Totally true tall tales from Texas about Biblical floods, Doug Sahm, Texas music, Texas Tornados, rednecks, cowboys, hippies, San Antonio, Austin, Houston, Huey P. Meaux, Augie Meyers, Flaco Jimenez, the Sir Douglas Quintet, “She’s About a Mover,” sneaky British Invaders from the Lone Star State, Bob Dylan, the Corpus Pot Bust, San Francisco, Bill Graham, the Greatful Dead, Chet Helms, “Mendocino,” Jerry Wexler, Willie Nelson, Freddy Fender, “Groover’s Paradise,” Patoski’s celebrated ‘Sir Doug & The Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove’ film rockumentary, Kickstarter, who owns Doug Sahm’s songs, why he should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame…and more.
Texas-born writer, author, radio host and pop culture observer Joe Nick Patoski makes his debut as a film director with “Sir Doug & The Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove,” tracing the wild life and enduring legacy of Doug Sahm, the prodigal multi-instrumentalist from San Antonio who was a Texas music legend from the ’60s to the ’90s.
Patoski, tagged one of Variety magazine’s “10 Documakers to Watch,” co-produced with collaborators including Louis Black, Alan Berg and Dawn Johnson and worked with Arts + Labor, an Austin-based film production company, with funding in large part from the nonprofit Society for the Preservation of Texas Music.
Nearly three years in the making, “Sir Doug & The Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove” premiered to high praise at the 2015 SXSW Film Festival in Austin in March.
The film is complete, with music, but right now, the music is licensed only for screenings the festival circuit.
A Kickstarter campaign was mounted to raise the additional $75,000 needed to license the film for wide release. The deadline is 10 a.m. PT July 30. With days to go, the campaign is about $20,000 away from its $75,000 goal, and needs big help from more backers fast.
UPDATE: The now-closed campaign raised $15K more than its $75K goal, and has been officially funded.
The same night, Patoski and Jason Wehling, who co-wrote the script, are set to host the rockumentary’s much-anticipated Los Angeles premiere, at the Cinefamily Theater on Fairfax Avenue.
Along with a lot of Sahm and Sahm-related music, the 80-minute film features archival interviews with Doug and new interviews with his son Shawn, Flaco Jimenez, Augie Meyers, Ernie Durawa, George Rains, Alvin Crow, Bill Bentley, Ray Benson and Spot Barnett, among many others.
After the Cinefamily premiere, Patoski and Wehling will field audience questions in what’s very likely to be a spirited and informative Q&A session about Sahm, who was born in San Antonio Nov. 6, 1941, and died in Taos, N.M., Nov. 18, 1999. He was 58.
Flashback to 1975: Doug Sahm at Soap Creek, Willie Nelson Picnic
Patoski and this writer first met in Austin 40 years ago when I flew there from L.A. in early July 1975 to cover the third Willie Nelson 4th of July Picnic (courtesy Nelson’s brand-new label, Columbia Records).
My assignment was from Cash Box magazine, one of the three record industry trade magazines then published in Hollywood (Billboard and Record World being the other two). The editor wanted a full-page feature.
Patoski, then writing for Texas Monthly, Rolling Stone and Pickin’ Up the Tempo, had shared musical interests and had a few mutual rock journo friends. He graciously helped tune me into the Austin scene fast, introducing me to people I needed to meet so I could go home and write an intelligent article.
(The resulting Cash Box recap went over pretty well; I hope to find and re-post it.)
Doug Sahm was one of the 1975 picnic co-headliners, along with Kris Kristofferson & Donnie Fritts, Rita Coolidge, the Charlie Daniels Band, Delbert McClinton, Johnny Bush, Billy Swan, the Pointer Sisters and more. The lineup represented the breadth and depth of Texas music and sounds from elsewhere that fit the groove, on one stage in one day and night.
The picnic was near Austin so most people visiting from points elsewhere were staying in town. The night before, Joe Nick and I were among those invited to a pre-Picnic warmup gig at Soap Creek Saloon, Sahm’s favorite (and closest to home) watering hole and club to play, and thus a favorite of Joe Nick’s.
Half the musicians in town for the picnic and several dozen fans packed the joint, a small, ramshackle old structure up a winding country road outside of Austin. Sahm, who lived just across a field from the club, was a ball of energy, enjoying the role of local host to all the outta-towners, making sure they got a taste of the real deal.
Among the crowd were Willie and half his relatively new band (then called Too Hot for Snakes when they worked without Nelson), including drummer Rex Ludwick, bassist Bee Spears. I think harmonica ace Mickey Raphael and guitarist Jody Payne were there.
