Recording at Sun Studios with Cowboy Jack Clement

Recording at Sun Studios in Memphis, TN with Jack Cowboy Clement

“Just One Love” written by Kimmie Rhodes –  recorded at Sun Studios with Joe Ely January 1989. Jack Cowboy Clement plays dobro and Joe Gracey plays rhythm guitar.

Recording at Sun Studios in Memphis with Cowboy Jack in 1989 (l-r) Kimmie Rhodes, Joe Gracey, Johnny X Reed, Joey Miskelin  and Jack Clement.

The copy of the famous “Cowboy’s Ragtime Band Rules” that hung on the wall at Sunbird Studios in Austin, Texas.

On the way home from one of our pilgrimages to Nashville to visit Cowboy Jack, we passed through Memphis to stop off at the legendary Sun Studios, which had just reopened. Cowboy had been bragging about hanging out with his new buddy, Bono, and the band U2 to help out with the making of the movie Rattle and Hum, which they had been shooting there. Just as we walked through the door, a tour was beginning, so we thought, “Well, why not?” So we played along as the tour guide told all the tourists who had gathered all about the days when Elvis, Johnny Cash, and Carl Perkins et al. had recorded there. All these pictures from the old days were hanging on the walls, and it really was all vibed-out and cool in there. Gracey started wandering around clapping his hands in different areas of the room to check the acoustics before the tour had even ended, and the guide, who was winding up his spiel said, “Does anyone have any questions?” To Gracey’s surprise I raised my hand and said, “Yes. What are your rates?”

Once we were back in Texas, we talked to the owners of the label I was with, Heartland Records, who were house. To their credit, it didn’t take much hustling to convince them to fund a recording session at Sun. In fact, they liked the idea so much that they started begging me not to change my mind! I finally got the courage (and money) to quit the last “real job” I ever had, working at a folk art gallery, and we were back at Sun Studios within three weeks with a band assembled, partly from Texas and partly from Memphis and Nashville, to record all the new songs I’d been writing. David “Fergie” Ferguson came along to fill Cowboy’s shoes from the olden days, as engineer, which made Cowboy free to play rhythm guitar and sing along. Believe me, with “The Cow” in the room, the bar was definitely raised. Johnny X Reed, guitarist for the Jackalopes, was there, as was Wes McGhee (guitar), Dale Dennis (bass), and Joey Miskulin, who was Cowboy’s current resident genius and played keyboards and accordion.

            We arrived the night before the sessions and set up the studio so we would be ready to go the next morning. Then we all sat out on the back steps as the sun was going down. It was one of those extraordinary “golden hour” evenings. Because he knew how excited we were to be there, Cowboy started strolling down memory lane, telling stories, and we soaked it up. He was really sweet to entertain us in that way and add to the experience. Besides, anyone who ever knew him can attest to the fact that Cowboy loved to hold court. He said that back in the old days, when directions were given to get to the studio, they’d say, “Just look for the tiny building with all the Cadillacs parked out front.” Then he pointed to a long building next door that ran far past the studio to the end of the big parking lot and said, “There’s why Sun didn’t make it. That’s where they kept all the returns.” There are two things that can kill indie labels. One is getting the returns of records that didn’t sell, and the other is not being paid by the distributor. Sometimes they get this thing going where they collect the money from your sales but use it to pay people they owe farther back in the pipeline, figuring they’ll catch up. But if they can’t keep up with that game, they eventually go under and take a lot of small labels with them.

I had a song to record with Joe Ely as a duet, “Just One Love,” that I had literally written on the way to his house to play it for him before I left for Memphis. It’s crazy, looking back now, to think that I would decide to write the song on the way to his house, which was only about forty-five minutes away!

