w/ Joe Pug. $45-$65. 8 p.m., April 16. Infinity Music Hall & Bistro, Route 44, 20 Greenwoods Road, Norfolk, infinityhall.com
By Jimmie Dale Gilmore's assessment, the very existence of country-folk outfit the Flatlanders is predicated on "a sheer fluke." During one month in 1970, 20-something musicians and Lubbock, Tex., natives Gilmore, Butch Hancock and Joe Ely all came back home. Just before that point, Ely had been off working on a musical revue in Europe, Hancock was residing in San Francisco and Gilmore, a self-avowed vagabond, was roaming between Lubbock, San Francisco, Austin and Phoenix. When the three reconvened in Lubbock, Gilmore — who had long known Hancock and Ely through separate circles — encouraged his friends to hang out because Hancock was writing "these really great songs." The rendezvous went very well. Gilmore, Hancock and Ely soon established the band. "We've been buddies ever since that night," says Gilmore, now 67.
As the trio's get-togethers became frequent, the buddies decided to move into a three-bedroom house in Lubbock around late 1970. The Flatlanders' place was a haphazard, flophouse-like thing. "We weren't real choosy," says Gilmore. "We didn't even really have hardly any furniture. Our table was a door laying on some cinderblocks. The rent was about $80 and we had trouble coming up with it once a month."
The Flatlanders laid down a demo recording in Odessa, Tex., in 1972 just before heading to Nashville. Over in Tennessee, they finished a record called All American Music. But "Dallas," All American's first single, bombed. The album was pushed into obscurity and never made it to mass-market American release. The three key musicians soon left the Flatlanders behind in what was less a breakup and more a mutual disintegration and went onto successful solo country careers. In time, the Flatlanders' legacy grew in stature. When Rounder Records claimed All American's master tapes for a 1990 reissue, the album was titled More a Legend Than a Band.
They've since returned to performing, put together three more full-lengths and unearthed both a 1972 live performance and, with 2012's The Odessa Tapes, their earliest recordings of all. Turns out, said tapes were in a closet somewhere in Lubbock, gathering dust but preserved in pristine condition. After hearing about The Odessa Tapes, Gilmore expected the recordings to be trash both artistically and technically, but he made a pleasant discovery. "It turned out to be a really, really good studio, but we didn't know that at the time," he says. "In a certain sense, [the Tapes are] more true to our time than the Nashville tapes we did about a month later." The material captured on Odessa is as sweetly forlorn as the Flatlanders get. Spare, charming, banjo-and-guitar-twang-heavy compositions back wistful crooning about loving, wishing and missing, making these gents the perfect house band for the weepiest little honky-tonk on Earth.
Although the Flatlanders name spent years underground, the men behind the group remained close both personally and professionally. "I can hardly imagine [the Flatlanders] breaking up because it's held together by the bond of our friendship," Gilmore says. "We'll probably be doing Flatlanders as long as we can pick up a guitar."