Texas singer and songwriter Joe Ely recovered personal items stolen from… (Redeye Label )
“Did you hear the latest?” Joe Ely asked backstage Sunday night at Pappy & Harriet’s, the colorful restaurant and saloon in Pioneertown, a few minutes before starting his set.
The question referred to the surreal series of events he experienced last week while on his string of shows down the California coast, for which he’s accompanied by guitarist Jeff Plankenhorn.
While Ely was onstage at Slim's in San Francisco Tuesday night, a fan reunited him with a custom guitar that was stolen from him 27 years ago. Ely said Slim’s is about three blocks from where the guitar was originally taken along with other band equipment when he was on tour in 1986.
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Wednesday morning, Ely was burglarized again, this time losing bags containing cash, computers and other personal items (including Plankenhorn’s passport, Social Security card and birth certificate), which had all been left in their vehicle while they were having breakfast at a Denny’s in Vallejo.
“The latest” twist in the saga, Ely explained, was that a trucker pulled over on the side of a road near Vallejo and found the stolen bags — minus the cash and computers — discarded in some bushes a short time after the incident. After locating a document with the phone number of Ely’s road manager, the trucker called and arranged to return the recovered items.
“It’s unbelievable,” Plankenhorn said, sitting across the wooden bench from Ely. He said that at the start of the tour, “I meant to grab just my passport, but wound up with my Social Security card and birth certificate too."
Ely said the trucker told road manager Don Bowles, "'I've never held a passport before, but it looks like it's important.' They just kept the things they thought they could sell. It’s a good thing they weren’t identity thieves, as far as we know.”
Moments later, a fan came by with a 1979 article about Ely from the paper in his hometown of Lubbock, Texas — a keepsake the fan’s father had held onto for 34 years and recently sent to his son. Looking it over, Ely told Plankenhorn, “These things kinda come back around to you sooner or later.” (The story, coincidentally, was written by Russ Parsons, now food editor for The Times.)
Ely was making his first visit to Pappy & Harriet’s, the high desert outpost decorated with a pair of moose heads and other remnants of hunting culture, and an increasingly popular stop for touring country and Americana acts. “I don't know where I am, but I'm sure glad to be here,” the veteran Texas rocker said early in his set. “I've heard about this place for years, but it's not the kind of place you just stumble across. It feels like some roadhouse outside of Texarkana.”
He also acknowledged its proximity to Joshua Tree, where Gram Parsons’ body was notoriously taken after his death, saying “I feel the spirit of Gram Parsons tonight” and then sang Parsons’ “Hickory Wind.”
After singing his song “I’m a Thousand Miles From Home,” Ely wryly told the packed house, “Right before the show a guy showed me on Google Maps that this place is 999 miles from Lubbock. But Lubbock is more than a mile wide, so I guess that’s OK. You just can’t sing ‘I’m 999 miles from home.’ It doesn’t work.”
They should have shopped around. Mapquest puts the distance as 999.92 miles — close enough for rock ‘n’ roll.
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