Joe Ely PhotoIn the '70s, country & western was full of artists referred to as outlaws, mavericks who bucked the stodgy Nashville music establishment by writing their own songs, recording with their road bands, and producing their own records. The genre produced a slew of acts, but Amarillo, TX, native Joe Ely epitomized the form. Unlike most of that era's big names, Ely remained a viable artist. He got his start back in the early '70s, working with Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore in a group called the Flatlanders. Their only album didn't go far, and the group broke up. (Rounder reissued the album in 1990.) Around the mid-'70s, Ely formed an eclectic group who was able to swing from Cajun and western to honky tonk stomps and rockabilly; they were signed to MCA in 1977. Ely released an eponymous debut that year, using songs written by ex-Flatlanders Gilmore and Butch Hancock and throwing in some of his own road-worn, oddly poetic originals. The next year brought Honky Tonk Masquerade, the cornerstone of Ely's legacy and one of modern country's most ambitious albums. Further albums (especially Live Shots, recorded during his European tour with the Clash) brought Ely to the attention of rock fans and netted ecstatic reviews in country and pop magazines (but, mysteriously, produced no hits).

MCA dropped Ely in 1983, and he woodshedded until 1987, when the independent Hightone label signed him and released Lord of the Highway. Another Hightone album followed before Ely (whose influence was being felt by the new breed of country neo-traditionalists) re-signed with MCA, releasing another live set and Love and Danger. Twistin' in the Wind followed in 1998, and Live at Antone's arrived two years later along with MCA-Nashville's Best Of collection. Ely remained an energetic and passionate live performer and an occasionally inspired songwriter. ~ John Floyd, All Music Guide