Willie’s road manager, Poodie Locke, gruff when he needed to be but a great guy when nobody was lookin’, was in the house for sure.
Everyone was chain-guzzling Lone Star longnecks (supplied by the beer company’s local marketing manager and Austin music booster Jerry Retzloff) and well-oiled; weed was casually but discretely smoked in the parking lot.
Another in the house was a certain Dr. John (not the musician) and his well-stocked little black medical kit.
This debauchery was raging deep in the heart o’ Texas, where possession of even a small amount of marijuana could result in serious jail time, not to mention pills and powders. I halfway expected a raid at some point. But there weren’t any cops for miles. If there were, they just left Soap Creek alone.
I recall a young Austin singer-guitarist-songwriter named Marcia Ball played that night. We met again a few years later when she recorded her first album for Capitol Records when I worked in the label’s Press & Artist Relations department.
Marcia performed a set of her early cool Texas country-cowgirl songs, then Sahm and a bunch of players took the stage and rocked the joint for hours.
The Soap Creek audience was so stacked with musos, Sahm just had them rotating in and out of the house band. They all seemed to know all the classic rock, blues, Tex-Mex and Texas roadhouse songs. And if they didn’t, Sahm did; he’d shout out the title, key and chords, and they’d be off.
Some local Good Samaritan, possibly Joe Nick, dropped me off at my hotel sometime before dawn. The Picnic several hours later was a ton of fun, even with a slight hangover and the brain-frying Hill Country heat.
Seeing Doug Sahm at Soap Creek, meeting Willie and all the Picnic performers – it was one wild intro to the Austin music scene, which those two helped establish in the early 1970s.
I’ve been able to go back many times, often for the annual SXSW music and film festival that takes over the town for a week in March. But the first trip was the best.
Now, after four-plus decades and lots more musical phases and stages, Austin remains weird as ever. It’s still about the only place in Texas where rednecks, cowboys, hippies, cops, musicians, politicians, evangelicals, students and bankers not only put up with each other, they actually seem to get along.
Sahm’s role in Austin becoming a “groover’s paradise” in the middle (roughly) of a state not known for tolerance of alternative or counterculture lifestyles is one of the main themes of “Sir Doug & The Genuine Cosmic Texas Groove,” as Patoski details in the following exclusive, nearly-hour-long Q&A.
An edited transcript follows (here’s the raw interview audio).
* * * * *
Stephen K. Peeples: Speaking with Joe Nick Patoski on July 9, 2015. Joe Nick is in Austin, Stephen is in California, and we’re going to talk about Doug Sahm – “Sir Doug and the Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove.” Where are you right now?
SKP: Excellent. And what are you doing there today?
JNP: I’m in between three errands. I had to go talk about our Kickstarter campaign on television Channel 24 and then I had to go by Channel 42. They’re preparing just a stock obituary for Willie Nelson and wanted some comments. And then I had to pick up a car manual for my new old used car.
[Editor’s note: Don’t be alarmed; Nelson’s in fine health and on the road in California at this writing. Media often prepares obits like this.]
Then I’m here and on my way to GSD&M, the largest ad agency in the greater Southwest, who have requested and are getting a private screening of this film. Because they work with Arts + Labor, they’re business partners. So I’m going to be showing the film this afternoon, and then hopefully get home before dark and kick back and relax and forget the rest of the week.
JNP: Well I’ve learned – especially with Austin in the here and now and the fact that I live in the country, that I’ve got to get it while I can.
Austin is – you come in and do your business, but as soon as I’m done with my business, I don’t hang much anymore. I go out to the country outside Wimberley where I live.
I like hanging there a whole lot more with the armadillos and the coyotes and the wolves and the turkey buzzards. It’s pretty good living out there.
Biblical Flood in Wimberley
SKP: Speaking of Wimberley, you guys had a little flood recently, yeah?
JNP: We had a Biblical flood, and we dodged a bullet – my wife and I. That was the good news.
But, boy howdy, I know a lot of people that got hurt, got all of their material possessions basically ruined, wiped out.
And to me the big hit is to look out at the beautiful Blanco River which has always had signature cypress trees, like 80-, 100-feet tall, somewhere up to 300, 400 years old, and the vast majority of them were destroyed by this Biblical flood. They’ve never had a flood…it’s the biggest flood ever in Texas, as far as the most intense, highest rise, and the quickest time.
But it was a nasty thing, and I’m just happy to be alive, I guess, considering it could have turned out a lot worse.
The Return of Doug Sahm & Joe Nick Patoski
SKP: Well, let’s get to Doug. Let’s take it from the beginning…What was your first encounter with Doug Sahm and what sparked your imagination and interest in him?
