By Jeffrey B. Remz, June 2002
ome musicians take their time in between albums to tweak the dials or wait for the right moment to hit the marketplace.
But the long awaited sophomore album of The Flatlanders - Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Butch Hancock and Joe Ely - probably must set some sort of record since it only took a mere 30 years between the initial disc and "Now Again," released in late May on indie label New West Records.
The Flatlanders' debut was released on 8-track in 1972 and eventually made it to the silver platter via Rounder Records in 1990 as "More a Legend Than a Band" with some different songs.
And The Flatlanders cannot exactly be accused of too much fine tuning or blame the economics of the record industry.
It was really more the case of waiting for the right time between varying interests - some musical, someartistic, some personal.
"Hey, I like the idea that maybe we were really going for the record," says Ely during a conference call interview from Nashville with all three members. "I have never thought of that."
But Ely, the youngster of the group at 55, 2 years younger than his compadres, quickly indicates the record would be short lived because "if Wilis Allan Ramsey ever makes a record, that'll beat us."
The time off between albums seems to concern the trio very little. After all, it's not like they have been inactive or returning to action like the retread hair rock bands of the '80s hitting the outdoor sheds this summer.
"Separately, we've probably made a whole wheelbarrow full of records between then and now," says Ely.
"All of us were out and about the world a bunch, crashing each other's gigs when we're in the same town," says Ely.
Gilmore, who has received the most musical attention of the three in recent years, said "always hoped" another album would materialize. "We all just enjoy each other's company and each other's music."
The friendships go back to their youths. Gilmore and Hancock were friends when they were 12, while Gilmore met Ely during his last year of high school.
The Flatlanders formed in 1970 when Hancock, Ely and Gilmore returned to Lubbock where Gilmore and Hancock grew up.
Gilmore had been in an Austin band, the Hub City Movers, while Hancock hung in San Francisco, and Ely hit the Big Apple playing in subways and later trekked to Europe with a rock and roll theatrical production.
Back in Lubbock, the three roomed together. The band included other members including Steve Wesson and Tony Pearson, who actually participate on the new disc as well.
In 1972, The Flatlanders hit the road for Nasvhille to record with producer Royce Clark for Plantation.
The music in Nashville at the time tended to be overproduced and country pop (sound familiar to today?), music at odds with the laid back spare sounding country The Flatlanders would record.
A single of "Dallas" was released to radio, but met little response.
When the disc finally did come out, it was only available as an eight-track tape.
The band played some gigs together before splitting up. Gilmore went to Colorado where he pursued meditation, Buddhism and Hinduism. He dropped out of the music business. But in 1987, he released the first of two albums for HighTone. His star continued to ascend with some excellent albums in the '90s for Elektra ("After Awhile," "Spinning 'Round the Sun" and "Braver New World") and building a good cult following. He later moved over to Rounder.
After The Flatlanders went their separate ways, Ely later formed a band with Jesse Taylor, who also had been in the Flatlanders, and now ace producer Lloyd Maines, and signed with MCA Nashville, the first of two stints on the label. He opened shows for The Clash in the late '70s. Ely also helped keep Gilmore's name out there by recording some of his songs.
Hancock retreated to southern Texas, recording albums primarily on his own label. He also got involved in river rafting over the years.
Finally, about 14 years ago, the three reunited at the Kerrville Folk Festival for a gig. Nothing was permanent, of course, and the three continued doing their own thing.
In recent years, they undertook a few short jaunts with fans continuing to wonder if and when a new record ever would materialize.
Gilmore, Hancock and Ely got a sense for what it would be like to record together again when they were asked to do songs for "The Horse Whisperer" soundtrack, the 1998 movie starring Robert Redford.
"When we did those first two songs for 'The Horse Whisperer' thing, and it was so much fun working together on those," says Gilmore, "I really began to hope that maybe we could do that enough to have enough songs to be worth putting out."
"I don't think I could say I expected it," he says. "I don't think any of us have ever had to the somewhat normal approach."
"It's been rumored for years," Hanock says."