Folk/country singer Butch Hancock is leaving Wimberley, Texas, but not because he has to.
The town between Austin and San Antonio was among the hardest hit by recent flooding, but Hancock’s house was on high ground. His timing is coincidental.
His family already planned to leave when Hancock’s son Rory finished high school and move to Terlingua — population 58 in 2010 — in the West Texas desert outside of El Paso.
“I love it out there,” Hancock said. “I call it ‘elbow room for the spirit.’ ”
Hancock will perform at Chickie Wah Wah on Friday.
Hancock’s affection for wide-open spaces dates back to growing up in Lubbock in the 1960s, when he started playing with Joe Ely and Jimmie Dale Gilmore. He’s been associated with those musicians ever since.
They were young, restless, in love with rock ’n’ roll, and they wanted to get out. They played together in 1972 and 1973 as The Flatlanders, a group whose reputation has grown as they’ve each achieved fame on their own.
Hancock is the most prolific songwriter of the three. In one legendary stretch in 1990, he played the Cactus Cafe in Austin, Texas, six nights in a row without repeating a song — more than 140 songs.
Some of Ely and Gilmore’s best-known recordings are of Hancock compositions — “Dallas,” “Boxcars,” “She Never Spoke Spanish to Me” and “Just a Wave, Not the Water” — among them.
His best songs deal with classic themes such as love and loss, but he plays with perspective.
“Have you ever seen Dallas from a DC-9 at night?” he asked. In “Boxcars,” the whine of the train rolling along the edge of town makes him think about a better life somewhere down the line.
His interest in Buddhism is reflected when a woman says goodbye and reminds him, “Babe, you’re just a wave, you’re not the water.”
These days he’s working on a book on Buddhist philosophy, but that has to compete for time with Hancock’s other creative pursuits.
Hancock studied architecture at Texas Tech University but dropped out and got a job as an architectural photographer on the West Coast in 1970.
He also draws surreal landscapes with large curved objects in rural settings — images that, if airbrushed, would have been natural album covers for a Texan Yes or Genesis.
“When I started studying architecture, I was way into the curvilinear line, which there aren’t that much of in most architecture,” he said. “Things that are curved or even rounded off at the corners have more of a human element to them.”
He connects his fascination with curved lines back to growing up in Lubbock, where all the lines, including the horizon, are straight.
He worked on a tractor from sunrise to sunset, and from that vantage point, he watched clouds as they curled up, swirled and moved across the sky.
The desert doesn’t feed his creativity more than any other place, Hancock said by phone, “but it gives me time to deal with it.”
He moved from Lubbock to Austin in 1976, and while he found it inspiring in a way, writing is easier for Hancock when he’s farther from people.
“You can hang with an idea for a while,” he said. “It’s like anywhere you go, though. You carry your own interruptions with you. For me, it’s about finding the balance between peace and quiet and chaos and mutiny.”
Perhaps it’s no surprise that Hancock doesn’t have much of an online footprint. His music isn’t on Spotify, and few of his photographs and drawings can be seen online.
He has albums available, but he hasn’t overburdened the world with CDs, much less downloads. His songs are most easily heard online on Ely and Gilmore’s albums, or on videos on YouTube. For him, the creativity is the thing.
“There are all these odd realms that you combine into one piece of work with the high hopes that it will serve some function and maybe inspire us a little bit,” Hancock said.
Some songs simply pop out, but more of them require time to gestate. “I don’t look at songwriting as blood, sweat and tears,” he said. “I look at it more as the adventure of gathering in the data of life and trying to put it into a song form.”
When Hancock comes to New Orleans, his son, Rory, will accompany him, as he has for three years now.
Traveling with Hancock hasn’t necessarily introduced Rory to the music business at its most glamorous, but he hasn’t seen its worst sides, either. And along the way, he’s had some nice moments.
“When he turned 16, he played with The Flatlanders for the first time at the Hardly Strictly bluegrass festival in San Francisco,” Hancock said. For the gig, they had their usual guitarist and the legendary picker Bill Kirchen.
“Rory steps up there and picks up an acoustic guitar and took a lead — just nailed it. Half the audience stood up and said, ‘Who is this kid?’ Bill Kirchen’s mouth was wide open. That’s how he turned 16.”