Western Swing and Psychedelic “Godfather of West Texas Music,” Tommy Hancock, passes away at 90

Western Swing and Psychedelic “Godfather of West Texas Music,” Tommy Hancock, passes away at 90
Western Swing and Psychedelic “Godfather of West Texas Music,” Tommy Hancock, passes away at 90 (Source: KCBD)

LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - Tommy Hancock, renowned fiddle-player, songwriter and an inspiration to decades of west Texas artists, passed away Wednesday evening at 90 years-old.

Hancock was born and raised in Lubbock, in 1929. His grandmother trained him in classical violin lessons before he enlisted in the Army as a teen to serve as a paratrooper during World War II. Hancock came home and led a swing band known as the Roadside Playboys, which included Sonny Curtis, future guitarist of Buddy Holly’s band The Crickets.

In 1956, Hancock married Lubbock sweetheart and singer for the group, Charlene Condray. A performer from an early age, Condray was a regional star by the time she joined the Roadside Playboys.

At this time, the band was playing as the house institution for local dance hall, The Cotton Club, which was a large venue, capable of seating 1,400 people. The original building was located just outside town at what is now 50th Street and Southeast Drive.

The location was a hot spot for musical talent in the 1950s. Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys were Friday night regulars at the club from 1953 through 1955. Elvis Presley played at the Cotton Club multiple times in 1955, with his opener being then-rising local musician, Buddy Holly. Little Richard, Fats Domino and Roy Orbison all made appearances over the decade, until in 1962, the club burned.

Tommy and Charlene got permission from the former owners and started a new club on Highway 84, but it also burned, shortly after opening. By 1967, the Hancock family reopened the famous hall on the Slaton Highway at the second location. By this time, the hippie generation was catching on, but many remarked that there was very little discord between the longtime cowboys that frequented for the Western Swing and Country Music, and the new alternative types that came for Rock-and-Roll.

Musicians that played at the club attribute that strange harmony to the atmosphere that Tommy Hancock created.

Another famous Lubbock musician, Lloyd Maines, made his start as a teenager at the Club, just as the classic trends in country music began to shift in popularity towards the styles of Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson. Maines played intense sets with Hancock’s band, saying they would play four-hour sets with no break on Friday and Saturday nights.

In the 70s, the Hancocks sold the club to local legend Joe Ely and barbecue master C.B. Stubblefield, who closed the club in 1982.

Hancock moved with his family to a cabin in New Mexico with no electricity or plumbing, where they formed the Supernatural Family Band, which included Jimmie Dale Gilmore, another local musician who claimed Hancock as a mentor.

In a 2004 article for the Austin Chronicle, Tommy and Charlene’s daughter Traci Lamar described the move to the wilderness as “an adventure.”

Tommy Hancock was a spiritual man, and encouraged his family in that same way as the band caught a following, playing in Eastern New Mexico and west Texas.

Hancock discovered the teachings of the Guru Maharaj Ji and led his family to them, and they attribute much of the family unity to the shared spiritual awareness. Hancock and the family band moved to California, and then to Colorado, then to Florida, and back to Texas in Austin as they played their mix of classic swing and psychedelic rock across the country. Upon returning to Texas in the 80s, Charlene, with daughters Traci and Conni Hancock, formed a Tex-Mex band known as the Texana Dames.

A reporter for the American-Statesman in 1997 referred to Hancock as "an improbable mixture of 1950s hipster, 1960s hippie grandfather and 1990s New Age cowboy. When he helmed the family orchestra ... Tommy stood front and center, interspersing hot swing fiddle licks with digressions on Indian philosophy; call it ‘The Lotus Blossom Special.’”

When Tommy couldn’t play fiddle anymore, he began dancing at shows and family reunions. The title of his 1998 book, “Zen and the Art of Texas Two-Step” summarizes his style but stops short of realizing the immeasurable influence Hancock had on musicians across genres over his lifetime.

Tommy told the Austin Chronicle: “I realized I’d done everything I think I wanted to do and I’ve got everything I need to live a good life. So what else is there? It puts me in the position of surrendering to the forces of the universe and saying, ‘I’m gonna have to think up something to do.’ I quit worrying about, ‘What am I going to do when I get old?’”

In March of 2000, Tommy was inducted into the Austin Chronicle Music Awards Hall of Fame. In 2002, The Supernatural Family Band was inducted into the Country Music Association of Texas Hall of Fame. A documentary on Tommy’s life was released and Tommy and Charlene were inducted in the West Texas Walk of Fame in 2012.

In 2014, June 22 was declared Tommy Hancock Day by then Mayor Pro Tem Karen Gibson.

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