Once we were in Memphis, at Sun Studios, Joe flew in from Austin to record it with me. After we had cut the first take, we were all standing around in the tiny control room listening back and trying to decide if it was “the one” or not. This went on for a while, and I finally said, “Well if it’s ‘the one,’ why are we all standing around trying to figure out if it is or not?” Cowboy’s head jerked in my direction, and he grinned and said, “She’s right. Let’s go do another one.” We went back into the studio and did another take, and when we came back in to listen, Cowboy grabbed me and started dancing all over the tiny room! (He had, after all, been an Arthur Murray dance instructor and even still carried his business card from those days and enjoyed whipping it out and showing it to people from time to time.) It was truly joyous. Ironically, not long after that, I was in Nashville at the office of some record executive who had just rejected me as a viable artist. He made the remark that “If Jack Clement danced to your song, legend had it that you had a hit.” I didn’t even bother to tell him. I figured he wouldn’t believe me anyway.

(Sun Studios, Memphis (l-r) Cowboy Jack Clement, Kimmie Rhodes, Dale “Cowboy Dick” Dennis, Joe Gracey, Wes McGhee, Wes Starr)


Joe Gracey’s 1st Letter to Kimmie

Joe Gracey’s 1st Letter to Kimmie

The day I first met Joe Gracey at his studio “Electric Graceyland” in the basement of KOKE-FM in Austin, Texas he had just undergone seven major surgeries and finally lost his voice to cancer. A mutual friend, TJ McFarland, who introduced us had already filled me in on some facts about him, the most poignant being that he had not only been a ground-breaking DJ on the favorite local station KOKE-FM, but also a great singer-songwriter who had been on the brink of having his first album produced by the legendary Cowboy Jack Clement. I was stunned by Gracey’s courage and determination to not just survive in a world where he could no longer speak, let alone sing, but actually thrive as a songwriter and record producer. My own “singer’s heart” immediately found cause though it would take some time before just how important that meeting really was to be revealed.

I recorded the handful of my first songs I’d written that day with his help but in the days that followed he taught me some of his own songs. One day soon after that I went to my mailbox and found an unexpected letter from Gracey saying that he loved the way I sang his songs. How it felt to be able to bring him joy by singing his songs for him is still, after many decades, a feeling that is too deep for words.

I kept that letter written January 9, 1980 and it is by far my most prized worldly possession. When I read it I laugh and think had he known when he wrote it what he was really signing on for he might never have mailed it! We married a couple of years later and raised three kids and spent many decades making beautiful music together. He gave the better part of his life to supporting me as an artist by believing in me and “helping me in my career in any way he could.”

Recently I was honored to be asked to place this letter in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, TN. So, I proudly offer this letter to the public as “Exhibit A” in proof of what gifts will come sailing in, right out of the blue, when you remember to trust life. That we are living at all is witness enough that anything can happen when we believe.

Kimmie Rhodes


This is an excerpt from Radio Dreams a dual memoir written by Joe Gracey & Kimmie Rhodes. To pre-order the book or the companion audio documentary produced by Bob Harris,  due out Spring 2018, or to support the Radio Dreams project in preserving and donating archives important to Texas music history please click here for more information > 

Push play to hear Kimmie’s first recording of a Joe Gracey penned song, “You’ll Take Care of You” recorded & produced by Gracey in 1981.


Kimmie in 1980 (photo courtesy of photographer Nancy Wheeler)










 To purchase music from Kimmie’s first three album releases, click here >

A Curious Math


Kimmie Rhodes as a child on a horse

Kimmie at Bobby Carol’s house in Wichita Falls Texas summer 1958

Looking back on my
girlhood I’m grateful that destiny gifted me with a loving musical role model who shaped my future and taught me the joy of writing songs. When I was an infant, only two weeks old, my mother, the breadwinner of the family, was forced to hand me over every morning so she could go to her job at the telephone company in Wichita Falls, Texas. One of my earliest memories is of a big plastic yellow radio that sat in the pass through window between the kitchen and dining room of the earthy clapboard middle class home where I spent weekdays with my babysitter, Bobby Carol. From the speakers of the radio, Buddy Holly, (who had by then died in the fateful plane crash) posthumously sang along with Bobby while she cleaned, ironed and baked homemade pies and biscuits. “That’ll Be The Day” and “Peggy Sue” and “Heartbeat…” She had a rich alto voice so I took her lead, parroting the harmony parts as if they were the melody.

