In the '70s, country & western was full of artists referred to as outlaws, mavericks who bucked the stodgy Nashville music establishment by writing their own songs, recording with their road bands, and producing their own records. The genre produced a slew of acts, but Amarillo, TX, native Joe Ely epitomized the form. Unlike most of that era's big names, Ely remained a viable artist. He got his start back in the early '70s, working with Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore in a group called the Flatlanders. Their only album didn't go far, and the group broke up. (Rounder reissued the album in 1990.) Around the mid-'70s, Ely formed an eclectic group who was able to swing from Cajun and western to honky tonk stomps and rockabilly; they were signed to MCA in 1977. Ely released an eponymous debut that year, using songs written by ex-Flatlanders Gilmore and Butch Hancock and throwing in some of his own road-worn, oddly poetic originals. The next year brought Honky Tonk Masquerade, the cornerstone of Ely's legacy and one of modern country's most ambitious albums.