By Thomas D. Mooney
The ’70s and ’80s were boom times for the West Texas music scene, with songwriters and bandleaders like Joe Ely, Butch Hancock, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Terry Allen, Tommy Hancock, and Jay Boy Adams all helping define what it was to be from the flatlands surrounding Lubbock. Each were creating their own individual worlds that described the West Texas winds, casting their own Dustbowl ballads and writing to the rhythms of tractors plowing fields and county dirt roads.
If there was any one act that was truly the backbone of the whole movement, though, it would have to be the one reuniting this evening (Saturday, June 25) at the Lubbock Memorial Civic Center Theater: the Maines Brothers Band. Go through the liner notes of every Lubbock album that came out during the era and you’re almost guaranteed to find at least one Maines Brothers Band member somewhere within the credits. They recorded prolifically on their own, too, releasing eight original studio albums between 1978 to 1990, including two for major label Mercury/Polygram.
Performing at this weekend’s reunion (the band’s fifth in the last decade) will be all four of the brothers Maines — Kenny (vocals, guitar, harmonica), Lloyd (electric guitar and steel), Steve (guitar, vocals) and Donnie (drums) — along with longtime bandmates Richard Bowden (fiddle, mandolin, trumpet), Jerry Brownlow (bass, vocals) and Randy Brownlow and Cary Banks (both on keyboards). The band will also be joined by special guests LaTronda Maines Moyer (the brothers’ sister), Kenny’s son Brian, Donnie’s sons Casey and Chad, and San Marcos singer-songwriter Terri Hendrix, who has worked with Lloyd since 1997.
Although the full lineup as represented above and on the band’s albums first came together in the mid-70s, Saturday’s concert is being billed as a celebration of “50 Years of Music.” That’s because brothers Kenny, Lloyd, Steve, and Donnie all got their first taste of performing as kids when invited onstage to sing with their father and uncles’ country band (the original Maines Brothers), which in turn led to their own early ’60s afternoon sets at the Cotton Club as the Little Maines Boys. By the time they grew out of that handle and reconvened a few years later, added Bowden and the Brownlows to the fold and began their 12-year heyday as the new Maines Brothers Band, they were all seasoned enough players — most notably Lloyd, who’d already gained considerable notoriety from his stint in the Joe Ely Band — to hit the ground running as one of the hottest acts in the region. The fact that many people are still more familiar with their versions of songs such as “Amarillo Highway” and “New Delhi Freight Train” than they are with the Terry Allen originals is a testament to their popularity.
Still, 38 years after the release of their debut album, The Maines Brothers Band & Friends, the band now finds itself in territory much like another act that emerged from Lubbock in the ’70s: the Flatlanders. Although the Maines Brothers were an active touring and recording entity for a lot longer during their initial run than that short-lived group built around songwriters Ely, Hancock, and Gilmore, their long dormancy following the release of their last album, 1990’s Wind Storm, has generated no small amount of “more a legend than a band” level folklore. The air of mystery and intrigue is in part due to the limited access to the band’s catalog. Although a few of their albums have been reissued on CD and can be ordered directly from the band’s website, finding original vinyl copies of such classic albums as Route 1, Acuff, Hub City Moan and Panhandle Dancer requires a lot of patient record store hunting and luck — especially given the resurgent interest in the Maines Brothers and the rest of their Lubbock contemporaries by younger bands and music fans all across Texas.
“It seems that the younger generation of today is gravitating to originality,” offered Lloyd Maines in an e-mail exchange earlier this week. “Whether it’s songwriting, performing, painting, or art of any kind, the Lubbock area has had an abundance of original art.”
And as his brother Kenny noted when we caught up with him for the following Q&A, any of today’s up-and-coming Texas bands who might be looking to learn a thing or two from the Maines Brothers Band are just following a grand old tradition.
“To be honest, we did the same thing with the bands before us,” said Kenny. “When I first got into music, we all looked up to the bands before us: Tommy Hancock, Bob Wills, Mac Davis, and all those other bands from the area, we were studying them.”
When we spoke after Terry Allen’s Lubbock (on Everything) reunion show earlier this year, you mentioned how quickly all those songs came back to you despite the 40 years since the album was recorded. I’d imagine these Maines Brothers reunion show rehearsals go much the same — if not better.
Yeah. Probably even more so since we played so long together and since we’ve started doing this concert every year now. All those songs, they’re just so engrained into our database.
That era of Lubbock music has been getting so much praise and acknowledgement as of late. Everyone from the Flatlanders to Terry Allen to the Maines Brothers Band have been getting more notice from younger generations of Texas music fans.
