengthen with each passing song. Then Rory's dad sang "If You Were a Bluebird," for which there are no words except Hancock's own.
If I was a highway, I'd stretch alongside you I'd help you pass by ways That had dissatisfied you If I was a highway, Well I'd be stretchin' I'd be fetchin' you home
The room was absolutely still, we swear, while Hancock was singing - no chewing, no clinking glasses, and if anybody chose that moment to order a drink, we didn't notice. "Bluebird" has kind of crept back in our memory lately, and Aftermath needed a moment to collect our thoughts afterward.
Luckily, we got one, because Gilmore launched into long, semi-political soliloquy about how shocked and saddened he was when, at a previous Mucky Duck show early in the Bush 43 administration, some comments he made actually made one man bring up one of his CDs to Gilmore after the show - not to autograph, but to give back to him. Still shaken from "Bluebird," honestly, we were having a hard time following the whole thing, but when Gilmore sang his "Tonight I Think I'm Gonna Go Downtown," a similar spectral stillness settled over the room.
I told my love a thousand times That I can't say what's on my mind, But she would never see That this world's just not real to me And tonight I think I'm gonna go downtown
"I don't think I'll ever talk about politics again," he said after the song, to much laughter.
A request for "Dallas" brought more reflections on 14th Street in Lubbock - where Hancock said he first heard Gilmore singing it in the backyard, and thought it was one of the most beautiful songs he'd ever heard - and a bluesy, harmonica-heavy solo version by Hancock.
The pair wrapped up the first set trading verses on Hancock's "West Texas Waltz," a tongue-twister that follows several generations and social classes of Lubbockites around a very lively evening. Its author explained that every so often he would stop by Lubbock's Cotton Club to see the third corner of the Flatlanders triumverate, Joe Ely, who would almost always greet him with a variation of "Oh great, Butch has got another verse." Like this one, which, of the song's seven verses, Aftermath has heard performed the least:
I took my baby after dark to the old baseball park And we sat in the center field stands I asked her, "How many outs?" She said, "I've got my doubts, but you can count 'em on one of your hands." I said, "Baby, I've got much better plans." "I'll kiss you on the strikes, you kiss me on the balls, and we'll go dance like the dickens to the West Texas Waltz!"
Aftermath doesn't know if Hancock and Gilmore knew Dierker was in the audience and put that verse in just for him (we can recall maybe hearing it live one other time, and never in any recorded version of "Waltz" we've ever heard), but he loved it. So did the rest of us. It brought an evening that see-sawed between poignancy and playfulness safely home with the knowledge that the two yodeling songwriter/poet/genius/mystics onstage are subject to the same wants, needs and desires as the rest of us.
They just know how to phrase it a little better, that's all.
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Personal Bias: Who? Us?
The Crowd: Silver-haired, if not as silver-tongued as Hancock and Gilmore.
Overheard In the Crowd: Not much, for once.
Random Notebook Dump: Actually, that ought to about cover it.