Each accomplished songwriters in their own right, a collective love of their native West Texas echoes throughout The Panhandlers’ music.
Composed of Josh Abbott, William Clark Green, John Baumann and Flatland Cavalry’s Cleto Cordero, the supergroup formed in Lubbock while Abbott, Green and Cordero were attending Texas Tech University. Originally envisioned as a cover band primarily honoring The Flatlanders, The Panhandlers quickly transformed into a vibrant mosaic of West Texas life following a songwriting session in Marfa, which also marked the foursome’s first time writing together.
Aside from originals like ‘This Flatland Life’, ‘West Texas Girl’ and ‘Caprockin’’ that glorify West Texas life, the group did reinterpret one song on their self-titled 2020 debut - a cover of Charlie Stout’s ‘West Texas In My Eye’.
Originally from West Virginia, Stout wrote the songs about the beauty of West Texas he observed upon moving there. However, for The Panhandlers’ Cordero, it was getting away from his West Texas home that fully made him appreciate what all he was leaving behind.
“I didn’t realize how non-aesthetically beautiful West Texas is until I began traveling outside of it,” says Cordero. “If I wasn’t from here, I’d be thinking it was mostly full of tumbleweeds and cacti, which it is, but there’s so much more. For instance, the people here are some of the most kind, hard-working and down-to-earth folks I’ve met. I’m glad we’ve been able to romanticize the area a bit with our songs and bring beauty to a place that we all cherish and are proud to call home.”
The Panhandlers’ four members spoke with Holler about the influence that their home has on them, their favorite places to visit there and the significance of Billy Bob’s in the latest edition of ‘Home Sweet Home’.
Where’s the first place you go upon returning to West Texas?
Green: I’m originally from East Texas, but I lived in Lubbock for seven years. After graduating from Tech I moved out to my grandparents farm near Abilene in a little town called Eastland, which I’m pretty sure got its name for being the easternmost town in West Texas. Every time I’m back that way it’s always the first place I go.
One of the things that Texas is most synonymous with is barbecue. What’re your favorite joints in West Texas?
Cordero: Cooper’s Bar-B-Q in Cristoval.
Green: Tyler’s Barbecue in Amarillo.
Abbott: I used to be a partner in Mac’s Bar-B-Q in Midland. My buddy runs it now and makes some damn good food. Then there’s Evie Mae’s BBQ in Lubbock. Those are my two go-to spots in West Texas.
I know that brisket is king when it comes to Texas BBQ. Is that your favorite meat as well?
Abbott: Definitely. And if it ain’t brisket, then it's the burnt ends, without a doubt.
Aside from tumbleweeds and cacti, what outdoor attractions are worth checking out in West Texas?
Green: Well, there’s one tree between Lubbock and Abilene…
Baumann: It’s one hell of a tree though!
Cordero: In all seriousness, Roaring Springs up in the panhandle near Turkey is a majestic spot. Near to there is the Caprock Canyons State Park full of picturesque hiking and biking trails winding through its red canyons. I know several people who enjoy throwing down at the Monahans Sandhills to the south as well.
Abbott: It all depends on the vibe you want. From the panhandle to the southwest, west Texas is full of neat little towns and attractions to explore. You can easily spend four or five days out here enjoying yourself while also being away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the world.
What’s the first place you’d recommend newcomers to West Texas visit?
Green: Turkey, mainly because it’s the home of Bob Wills and western swing music.
Cordero: Going off of what Josh was just saying, if you’re really wanting to get out and away from everything then Marfa is the place to go. It’s a small town with a large border patrol presence that serves as a reminder about just how far away from mainstream civilization you are.
West Texas has produced a bevy of iconic songwriters and musicians of all stripes. Who from there would you place on your regional Mount Rushmore?
Green: Buddy Holly, Mac Davis and Guy Clark, to name a few…
Baumann: It’s got to be a big mountain though, more like the Mount Everest of West Texas music. There’s just so many influential artists from here that I’d hate leaving out.
Abbott: I’d add Waylon Jennings, Bob Wills and Joe Ely in as well.
Green: The guys that were West Texas through and through were Bob Wills, Buddy Holly, Waylon Jennings and Guy Clark. Each has music that has been impactful to me, and I’m sure the rest of the band as well.
Following your homecoming of sorts, when you played at iconic Fort Worth venue Billy Bob’s, can you tell me a little about what it means for you to play the historic room - one that many of the musical heroes you just mentioned have played previously?
Green: Playing Billy Bob’s is always special because it’s right up there with Greune Hall [in New Braunfels] as one of the legacy venues in Texas. It’s a nostalgic place that I’d wager is more near and dear to Texans like us than it is out of staters.
Lots of people show up there for the first time expecting a flashier room, but those of us familiar with Billy Bob’s history revel in the memories of our heroes who played there before us and the historical significance of the music that has found a home there.