Music Giants Reconnect

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"Did you ever see Dallas, from a DC-9 at night?"

Even after 40 years, it's still easy to hear the wonder in Jimmie Dale Gilmore's tenor when he sings "Dallas," one of the 14 demo tracks that he and his Flatlanders bandmates recorded in one marathon session in Odessa, Texas in 1972. "That line came to me just when it happened," remembers Mr. Gilmore. "I was actually on a DC-9 flying into Dallas. I was looking out the window and I was suddenly struck by the immense beauty of it."

For Mr. Gilmore, who hails from Lubbock, the glittering big-city sprawl below sparkled with the promise of a bright future. But the Flatlanders would prove to be as out of step with their times as that DC-9 seems to those flying into Dallas on a 747 today.

Mr. Gilmore and his fellow bandmates—Butch Hancock, also from Lubbock, and Joe Ely, a rockabilly musician from Amarillo, were then being courted by Nashville music labels. They seemed on the cusp of success when they drove 130 miles across Texas for their first-ever recording session.

Pioneers of a music movement that didn't yet exist—the so-called alternative country sound would pick up speed two decades later —the Flatlanders went their separate ways after their debut. "All American Music by Jimmie Dale and the Flatlanders," an album of 10 of the 14 songs from the Odessa demo that were rerecorded in Nashville in March 1972—dropped into oblivion later that year. The album never found an audience, thanks in part to a sure-to-fail marketing strategy that released it in limited edition on eight-track tape cartridges.

"They tried to market us as strictly country but we were really part of a much broader thing happening in music," Mr. Gilmore says. "We were more related to the Byrds and Gram Parsons than to anything going on in mainstream country. It was sad, but it didn't feel like a failure because it was never presented to the public."