The Road to Success for Joe Ely: His Country Music `Letters' Are Being Well Received Now

Article excerpt

Joe Ely returns to the Birchmere tomorrow during an almost unbroken tour that has taken him around the world.

The quintessential troubadour, Mr. Ely doesn't just work the road - he seems to be part of it. Unlike many artists who often refer to touring as "part of the business," Mr. Ely speaks of the road the way some might speak of home - a place you yearn to come back to and don't want to leave for long.

"We've been on the road now for about nine or 10 months - ever since we last played the Birchmere. It's been quite a year. We played a lot in Italy, Ireland and around Great Britain," he says.

"We took a few weeks off around Christmas, but for the band, it's just been hard traveling."

Though his base is Austin, Texas, Mr. Ely spends most of his time away because "I get energy from it," he says. "I'm a student of life, so whatever I see around me, I try to turn into songs. Every song I've ever done has had a direct relationship to something that has happened in life.

"I've traveled all over the country and the world since I was 15 or 16. I've always lived in Texas, but I am a complete gypsy."

In Italy, Mr. Ely picked up an award for his latest and most acclaimed album, "Letters to Laredo." It was named Italy's album of the year by two prominent Italian entertainment magazines. For Mr. Ely, this 11th album (or as he says, 13th album - two were never distributed) was something of a departure in style. As with all his work, the seeds for "Letters to Laredo" were sown on the road and are derived from his growing-up days in the flatlands around Lubbock, Texas.

"I never tried to be a rebel or anything," he says. "I never fit into any of the radio categories because I don't listen to what the radio is playing or try to make songs like that.

"My inspirations go back to when I was 10 years old, when my daddy put me to work in a used-clothing store in a part of town where a lot of migrant Mexican laborers would come. It was right where the music they brought up from Mexico was playing all around me. I grew up loving the `rancheros' and `conjunto' kind of music that came from the working class of Mexico. …