Bobby was a paradox, a magnificently uncomplicated person with an ocean for a soul. She was one of those exceptional spirits so centered in her desires and beliefs that she could manage to be basically the same everyday, never moody, morose or overly dramatic. Happy or sad she dodged “the slings and arrows outrageous fortune” fires at even a lowly housewife without being knocked from her horse. She never said no when she could reasonably say yes and I loved her with all my heart.

There was, as in most houses of that time, a formal “living room” oddly named because it went unoccupied for the most part unless one was perusing the National Geographic magazine collection, decorating the Christmas tree, being inoculated by the family doctor making his occasional house call or greeting other guests who were too unknown to be invited into the “den” off the kitchen area where all the real living took place and where cartoons were watched. Sometimes, out of the blue and always when just the two of us were alone in the house of an afternoon a rare and beautiful hour would occur. Bobby would finally take a break, seating herself on the swiveling stool of the ornate pump organ, which was the centerpiece of the room. I would sit in the floor quietly watching in awe as she transformed from the hard working substitute mother in a cotton dress and homemade apron into an angel who brought down a very powerful magic by way of the tones exhaled from her chest in concert with the bellows of the fascinating instrument. As she rocked back and forth pumping with her feet, manipulating the keys and the stops with her elegant work worn hands, she and the clunking wooden machine became one. I followed as she drifted into a time continuum that was strangely different from our task based mediocrity into a place where everything, the timbre of her voice, the overtones from the organ and the space that surrounded each note hung absolutely still in the vibrating air that filled the room.


It was a truly holy experience, though the pieces were not always hymns. Show tunes and campfire cowboy and old world folklore ballads were decoded by a curious math, black and white spaces, staffs and circles and sophisticated symbols, scribed inside paper folders decorated with colorfully illustrated covers. I would practice drawing G and treble clefs. Notes and rests on lines intermingled with crayon daisies and houses and sunshines with faces and rays for hair and eyelashes. “What a Friend We Have In Jesus”, “Tumbling Tumbleweed” “Pennies From Heaven” “Stardust”, clever, trippy words and melodies took us far away as we wandered through songs and songs and songs!

Innocently I discovered that this new realm existed and began to experiment and found that by singing whatever was happening, whether playing or bathing or even drifting off to sleep, I could filter reality back into that wonderfully still place where what is can be named and better understood by way of a mysterious alchemy… where the metal of a normal life becomes gold.


Oil on Canvas by Kimmie Rhodes

I learned to think in this way as a kid and to this day when I‘ve gone to “that place” in my mind people tell me they say things to me several times before I hear them. My own children laugh and tease me about how they became accustomed to having to bring me back from dreamland by finally yelling, “Mama, Mama, MAMA!” I’ve heard it referred to as “having your head in the clouds.” I call it writing, though there is no pen and paper involved.

Somewhere on a level beneath what happens the meaning of life is hidden and it’s a poets’ work to find and bring it into the daylight. I’m hooked on spotting the irony that’s buried slightly below the obvious because it brings me clarity and peace of mind. Without writing I would be trapped inside with no way out of myself. The added pleasure of being able to communicate through underscored rhymes, using sounds that speak deeper than words is to me like the eighth wonder of the universe.


Here are links to some of my songs, which I think best express the meaning and happiness of those wonderful childhood days.

Love & Happiness For You (Love Me Like A Song CD)

I Just Drove By (Ten Summers and Jackalopes, Moons & Angels CD)

Me Again (Cowgirl Boudoir CD)

This Is The Gift (Rich From The Journey CD)


The sound of the precious old pump organ, which now resides in my studio can be heard on these recordings:

Wild Roses (West Texas Heaven CD)

We’ve Done This Before (Picture In A Frame CD)

Witness To The Crime (Love Me Like A Song CD)

Darkness Lifting (Love Me Like A Song CD)


Note: This and future archival posts include excerpts from “Radio Dreams” the combined memoirs of Kimmie Rhodes and Joe Gracey scheduled for release Spring 2018.  Read Synopsis