One of the very best things about wandering around on a gizmological marvel with lots of media coverage is that the machine becomes a key that opens doors of all descriptions. I briefly shared orbits with people I would never have otherwise met, and some such encounters spawned journalistic spin-offs… like this one. Joe Ely was a delightful character, and we took a ride on the bikeways of Austin on contrasting machines: his folding bicycle and my Winnebiko. And in 1984, the use of computers in the music business was still rather unusual…
by Steven K. Roberts
USA Today – August 16, 1984
I’m no longer surprised at the diversity of human pursuits influenced by microcomputer technology. If micros can be applied effectively to long-distance bicycle touring, there probably are few activities that remain untouched.
During a recent stay in Austin, Texas, I crossed paths with rock star Joe Ely. It started when I was exploring the electronic bulletin board community — like a message center — and was directed to a system called Campfire Nightmares.
I signed on, poked around for a moment and suddenly found scrolling across the screen of my portable computer a humorous report on recent developments in the Austin music scene, a schedule of Ely’s gigs, a collection of electronic graffiti called The Bathroom Wall and something Ely later called “the world’s largest database of band names.”
There also was a message system through which high-tech fans could communicate with the band.
Intrigued by this new twist in the rock scene, I contacted Ely and found a warm, personable and decidedly energetic musician. He walked into our lunch meeting clad in white shirt, string tie and dark glasses, with a folding bicycle under his arm.
Within a few minutes, I had abandoned all the stereotypical notions of rock musicians and was deep in technical conversation with this computer-age performer.
“So what, exactly, did the computer have to do with production?” I asked, referring to his latest album — HI-RES.
“Well, the inner sleeve images were all done with the Apple and a Koala Pad (a touch tablet that can give commands to the computer), and the titles and text were run off on the Epson printer. For the front cover, I made a videotape off the screen and sent it to National Image Makers in New York. They made a 4-by-5 photo from the monitor.”
“What about the music?”
“Used to be you had to sit down with the band. I just composed and arranged this project with the Alpha Syntauri synthesizer and then got together with the group. Saved a lot of time.”
The album, kicked off by What’s Shakin’ Tonight, is doing well — and Ely’s following is growing as he expands his touring schedule to cover territory outside Texas.
In the old days, a band received feedback via album sales and media. But Joe Ely has a whole new angle on that, too — his computer bulletin board system. If your computer calls his computer at XXX-XXX-XXXX, you will be in electronic contact with “Campfire Nightmares.” Log on as “ELY,” and you will have a direct conduit to the band.
“Mustanotta gotta lotta sleep last night,” the system will comment, referring to an Ely song. Then Larry the Talking Dog will offer you the choices: browse the collection of humorous band names (or contribute some of yor own), read the news, leave a message or just poke around.
“We’ve come a long way since the days of acoustic guitar and ballpoint,” observed Joe as he unfolded his briefcase bicycle and I packed up my briefcase computer.
The waitress handed me the change and asserted that she had now seen everything. We set off — on two very different computer-aided tours.