Music

Jesse Dayton Tells the Wild Life Story of an Art Outlaw in ‘Ballad of Boyd Elder’

Elder was known for his unmistakable skull artwork, used by the Eagles for their album covers

Jesse Dayton dropped his new album The Hard Way Blues on May 31st with a music video for the LP track “Ballad of Boyd Elder.” At first glance, it appears to be a Curtis Loew-type story song — until you learn who Elder really was, which is one of the most inventive artists to come out of Texas. Even if you don’t know the name, you’ve no doubt seen his work.

Elder was a painter and sculptor based in the map-dot town of Valentine, Texas, just outside of the equally desolate Marfa. He found notoriety when he started working with bones — painted animal skulls to be exact — with arguably the most famous, a facsimile of an eagle skull, appearing on the cover of the Eagles’ 1976 compilation Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975). The group used another Elder skull, this one from a steer, on the cover of 1975’s One of These Nights. (The Eagles gave one of their very first performances at an Elder art show.)

Dayton, himself a Texas renaissance man, nods to all of that in the lyrics to “Ballad of Boyd Elder”: “Well he’s ridin’ through the desert in a Cadillac/With a trunk full of Longhorn skulls in the back,” he sings in the bluesy number.

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“Boyd was a legendary artist who seemed to know all my favorite musicians. While I was playing a show in Marfa with Kinky Friedman we met up at a bar and he told me his whole story over a bottle of tequila,” Dayton tells RS. “His art shows in L.A. with Dennis Hopper, Bobby Fuller, and Ed Ruscha, and later his work with the Eagles and Jackson Browne. When he passed in 2018, I knew I wanted to immortalize him in a song. He was one of the greatest Texas characters I’ve ever met.”

Dayton has been on a prolific streak over the last few years, teaming up with Samantha Fish for the superb collab album Death Wish Blues and dropping his memoir, Beaumonster, in 2021. He’ll tour in support of The Hard Way Blues, produced by Shooter Jennings, all summer with dates throughout the U.S.

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