Tommy Hancock, who helped shape 20th century popular music in Lubbock before moving to Austin in 1980 with his Supernatural Family Band, died Wednesday evening. He was 90.
Born March 25, 1929, Hancock took violin lessons as a child before enlisting in the Army as a teen and serving as a paratrooper during World War II. After the war, he formed the Roadside Playboys, a western swing band that influenced future Lubbock acts including Buddy Holly & the Crickets (whose guitarist, Sonny Curtis, had a stint in the Roadside Playboys). The group hired teen singer Charlene Condray in the 1950s; she and Hancock married in 1956 and soon started a family.
As owner of famed Lubbock venue the Cotton Club, Hancock brought legends such as Willie Nelson, Ray Price and Muddy Waters to the area, in addition to playing weekends with his own band. Filmmaker Dwight Adair, who directed the 2014 hourlong documentary "Tommy Hancock: West Texas Muse," referred to the Cotton Club as "the Lubbock equivalent of the Armadillo World Headquarters" in a 2014 Lubbock NPR interview.
Austin musician/producer Lloyd Maines, a Lubbock native, was 14 when he began playing a Sunday matinee gig at the Cotton Club with his brothers in the 1960s. Soon Maines was playing in Hancock’s band, plowing through four-hour sets with no break on Friday and Saturday nights.
"He explained to us at one point why he never took a break," Maines said Thursday. "He said, ‘You know, boys, if you’ll keep them dancing, they won’t have time to think about fighting.’"
In 1970, the Hancocks moved to a mountain cabin in Questa, New Mexico, that had no electricity or plumbing. With several of their children, they formed the Supernatural Family Band, which at one point included Jimmie Dale Gilmore on guitar. Gilmore was one of many Lubbock musicians for whom Hancock was a mentor, along with Gilmore’s Flatlanders bandmates Joe Ely and Butch Hancock (no relation).
In the 1980s, the family moved to Austin, where Tommy Hancock’s wife, Charlene, and daughters Conni Hancock and Traci Lamar formed long-running Tex-Mex trio the Texana Dames. Tommy’s own musical performances gradually became less frequent in Austin, though he would sometimes turn up onstage to dance at Texana Dames gigs, and there were occasional Supernatural Family Band reunion gigs. Lamar died of cancer in 2012 at age 52.
Maines said he had kept in touch with Hancock and last talked with him a few weeks ago. "He was feeling OK, but his health had been failing for a couple or three years." Maines said. "Conni and Charlene were taking really good care of him, 24-7."
Writing about the Texana Dames for the American-Statesman in 1997, John T. Davis observed that Hancock had become "an improbable mixture of 1950s hipster, 1960s hippie grandfather and 1990s New Age cowboy. When he helmed the family orchestra … Tommy stood front and center, interspersing hot swing fiddle licks with digressions on Indian philosophy; call it ‘The Lotus Blossom Special.’"
In "Lubbock Lights," a 2003 documentary film about that city’s musical legacy, Hancock talked about his lifelong journey from fiddle-playing bandleader to supernatural family man: "I finally found out that I was going to have to go inside myself to find this thing that could make everyday heaven on earth. And that worked. I’ve lived in virtual heaven on earth for 30 years. I’m surrounded by love and beauty and friendship and luxury all the time."