JNP: Well, my exposure to Doug Sahm was three-fold, pretty much. First off it’s the hit records that I heard on the radio when I was a Texas kid growing up in the mid-’60s, and I heard “She’s About a Mover” and then “The Rains Came.”
And I’m not sure how it registered, because it really was right in the thick of the British Invasion, but the band passed themselves off as British with “She’s About a Mover” until they were outed on the TV show “Hullabaloo” by Trini Lopez.
The big impersonation of a British band didn’t really sink in much. And I remember hearing about Doug in San Francisco through the latter ’60s. But in 1971, he had returned to San Antonio and made a (Sir Douglas Quintet) album called “The Return of Doug Saldaña.”
And it shows Doug – it’s actually on (Sir Douglas Quintet organ player) Augie Meyers’ porch, sitting in a rocker, and he’s got jeans on and boots, and a cowboy hat, and he’s got long hair, and he’s holding a bottle of Big Red soda water. And if you don’t know about Big Red, you should look it up sometime, but Doug was a big Big Red fan.
I was running a record shop at that time in Fort Worth called National Records. And I just remember seeing that album cover. And this idea of long hair, pretty cool boots, very cool cowboy hat – everything was cool.
It wasn’t like a hippie dressed bad Western. No, this guy knew how to dress Western. So it was almost like a real Western guy that just grew his hair long.
That and seeing that Big Red, I went right down to the corner convenience store and bought a bottle of Big Red and drank it, tried to channel Doug, listening to this album.
It was mainly Texas R&B. It’s got some country in it, some swing, and definitely some jump blues. But it just really spoke to me. So I was all primed, and I was into Doug Sahm, that was the thing.
Well, shortly thereafter, I moved to Minneapolis and for a year I ran a record store called The Electric Fetus, a place that’s still open. Great place to be around music. Wonderful experience. But it was somewhere in the spring of ’73 – and it might have snowed in April, which happens a lot in Minnesota – but I was really homesick. And I wanted to go home.
But home was no longer Fort Worth, because I had long hair, I was all hippied out, and I didn’t want to get beat up. And that was pretty much the reality of anywhere in Texas, with the exception of Austin.
Chet Flippo Covers Austin, Soap Creek Scenes Early
Now, I’d read a couple of stories that Chet Flippo had written both in CREEM and Rolling Stone about Doug being in Austin and basically holding court at this club called Soap Creek Saloon. So when I moved in August of 1973, my girlfriend and I, first night out, we went to this Soap Creek Saloon to see Doug Sahm.
And I’ve got to say, this doesn’t happen where you read something, and then you go do it, and everything is just as the writer says it is.
But Chet Flippo was not lying. He was a truth-teller. And everything he described and made so magical to me reading it in Minneapolis was true when I walked through the door in Austin.
And seeing Doug play, that was a revelation. I liked “She’s About a Mover,” and I loved that album, “The Return of Doug Saldaña,” and “Honky Blues Plus Two,” “1+1+1 = 4” – those are some great recordings.
‘Little Doug’ Learned from the Masters, Passed it On
But at Soap Creek, this guy playing live was unlike anyone I’d ever seen. He sang. Most of the songs were his own compositions. He played blues guitar like T-Bone Walker, and he could play steel, and if you sat down and listened long enough, you figured out that, oh, yeah, he was a child prodigy at the steel guitar, sat on Hank Williams’ lap.
And he watched T-Bone Walker play as a teenager, along with Gatemouth Brown, at the chitlin’ circuit club Doug lived across the field from. So he got direct transmission from country and R&B from the greats.
And then on top of that, he was that guy that went as an Anglo, a German kid, over to the barrio, the Mexican part of town, and dug the music there. So through Doug’s interest in Mexican music, he introduced to the world Flaco Jiménez, with his very first recordings ever done outside of the barrio of West Side San Antonio.
Doug introduced the world to the great tenor sax player Rocky Morales. And he revived, single-handedly, the career of Freddy Fender, who had retired and was going to college to seek a degree in Corpus Christi and wasn’t going to play anymore.
Doug got Freddy to come up to Soap Creek and play and basically restarted his career, which peaked (in the mid-’70s) with the song “Before the Next Teardrop Falls” and the redo of “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights” where Freddy was reinvented into a country-pop star.
Doug Sahm could play every kind of indigenous music that came out of Texas: Western swing, country, hardcore country, rock ’n’ roll, rhythm and blues, jump blues, Cajun, swamp pop.
He was beloved in Louisiana because he could sing swamp pop like only the Cajuns could.
