The late Leonard Cohen recently said if he knew where good songs came from, he’d go there more often. If this is so, then over the years Butch Hancock seems to have found an oasis of songs in West Texas.
For Hancock, one third of the legendary band, The Flatlanders (with Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Joe Ely), it all began in Lubbock, in an area of the Lone Star state where so many good songs have been born. It was once home to Buddy Holly and Waylon Jennings. As fate would have it Hancock and his bandmates once picked up Townes Van Zandt hitchhiking with a backpack full of his first vinyl album.
This fateful meeting set in motion Hancock’s love of songwriting. Over the years he has penned such Americana classics as “Just a Wave,” and “If I Were a Bluebird.”
When Hancock came to Altadena’s Coffee Gallery Backstage in Southern California recently following the election, he felt much of the anxiety generated by the audience in the wake of the 2016 presidential campaign.
He brought a doubled-edged message for the capacity audience: Be kind to one another, especially those with whom you disagree. The other side of same peaceful sword was love falls on us all, those with whom we agree and disagree.
It was a simple message but it resonated with the audience and calmed some shattered nerves. There was a warmth in the room as Hancock shared his song- legacy accompanied on lead electric guitar by his 18 year-old son, Rory-an accomplished player in his own right. It is a legacy that it still being forged as Hancock ventures out on the road for solo dates and rare reunions with The Flatlanders.
His songs, are gems filled with stories and insights that flow out of a Zen world-view that leads him to the grace he finds in his songs. It is a view that carries imagination and a strong sense of compassion. The song, “Dangling Diamond” expresses this:
“I thought I had a fix on religion
until I found this trail of truth
hanging like dangling diamond
down deep in my heart.”
As he performed “Just a Wave,” a romantic song with a twist with what has to be one of the most unique song hooks ever conceived when he sings, “you’re just a wave/you’re not the water.”
As Hancock and song played together their music conjured up the feeling of a railroad train on the song “Boxcar” complete with lead guitar duets.
Also present and accounted for was Butch’s three chapter marathon song, “Split and Slide. ” The classic, “West Texas Waltz,’ allowed the audience to shout in three-quarter time.
As he closed with an encore of “The Wind’s Dominion,” he brought the image of that part of the country where he began, a place of dust and wind that has bred so many of our best songwriters.
And Butch Hancock is the leader of the pack.