The Texas troubadour says he’s in a good place in his life, reflected in the songs he wrote for his new CD due out June 7.
He’ll be in another good place when he lands on the Iowa Arts Festival main stage on Friday.
“A new record coming out always means I’m back on the road, singing around the United States for a couple months and over across the ocean for a few weeks. It looks like a fun summer,” says Ely, 64, from a recent stop in Lubbock, Texas, before heading to his home base in Austin.
It’s been that way throughout his career, which began in his teens.
“I’ve been traveling my whole life,” he says. “The highway is my home. It’s where I’ve always kinda been going.”
How he’s stayed married for 27 years is “just a damn miracle,” he says. “There’s no other reason behind that. It’s a flat-out miracle. We were good friends for 10 or 15 years before we got married — that had a lot to do with it. We knew what to expect with each other’s character flaws. We weren’t expecting more.”
They have a grown daughter who grew up surrounded by music, but leans more toward art.
The circular direction of Ely’s new CD, “Satisfied at Last” follows the ups and downs he’s faced on his career path. He picked up the violin at age 8 and began playing in orchestras in Amarillo, but switched to guitar in his teens in Lubbock, influenced by the early days of rock ’n’ roll, Buddy Holly, Johnny Cash and Chuck Berry.
He changed directions in the ’60s, going acoustic and listening to songwriters like Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and Townes Van Zandt. That path led him to Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and in 1971, they formed the country-folk band, The Flatlanders. They went solo after a couple of years, but have continued to record with each other on occasion, releasing “Hills and Valleys” in 2009.
“They were very much my early influences,” Ely says. “They were older than I was and had written these songs I considered as good as anything written before. They caused me to try to be in that kind of realm. They’re still as good as any songwriters. I feel lucky to have been around guys like that.”
He’ll bring a four-piece band to Iowa City, featuring musicians who played on his “Satisfied” CD. They’ll give local audiences plenty of glimpses of the new material, which Ely spent two years developing.
“I’ve kinda written the songs as they come,” he says. “I don’t work on records as fast as I used to, but I sure had a good time on this one. I gathered the stories and got all my old buddies I ever recorded with. Different guys came in for different songs.
“It’s a slow process. I took real care with it as I saw it emerge,” he says. “I wanted to keep it all on the same kind of track. It’s a circular record with a lot of different feels in there, so it feels interesting. The whole feeling of the record is a big circle that pretty much tells where I’m at right now in my life.
“The record just kind of progresses from the beginning in a kind of turmoil into a place where I feel like I can take a breath and roll up my sleeves and start all over.”
— Diana Nollen