Lubbock Calling: Joe Ely Remembers the Clash

May 19, 2000:

"Honky Tonk Masquerade had just come out, and we were in London playing the Venue Club when all the Clash showed up one night. They came backstage and I guess they'd heard me on the radio and knew every song on my record. This was 1978 and coming from Lubbock; we had no idea what was going on in London.

"Pete Townshend was there that night, but I didn't know the Clash from Adam. They introduced themselves, and after we talked backstage, they invited us to come to the studio where they were working the next day. So we went and afterward hit the clubs in the East End, staying up all night and having a good time. It was like the West Texas hellraisers meet the London hellraisers. We were from different worlds, but it was like, 'All right! Let's hang out some more!' We were playing three nights in a row at the Venue and hung out the whole time.

"They told me they were coming to America and I asked where they wanted to play. 'Laredo, El Paso' -- they were naming off all these gunfighter ballad towns from Marty Robbins songs. 'Well I don't know about that,' I said, 'but we could play Lubbock together.' And they were like, 'Lubbock! All right!' They told their booking agent they didn't care about Houston or Dallas, they wanted to play Laredo, Lubbock, El Paso, and Wichita Falls. Somehow he put it together and we played Houston, San Antonio, Laredo, Lubbock, and Juarez. It was a great Europe-meets-Texas meeting.

"Playing with the Clash definitely kicked my band up a notch. Growing up inLubbock, I always hung around with the rock & roll guys, so I came from a rockin' background. We played the Palladium in Hollywood together and Monterey Pop festival -- Bond's in New York. It was a big boost for us, so when they invited us back the following year for the London Calling shows in London, it was a real eye-opener. We were playing their venues with them -- the Electric Ballroom, Hammersmith Odeon -- wild, steamy, crazy shows that were unbelievable.

"I ran into them accidentally in New York when they were cutting 'Should I Stay or Should I Go' and Strummer said, 'Hey, help me with my Spanish.' So me and Strummer and the Puerto Rican engineer sat down and translated the lyrics into the weirdest Spanish ever. Then we sang it all.

"When you listen to 'Should I Stay or Should I Go,' there's a place in the song where Mick says, 'Split.' Me and Strummer had been yelling out the Spanish background lyrics and we had snuck up behind him as he was recording. We were behind a curtain, jumped out at him in the middle of singing, and scared the shit out of him. He looks over and gives us the dirtiest look and says, 'Split!' They kept that in the final version.

"The Clash were better-known on the radio at the time than the Sex Pistols, and more political. They were dead serious -- I didn't realize how serious they were until after I worked with them. They weren't just a band out to have a good time, they were making a statement. I think that's what ended up dividing them in the end, when London Calling became accepted in the pop crowd. Strummer thought that was watering down their political statement and that caused a split with him and Mick."

Reprinted in the Austin Chronicle Dec 2002

Lubbock Calling 2

"I think it was '78 when we went over to London to tour,"
recalls Joe Ely. "We were playing this place called the Venue, and these scraggly looking guys were backstage talking to us. They told us, 'We have a band here in London,' and that they really liked the record we had out.

I think it was Honky Tonk Masquerade; we'd had big success on our first three records there. So we said, 'Oh yeah, great. Thanks,' and they told us their band name. 'Course in '78, we were coming straight from Lubbock [laughs]. We'd never heard of the Clash.

We didn't know anything that was going on in London. Hell, none of us even had a telephone. "But they were great guys, and they invited us out after the show for a beer. They knew the town, and everybody knew them. They took us to all these places, then they invited us down to the studio where they were recording.

Since we were around London for the whole week, we saw them quite a few times. "We said, 'Well, if you ever get over across the ocean, look us up. We'll take you to some good places in Texas.' They were really fascinated with Texas, and especially towns with names like Laredo, El Paso, San Antonio. To them, Texas was a mythical place that they only knew about in old Marty Robbins gunfighter ballads and Westerns and stuff. Jones, Strummer, and Simonon at the Armadillo photo by Ken Hoge "They said, 'Yeah, sure,' but we didn't really expect anything of it. We get back to Lubbock, and I get a call from our booker.

They'd gotten a call from London: Some band they'd never heard of was coming to America and wanted to do some shows with us. They were coming to Texas. I said. 'Yeah, that's the Clash. Let's bring 'em to Lubbock.' They didn't want to play the big cities, they wanted to play the little towns in Texas.

That was right after the Sex Pistols had played San Antonio, and it had become huge news because there was a near-riot. So the Clash wanted to go to, like, Wichita Falls, Lubbock, Laredo, El Paso. "They spent several days in Lubbock, and I showed them Buddy Holly's grave. I don't think anybody in Lubbock had ever heard of the Clash, but our band drew, so we packed the place.

We played first, and the Clash closed. Everybody was scared to death at first, but by the end, the dance floor was full. In Lubbock, that's how you know if people are digging it -- if the dance floor's full. At the end of the set, we did some stuff together, 'Not Fade Away' and maybe 'Peggy Sue.'

They were doing 'I Fought the Law,' which was Sonny Curtis. They were huge fans of [Crickett] Sonny Curtis and knew he was from Lubbock, too. ... "We went back to London in 1980 and did their whole London Calling tour. That was the time that was the most amazing, me seeing the Clash in their own environment.

The first show was at a place called the Electric Ballroom in Camden Town, and it was the m-o-s-t amazing show I've ever seen. You couldn't hardly see the band, because the crowd was so hot they made a cloud. It was a cold night, and there was an actual cloud inside the room that came down over the tops of people's heads. People were looking up through the fog at this show, and it was a-mazing. I've never seen anything like that." --

Raoul Hernandez