Joe Ely – Boxcars

21st January 2023 · 1970s, 1978, Country, Music

Country music was so uncool in the Seventies that I never went near it in my youth. Until I came across Joe Ely. There was something about his debut album in 1977 that struck the same sort of chord as the ramshackle thrashings of punk. But in an American way – specifically a Texan way.

Not that I would go to America, or Texas, for another decade. I did, however, go to the Hope & Anchor most nights, thanks to living around the corner and the generosity of landlord John Eichler.

He enthusiastically promoted pub rock through its evolution into punk rock in the basement below his pub in Upper Street. More importantly (for me), he let me in free.

One night in (I think) 1978 the headliner was not, for once, The Damned or The Adverts or any of the other one-chord wonders, but a Texan called Joe Ely.

His band had instruments never normally seen at gigs I attended, like the accordion, and they played an infectious kind of music that swung with lurching rhythms.

It had a ramshackle appeal that seemed to parallel punk. Especially when Joe Strummer and (I think) Mick Jones jumped on stage from the audience to join them.

Anyway, I became a fan – the first “country & western” act I had ever liked – and bought a couple of albums, then rather forgot about Joe Ely.

A year or two ago I found that he was still making records and had just made another great one.

While he could whip up a honkytonk storm (and did), this melancholy affair with weeping pedal steel is the one I always come back to.

And, like the freight train it’s about, it slowly gathers speed until it’s thundering down the track at a breakneck pace.