I mean, this guy could do all these musics. And it’s one thing to be able to play them, but he could articulate them. And that part is what still blows my mind.
He was authentic, whatever style he played. And no single player I’ve heard in my 40 years of writing about music and listening to it here in Texas has done what Doug did, as far as being able to play all the forms of Texas music and play them authentically.
He was the real deal. There was no bullshit in what he did.
And the music was about as honest as it could get, and probably is the reason why we’re not talking about him in the context of “DOUG!” with an exclamation point, the one-name superstar. He had too much in him musically, and he had to work out all those musical styles.
And if he could have stayed on just one of those styles and just repeated it, he would have been famous. But instead he landed in Austin in the early ’70s, and found bands that he could attach himself to that played all these different kinds of musics. So he basically became this organizer of roots music in Austin.
And the argument is that Americana music really began in Austin in the early ’70s, and if that’s true, the instigator – the person you can credit is Douglas Wayne Sahm. It’s no brag, just fact.
‘Crazy Cajun’ Huey P. Meaux Sells the Sir Douglas Quintet
SKP: It all lines up that way. I wanted to ask you also about Huey P. Meaux and Doug and their relationship, how that came about and how that worked.
JNP: Well, in Texas music, for a period of time, certainly in the 1950s and ’60s into the ’70s, basically you could get signed by a major record label if you were lucky and go to L.A. or Nashville or New York and become somebody, or you could go to an independent producer regionally and hope you could get discovered.
Doug went on that quest after he was – he had one of the number one records while he was in high school that were regional hits. San Antonio hits, South Texas. And he was more ambitious than that. He wanted more.
Doug followed Sunny’s footsteps to Houston to where Huey Meaux lived. And Huey Meaux, “The Crazy Cajun,” was that guy that could get hit records. He was always listening for hits, and he was always about (finding) raw talent and refining them, and making them into something bigger.
Barbara Lynn is one of the great examples with “You’ll Lose a Good Thing.” But Huey had quite the track record.
And Doug and Huey hit it off. So Doug for about a two- or three-year period would continue to go back to Houston – “Huey, sign me up, let’s do a recording.” “No, brother, I don’t hear a hit.”
And finally, Huey went to see Doug open up in San Antonio in 1964. Doug Sahm was opening up for the Dave Clark Five. And there was another band opening up called Denny Esbitt & The Goldens.
And fortuitously, Dave Clark’s (Vox electric) organ player, Mike Smith – his organ had futzed up and had broken, and he learned pretty quickly that the organ player in Denny Esbitt & The Goldens, a guy named Augie Meyers had the only Vox Continental in the United States. And Augie loaned Mike Smith his Vox organ so the Dave Clark Five could play their San Antonio gig.
Huey Meaux was at that gig. And he heard Augie and that sound, and he heard Doug, and Huey was the one who said, “Doug, you need to get together with this guy, Augie. You need to try some stuff out.”
And Doug and Augie had known each other since they were kids. They traded baseball cards together. Doug’s mom was a customer of Augie’s mom at her grocery store. So there was a long history.
And so when Huey Meaux proposes, “You two ought to get together,” well, okay, they did.
And they worked up a bunch of tunes, basically put out a single of “Sugar Bee,” a swamp pop classic. And they put that out in early 1965. It did nothing. But if you listen to that version on Pacemaker Records, it’s got that backbeat, and it sounds like what Huey was after. Huey wanted that organ sound, the backbeat, because he thought it sounded British.
All of Huey’s hits were kind of drying up because of the British Invasion and the impact The Beatles were making in the United States. So seeing the Dave Clark Five and seeing the crowd they drew in San Antonio and seeing Doug and Augie – “Okay, you guys get together and let’s put together this record” – and they did this recording called “She’s About a Mover.”
Huey, thinking about the sound of the song and what it was about, sent the band to the Carnaby Street clothier in Houston to dress up as British. They all got Beatle bob haircuts, and he’d tell them, “Don’t say a thing, just shut up.”
And instead of putting the record out on one of his record labels Pride or Pacemaker, he did a deal where it was distributed by London Records. And (seeing or hearing) the very first recording, “She’s About a Mover,” for all you know, this is a British band.
And they were outed on “Hullabaloo” which was hosted by Trini Lopez. Trini knew Huey. And he heard this band, he didn’t think twice about it – he saw Huey and the band and said, “No, don’t tell me!”
So Huey said it was okay to out the band, and Huey basically let Trini announce to the world, they’re not from England, they’re really from Texas. And that started, I guess, the real career of the Sir Douglas Quintet.
