Butch Hancock/Josh Harty; September 13, 2011; Kiki’s House of Righteous Music
I’m still not sure how Butch Hancock’s booking agent found me, but I’m not going to question it. I’m still in awe that somehow I was hosting one of the members of the Flatlanders. Even though he has attained legendary status Hancock couldn’t have been more down to earth. “Is this the right place?” he asked eagerly as he pulled into my driveway, moments before shaking my hand and giving me a hug. As people arrived for the show, he greeted each of them, asking where they grew up or some other unexpected question. Not only was he quite charming, he was also well-prepared. Even though half the shows he was doing on this tour were in clubs, he brought his own Bose system with him. The Bose stick is a pretty remarkable invention. The single tall skinny speaker puts out a surprisingly warm and full sound and it’s perfect for a solo performer.
I know the Flatlanders’ catalog pretty thoroughly, but I was unfamiliar with his solo material. I bought his most recent release 2007’s War and Peace, but the heavily 9-11 colored release was a little too preachy. Instead I listened more intently to the Flatlanders’ records. Turns out that Hancock is the main voice on those records. Even though his isn’t the best of the three, it does blend well with his bandmates, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Joe Ely. And once I picked out their distinctive voices, it was obvious that Hancock does much of the work. Not only that, but Ely and Gilmore have both recorded many of his songs on their records.
Unfortunately, he didn’t do any Flatlanders’ songs (at least ones I recognized) during his very entertaining 80 minute set, but he did do a few I knew. The first of these was “Leo & Leona” which happens to be my favorite song from Ely’s new release Satisfied at Last. I’d discovered that Hancock had written the epic travelogue when I was reviewing Ely’s CD, but I didn’t expect him to play it. It was pleasant surprise. Talking later about that song he said that he’d decided the best songs were the ones that were like a map and travel from town to town. “Like the rooster song,” he added. “You mean ‘El Gallo del Cielo’?” I questioned. Hardly just a rooster song, Tom Russell’s tragedy is the most emotional song about cock fighting ever written, Another he’d written was “Just a Wave, Not the Water” one of the most beautiful songs Jimmie Dale Gilmore has ever recorded. I didn’t know he’d written that one and his version rivals Gilmore’s. Sure it was a little disappointing that he didn’t do any of the Flatlanders songs I loved, but I really can’t complain because it was a truly terrific show. The songs I didn’t know proved as entertaining, even more so, than the ones I did, and there were many laugh-out-loud moments.
The night began with local musician banging out Hancock’s hilarious “West Texas Waltz” on accordion. It isn’t Schwall’s best instrument but it was quite appropriate for the song. Terrific singer songwriter Josh Harty opened the show for real with a great set if his own music which also included two great covers he’s made his own, a Buddy Holly song and Richard Thompson’s “1952 Vincent Black Lightning,” a song which he claims has been roundly criticized in the British press. Their complaint can only be that he dared to cover their native son, not with his version of it, which is honestly awesome.
Butch Hancock can come back anytime he wants, and hopefully he’ll mention the House of Righteous Music to his Flatlander buddies, especially Ely.