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The Flatlanders (Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely, Butch Hancock) formed in 1972 in Lubbock, Texas. Gilmore, Ely and Hancock formed the group, with Gilmore as the main songwriter and singer, with several other collaborators: their friends Steve Wesson, previously a non-musician, on autoharp and musical saw and Tony Pearson on mandolin and backup harmony, as well as Tommy Hancock (no relation) on fiddle and string bassist Syl Rice.
One of the band's first appearance was at the Kerrville Folk Festival in 1972, where they were named one of the winners of the inaugural Kerrville Folk Festival New Folk Singer/Songwriter Competition.
The band's first recording project was produced in 1972 by Shelby Singleton, the then-owner of Memphis, Tennessee's famed Sun Studios. A promotional single, Gilmore's "Dallas", was a commercial failure, and the planned album, All American Music, was all but scrapped, being released only in a small run on 8 track tape in order to fulfill contractual obligations.
The Flatlanders performed through 1973 before disbanding. By the end of the decade, however, Gilmore, Ely and Hancock had all found success as solo performers, and rumors of their earlier obscure collaboration began to circulate. In 1991, Rounder Records issued the 1972 sessions as More a Legend Than a Band.
The three musicians continued to reunite for occasional Flatlanders performances. In 1998 they contributed to the soundtrack of The Horse Whisperer, and then in 2002 released their follow-up album, Now Again, on New West Records. In 2004 this was followed with Wheels of Fortune, again on New West. In 2004, New West released Live '72 a live recording of the then-unknown country band performing at the One Knite honky-tonk in Austin, Texas.
The Flatlanders' latest album, Hills & Valleys, was released by New West on March 31, 2009. The Flatlanders appeared as musical guests on the Late Show with David Letterman on July 21, 2009.
American Songwriter writes "In honor of their 40th anniversary, 'founding fathers of Americana' The Flatlanders (Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock) will release The Odessa Tapes on August 28 via New West Records. The album is composed of recently discovered recordings from 1972 that were believed lost for nearly forty years."