BWW Interviews: Jaston Williams Talks LIFE AFTER LUBBOCK
It is always an exciting time when Texas celebrity Jaston Williams, of GREATER TUNA fame, comes into town. He has delighted and entertained audiences all over the world for years, and his stops at The Grand 1894 Opera House in Galveston have been no different. For one performance only on November 8, 2013 Jaston Williams and Joe Ely are bringing their show LIFE AFTER LUBBOCK to the Houston area. To get the inside scoop on the production, I chatted with Jaston Williams about this new show.
BWW: Since you weren't raised in Lubbock, what is your connection to the town?
Jaston Williams: Anyone who lives in the panhandle or a 100 mile radius of Lubbock is totally affected by it. It is the hub of all activity up there. It's where you go to see a movie, it's where you go to do anything, it's where you go to college, and my grandmother lived in Lubbock. She lived just off of what is now University Avenue, which was College Avenue. Of course my parents had gone to Texas Tech. They were in some of the first graduating classes ever out of Texas Tech. So, I spent every summer of my childhood and just about every Saturday of my childhood playing across the street from Texas Tech, and I had lots of friends there. I ended up going to college there and spent my summers going to theatre camps at Texas Tech. Lubbock is Lubbock, and then the mentality spreads to every little town around there. That's kind of my connection to Lubbock.
BWW: How did you meet Joe Ely?
Jaston Williams: Well, it's bizarre. Joe and I were living in Lubbock at the same time, just a couple of blocks away from each other. He, Jimmie Gilmore, Butch Hancock, and all of that crowd had a house over on 16th Street. They were just doing this amazing underground music scene. I was living over on 18th Street. I was totally hanging with theatre people, some of whom went on to be famous - G. W. Bailey and all of that crowd. So, we were hanging in bohemian artistic circles, and we were only a couple of blocks away from each other, but we didn't really cross paths. We were in different worlds. Then Joe, of course, ended up in Europe and New York, and then settled in Austin.
When we were writing GREATER TUNA in Austin, we lived in this wonderful house on the East Side - this big, old two-story Victorian that looked like the house out of Psycho kind of. (Laughs) Actually, that's a good way to describe it. It kind of was the house out of Psycho, now that I think about it! But, Joe's wife Sharon Ray, who's also from Lubbock, was friends with the guy who owned the house. So, she was always coming over. I got to know Joe through her.
She was this beautiful Lubbock woman with this amazing creative spirit. She'd do these black velvet fashion shows and all that amazing stuff. One of my favorite songs of Joe's he wrote about Sharon, and it's called "My Baby Thinks She's French." (Laughs) It's just a perfect description.
Sharon was around when we were creating TUNA. I mean, she was coming in and out of the house all the time, and Joe would swing by sometimes to pick her up, so I knew him from that. Then, I'll never forget when we first opened the play in Austin and Joe was such a big deal by then, somebody came backstage and said, "Joe Ely was in the house tonight and he was telling everybody, 'One of those boys is from Crosbyton,'" which is my hometown and is very close to Lubbock. That made me feel so good. It was kind of a homeboy telling me, "You done well," you know. That's kind of how we met, and then over the years, I'd go to his concerts. I knew Jo Carol Pierce, Jimmie Gilmore, and all that crowd. We all just kind of had many occasions to get to know each other.
BWW: What was the inception of LIFE AFTER LUBBOCK?
Jaston Williams: Joe and Sharon are famous for having these big outdoor gatherings where people sit around the campfire at their wonderful place out in Oak Hill in Austin. I went out there a couple of times, and we got to talking about Lubbock, growing up out there, and some of the crazies that we knew. We realized that we knew some of the same crazies, (Laughs) and we had kind of the same take on what it was like to grow up in that part of the world and what it inspired in us. So, we became very close through that.
Then, Jim Ritts, who runs the State Theatre and the Paramount in Austin said, "You need to do some kind of show Jaston where you get on stage and talk to people and tell stories because that's really what you do. People love to talk to you. You're good at conversation." I said, "You know, we ought to get some of that Lubbock crowd on stage and let us all cut loose." And he said, "Well, that's a great idea." So, we did it the first time last spring at the State Theatre, and it was an event. It was just absolutely an event. It was music, poetry, stories about Lubbock crazies, about surviving the weather, and about all of that. Then, you know, we talk about why so many people that come out of Lubbock are talented and creative. Then, at any point, we may just go to Joe and he'll sing something. It's an acoustic set, and he's such a magnificent singer that he'll just have people in tears at the end of a song. It's the sort of thing where people were laughing and crying. We told people to wear their house-shoes, drink longnecks, and pretend like you're home, you know. So, that's kind of what this is about.