Yeah, I’ve noticed that as well. I think part of it’s just pure nostalgia. Some in the younger generations, they tend to be curious about the music that people listened to 20 or 30 years ago. I think that’s promoted some of that. I would also have to wonder if it’s somewhat of a statement on new music. I may be a little partial to some of the older stuff, but it seems like so much of the music coming out today, it’s hard to differentiate which song is which. There’s so many similarities in the way they all sound. But when you go back to that era — especially the music coming out of West Texas — every song and artist sounded different. Bands would do a set of songs and they’d all sound different. I think people are starting to crave that.
That’s something about you Lubbock guys of the ’70s and ‘80s … Even though you were all giving insight into life in the Panhandle, you all came at it in different and distinct ways. There was no doubt you guys, Terry, and Ely were all talking about West Texas, but you all had your own unique spin on it.
Right. It’s interesting. We all played together off and on, but we prided ourselves on having individual identities — for not only the bands we played in, but as musicians. When a Joe Ely song came on the radio, you knew it was Ely. I think it was the same way with a Terry or Maines Brothers song. It was recognizable.
Yeah. Of course, you also did a few songs by Terry. What was it like for you and the guys who were doing double duty in his Panhandle Mystery Band and the Maines Brothers? What was it like transforming those into your own interpretations?
I think it made it easier since we did have that familiarity with the songs. At around that time, in the late ’70s, we were doing a lot of cover stuff — mainly classic country and some rock stuff. When we decided to start branching off and decided to start doing some originals, we wanted to also showcase originals from West Texas artists. Of course, Terry was an easy choice there! We had this kind of love affair with all his music anyway, so it was easy to incorporate them into a Maines Brothers set. I think what we generally did, like most bands, you tried to make it your own. You’re not wanting to exactly copy what the other artist did. With Lloyd, Richard, Cary Banks, and Randy Brownlow on keyboards, we had a lot of different directions we could go. I think we utilized those directions to the fullest.
You mentioned the early days of the Maines Brothers. You guys were doing a lot of dancehalls — back then, it was more of a big dancehall culture. At some point though, you found that balance between having storyteller lyrics and dancehall rhythms. Folks could sit back and listen to the storyteller aspects or could get up and dance. Was that a priority for the band, being a part of both worlds?
Yeah. There was a mindset during that time when bands thought they couldn’t do original stuff. You can’t do poetic storyteller stuff because they just want to dance. They want something with a backbeat. I think we were fortunate enough to be able to do that, though. I have to give credit to Ely on helping create that atmosphere initially in Lubbock. He was doing a lot of original stuff he’d written, plus songs by Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale [Gilmore]. People were really enjoying that. I think we proved that you could take great songs and make them into great dance songs. It really became an advantage. People enjoyed it when they were dancing and at the same time, the people sitting at the tables, they were listening, too. It was a real advantage to us to select those songs. We also had some songs from John Hadley, and we’d do some stuff from Ry Cooder. We were able to make them into good dance songs.
Going back and seeing some of the live performances that are on YouTube, one of the surprising things is how raw and energetic you guys could get at times. There were some real rock moments.
Yeah. You know, one of the real disadvantages we had at times was trying to transfer that in the recording studio. With the Maines Brothers, it was almost like you had to see us live to get a feel for us. One of the things we’d say was that we were “Aggressive Country.””At that time, Progressive Country was something that was touted, but we thought the term Aggressive Country was what defined us. I think Lloyd was the first to use it to explain to people. It was country music with a rock ’n’ roll attitude. That’s what we really fell into. Onstage, you have to have that energy. You know though, if you go back and see some of those early country stars, take Hank Williams for example, you go back and listen to the records, it’s straight country — as country as you could possibly be. But you see some of the live performances of his and you realize he was a rock star, essentially. Young girls on the front row when Hank was singing. I’m sure he too had a difficult time. It can be difficult to duplicate that live energy in the recording studio.
I imagine having some of those trial and error moments during that time really benefitted Lloyd later on during the ‘90s when he really became a leading voice in the sound of Texas music as a producer.
You bet. There at Caldwell Studios, he had so much experience working with different artists. If you can work with three brothers and get them to do wha you think they ought to do, then you can pretty much work with anybody. [Laughs]
Terry Allen’s Juarez and Lubbock (on Everything) are both being reissued this year. Has there been any discussions about reissuing or digitizing any or all of the Maines Brothers Band discography?
We did remaster three of the recordings on the Texas Soul label a few years back. We’ll probably do another one soon. Maybe next year or the year after. You do have to keep in mind that two of our albums — High Rollin’ and The Boys Are Back in Town — were put out on Mercury/Polygram, so they’re technically not owned by the band. Those are owned by the record company. They’d have to make that decision. We haven’t even attempted to call to see if they’d be interested in doing something. Hopefully in the future though, they’ll be reissued.
