:: Songwriters Tour :: feat. Lyle Lovett, John Hiatt, Joe Ely and Guy Clark :: Paramount Theatre :: February 9 ::
By Tim Dwenger
When one thinks of The Four Horsemen, it isn’t usually an image of four iconic singer/songwriters sharing a stage that pops to mind. Yet that is exactly what Joe Ely is calling this winter’s tour with fellow Texans, Lyle Lovett and Guy Clark, and Indiana native John Hiatt.
Each of the songwriters has led a storied career and the tour offers a rare opportunity to see four musicians of this caliber perform together in a songwriters circle as colleagues and friends.
“Every night is different so it is really entertaining, no matter what happens,” Ely said from backstage at the Palace Theatre in Cleveland during a recent interview with The Marquee. “We don’t have a setlist or anything. What you play kind of depends on what the person before you plays. Like when Guy Clark plays a song about a Dallas whore at a funeral, I just can’t hardly top that and I just have to go off on some other subject. Other nights we’ll get on a theme. One time it was a dog theme, and the other night it was women’s first names. You just never know what’ll happen.”
The first time the songwriters came together in this format was back in “1989 or 1990” when the head of the Country Music Foundation, Bill Ivey, “asked me to put together a group of songwriters from diverse backgrounds and singin’ styles,” Ely said. “We played a couple of shows in New York at the old Bottom Line and enjoyed it so much, we just kept it going. It’s been more than fifteen years now that we’ve been doing these tours.”
“It is the simplest of set-ups, just four mics and four guitars. No fancy lights or set, it’s just us,” Ely said. “Not only is it fun doin’ it on stage, but I know that when I get home I go straight to the studio and start working on songs. Hearing everybody play songs written in their own styles opens me up and helps me to structure my songs differently. There are so many ways a song can be written and it helps to see that when I get together with all these great songwriters.”
While his tourmates John Hiatt and Lyle Lovett have enjoyed their share of success and fame, Guy Clark and Ely have remained largely under the radar of most casual music fans, and this is a true shame. Clark has penned songs recorded by the likes of Johnny Cash, Steve Earle and Jimmy Buffett, and his most recent album, Workbench Songs, has been nominated for a Grammy Award. Ely, on the other hand, has strayed a little bit farther into the rock and roll world and has shared more than just the stage with bands like The Clash and Bruce Springsteen.
In a 2000 interview with the Austin Chronicle, Ely said that meeting The Clash (which he admitted he “didn’t know from Adam”) 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!’”
Ely has stayed true to his hellraising roots, and nearly 30 years later he will be celebrating his 60th birthday on February 9 when The Four Horsemen Tour rolls into Denver. “I’ve already called the bail bondsman and told him to be ready to post bond that night so we can have a big party and not worry about having the money to get me out of jail.”
It is clear that Ely is approaching the next decade of his life with all the passion and fire in his belly that he approached his earlier days, tearing up London with Mick Jones and Joe Strummer. He has recently started his own record label, called Rack ’Em Records, and seems to be out to prove a point with four releases planned in the next three months. “I have kind of been working at record companies’ paces over the years and recently I just thought, ‘I don’t want to go through this, I’ll just put out records myself and work at my own pace,’” said Ely.
The first two, Happy Songs from Rattlesnake Gulch and Silver City, are collections of songs that he culled from “literally mountains” of old notebooks full of lyrics. Rattlesnake Gulch is a full band project, while Silver City focuses on Ely and his acoustic guitar and harmonica. Ely’s songwriting shines on both albums, with musical styles ranging from honkytonk to folk to straight-up rock and roll.
These four horsemen may not be foreshadowing a coming apocalypse, but missing this concert may, to some, actually seem like the end of the world.
:: Songwriters Tour ::
:: feat. Lyle Lovett, John Hiatt, Joe Ely and Guy Clark ::
:: Paramount Theatre :: February 9 ::
Spectate if you Gravitate:
• Lyle Lovett
• Townes Van Zandt
• Kris Kristofferson