BWW: What was the writing process like for LIFE AFTER LUBBOCK?
Jaston Williams: Well, it's interesting. Joe has written one book and he's in the process of publishing another, so we had material that was in those book. I wanted him to read some of it, but he was kind of hesitant to do that. He was more like, "Let me just tell that story instead of reading it." I said, "Ok. Just tell it."
For me, I've created a couple of pieces, and I'm working on another one. They are stand-alone pieces where I get up and read basically an essay. You know the kind of work that I do. One of them is about the musicians in Lubbock, I've got another that's called "A Handful of Mud" that's about what it's like to be a kid in West Texas that has artistic dreams, and I've just written a new piece for this latest incarnation of this show that is about protocol during a Tornado. (Laughs) It's about proper behavior during Tornado season, and I'm having so much fun with it. I'm bringing in my mother, my father, and my crazy brother.
Jaston Williams: Yeah. My mother was so crazy. God, I loved my mother, but she was just out of her frigging mind. We lived in this little town and there was a lot of tornados in those years. There was a big drought when I was first born, and it ended when I was about six. It just went from no rain to nothing but rain and nothing but tornados. So, everybody in town invited you, when you hear the siren go off announcing there's a tornado in the area, to come to their basement. My mother accepted invitations from everybody, and she would never go to the same cellar twice (Laughs), regardless of how dangerous the situation was. My father would be screaming, "Get into the car," and she's be saying, "No, we've got to go over to this one. We've got to go over to Betty's because she's going to be hurt if we don't show up." (Laughs) And my father would be screaming, "How do you think she'll react to a three coffin funeral! Get in the damn car!" So, it was not without its humor. But, I always knew how to get everybody's attention in moments like that. I would scream, "We're all going to die!" (Laughs) So, I've written a piece specifically about riding tornados in West Texas.
BWW: Since LIFE AFTER LUBBOCK exists as a hybrid between theatre and concert, how much of the show is improvised?
Jaston Williams: Well, quite a bit. We've all told the stories and we're all familiar with them. We're all familiar with where we can go, but sometimes somebody will get talking. Somebody will inject something else. Something will come up that maybe one of us has never heard before. Somebody will remember something. So, it's not unlike having a group of people on say the Charlie Rose show, where they're all talking, stuff starts to come out, and it starts to get a free flow. Then, it works its way back because I have a general structure and I have a clock. If we don't watch the clock, we'll go forever. We also open it up to the audience and let the audience talk, to tell stories, or to ask us specific things, which, in that case, can get you off on a whole new tangent. Someone will ask a question, and I'll be like, "Oh boy! Do I have a story about Doberman Pinschers!" And here we go! (Laughs) There is a form to it, but there's also an absolute freedom. We want that because we want it to feel like you're sitting in the living room and everybody is having a good time.
BWW: Why should Houston and Galveston audiences be excited to see LIFE AFTER LUBBOCK?
Jaston Williams: For audiences that love the TUNA characters and enjoyed seeing that, they will see those kinds of personalities based in reality. For anyone who loves music and loves the kind of mastery that Joe Ely can bring to the song - he really is a master. He's not just a master musician; he's really a renaissance man. You know, his genius spreads its tentacles everywhere. So, I think the two of us, without bragging, are very good at what we do. We like each other very much, and we're just happy to be up there. You know, if you want to have a night and be pretty happy, then come. We're about making you happy. It's all about happy!
LIFE AFTER LUBBOCK, created by and starring Jaston Williams and Joe Ely, plays The Grand 1894 Opera House, 2020 Postoffice Street, Galveston, 77550 for one night only on Friday, November 8, 2013. The performance begins at 8:00 p.m. For more information and tickets, please visit http://www.thegrand.com or call (800) 821-1894.
Jaston Williams' Headshot Photo is by Brenda Ladd Photography.