Yeah. There’s a little bit of a mystery to you guys in that regard. It’s not as simple as just searching for you guys on iTunes or Spotify. You either have to purchase CDs on the official site, find a vinyl copy at a used record shop, or crate dig and possibly find it in your parents’ or grandparents’ collections.
Yeah. That’s something we always kind of stayed into. We never went past CDs as a band. It’s been discussed, though. We may end up getting the albums that were published by the Maines Brothers on iTunes sometime.
To wrap up here, can we go through the catalog real quick, record by record, just to get your thoughts on each of them and where the band was at the time they were made?
The Maines Brothers Band & Friends (1978)
That was the first attempt at recording. It was a learning experience for us. At the time, we weren’t even a formed band really. Lloyd was still playing with Ely. We thought it’d be nice to get some product out there. It ended up being the launching pad for us. The best part of that album was really getting a couple of radio cuts and getting our name around.
Route 1, Acuff (1980)
Route 1 was when we really started to define ourselves. There was some originals on there. “Amarillo Highway” by Terry was on there. That was a defining moment for us. At that time, Lloyd decided to get off the road with Ely and go with the Maines Brothers full time. The album was us becoming a little more serious about the music business.
Hub City Moan (1981)
That title track, it was written by a couple guys in the group here in Lubbock called Ace Pancakes. I always loved the song. There was another couple Terry Allen tracks on it. The cover for it, we shot that downtown on Broadway after playing at Coldwater Country one Saturday night. We went downtown probably at around 3 a.m. and stood in the middle of the street so the photographer could take the photo for the album art. We were actually ran off the street by the Lubbock Police Department.
Amarillo Highway (1981, compilation)
That was out of our hands actually. There was a company over in England that compiled some of the songs from Maines Brothers, Route 1, and Hub City and released it over in England. We had a contract with them, but I think the company went belly up soon after. I have seen some of those albums floating around, though.
Panhandle Dancer (1982)
Panhandle Dancer was a real growing experience for us. There were songs on the album written by Kevin Welch and John Hadley. I’d been out on the road with another band during the mid-70s and finally had made my way back home. The song “Panhandle Dancer” had really been a defining and important song for me. That’s also really when the band took off. The album really helped us get a deal with Mercury-Polygram. Looking back, I think Route 1, Hub City, and Panhandle Dancer found us in our prime. Those are the songs we find ourselves going back to over and over. They kind of define the core of the Maines Brothers Band. We grew as a band with each of those albums.
High Rollin’ (1984)
High Rollin’ came out at a time when our heads were in the clouds [due to signing to a major label]. Looking back, we don’t really do anything from the album live. I think we were trying to find commercially appealing songs. We weren’t looking for songs that we’d enjoy playing. I think it sounds good — probably a little Nashville, but it’s probably not an album we have a lot of favorites on. Even though it sounds more like Nashville, we actually did all of the albums in Lubbock. The label had sent Jerry Kennedy to Lubbock to produce the album. He’d worked with the Statler Brothers, Reba McEntire, and some others. So we cut High Rollin’ over at Caldwell Studios. That was one of our requirements. We only had a couple weeks to cut the album. On previous ones, we’d have upwards of six months. That really made a major difference.
The Boys Are Back in Town (1986)
This was our second and last album on Mercury/Polygram. We still cut it in Lubbock. With this album though, we’d find the songs, record them, and then send the mixes to Nashville. They’d then make the decision on if they wanted to add it to the album or not. Boys Are Back in Town is a better mix and better representation of the band. It was songs we enjoyed playing. We still do a lot of the ones on that album.
Red, Hot, & Blue (1987)
With Red, Hot, & Blue, we’d gotten out of the contract with Mercury and decided to go back on our own. Really, it was for financial reasons. When we’d been producing and funding the albums ourselves, we’d been generating more revenue than working with the big record label. Once again, there’s some songs from Kevin Welch and John Hadley. I think we still do like 10 of the songs on the album.
Wind Storm (1990)
Wind Storm was really the end of our traveling days. It was, in my opinion, a bit fragmented. It was the first time we’d release an album on CD. Of course, CDs were just starting to get rolling in the early ‘90s. When we were recording in the studio, we didn’t really have the technical knowledge for cutting digital. Wind Storm probably suffered a little bit because of that. It’s one of the ones we’re going to get remixed and remastered in the next year or so.
The Maines Brothers Band perform tonight (Saturday, June 25) at 7 p.m. at the Lubbock Memorial Civic Center Theater, 1501 Mac Davis Lane. For tickets, visit www.selectaseatlubbock.com or call 806-770-2000.