But within a year of the success – and tremendous success, touring around with The Beatles and The Lovin’ Spoonful, touring around with The Beach Boys, and on all these package tours, Sahm was busted for a small amount of marijuana in Corpus Christi.
And at that time, in January of 1966, that would land you in prison in Texas. And they all dodged a bullet. Doug got a suspended sentence, but was advised to leave the state. And so he did what a lot of kids were doing at that time. He went to Northern California, parked his family in Prunedale near Salinas, and then started visiting San Francisco.
So basically, he was an old soul that had already had hit records when the Summer of Love hit San Francisco (in 1967). And he was a player. He played a lot at the Avalon Ballroom more than the Fillmore. (Doug was a) big friend of Chet Helms, the other great promoter in San Francisco, along with Bill Graham.
(Sahm) got on the wrong side of Bill Graham because he played too long. But (Doug) did things like introduce the horn sound to San Francisco. Up till then it was all drums and guitars. No one was using horns, and Doug had a very talented horn player, Martin Fierro, who was like a teenager. He’d grown up in El Paso. And the bop player from Oakland. Those were good horn players, and he was getting way out there.
(Sahm) took advantage of San Francisco and the experimenting and made some pretty interesting records, none of which sold, which basically in 1969 led to the return of Augie Meyers.
Augie moved out to Northern California and recorded with Doug at Doug’s request. And because of that organ and Augie being back there, in 1969 Doug returned to the charts with “Mendocino,” probably his biggest hit of all.
(Check out Doug, Augie and band performing “Mendocino” on “Playboy After Dark” in ’69, which is seen in the film.)
Sahm Back in Texas; Jerry Wexler & Willie Nelson
Within a year (of that), though, (Sahm) followed his family back to San Antonio. His family wanted to move back, his wife was tired of hippies, and Doug was probably missing home a fair amount.
He lived in San Antonio for about a year, was starting to work with Jerry Wexler, who’d been swapping talent with Huey Meaux, when a deputy sheriff beat Doug up. He basically beat him up for no reason at all.
And so Doug said, “Screw that,” and like all good Texas hippies, he found a safe place in Austin.
And that’s pretty much where everything started cooking, where I first saw him, and where I think Doug Sahm became this instigator.
He declared Austin a “Groover’s Paradise.”
He turned Jerry Wexler on to this other guy that was making a noise in Austin named Willie Nelson. And if not for Doug, I don’t think Jerry would have found Willie, and we probably wouldn’t be talking about Willie.
And Doug was a regular at the early Willie picnics, he was part of Willie’s first Atlantic recording sessions (in 1973) for “Shotgun Willie.” He was a player all the way through into the ’80s and ’90s, into the ’00s.
Sahm Also a Hero in Sweden; Texas Tornados a Third Act
But ultimately (Sahm) came back to the United States in the early ’90s and formed a band with all his cohorts: Flaco Jiménez, Freddy Fender and Augie Meyers – The Texas Tornados. It kind of brought it all home. It took Tex-Mex around the world and (they) finally won some Grammy Awards.
And (Sahm) basically completed the circle of what is to me a remarkable life that deserves to be told and needs to be told.
You Have Believe it With Your Own Eyes and Ears
I’ve written books on Willie Nelson and Stevie Ray Vaughan and Selena, and the Dallas Cowboys. I couldn’t have written a book on Doug.
People have to hear him. They have to hear him talking and figure out what a character he is. But they have to hear his music to really realize this guy was that talent. And to me, if you’re interested in Austin, he’s that part of the Austin creation myth. If not for Doug we wouldn’t be talking about Austin music.
But he’s also all about San Antonio, this very unique soulful city, and he reeks of Texas. I mean, he’s a rock ’n’ roll hippie hillbilly chitlin’-circuit redneck. I don’t know how you combine them all, but he is that cat, all rolled into one.
I love the description that Texas music is pretty much whatever you want to call it, as long as it’s soulful and as long as it’s from Texas. And that’s Doug in a nutshell. Doug can play all the sorts of Texas music we have, play them authentically, and just as important as authentic, soulfully, with feeling.
And he’s really been about teaching a lot of people what soul is in the music and this place.
That song, “At the Crossroads,” recorded in ’69, wasn’t a hit, but it was covered almost immediately by Ian Hunter and Mott the Hoople. “At the Crossroads” has this line that when I’m gone from Texas just hits me in the heart:
“You can teach me a lot of lessons / you bring me a lot of gold /
but you just can’t live in Texas / if you don’t have a lot of soul.”
Friends and neighbors, that’s all you need to know. And if you’ve got soul, you can withstand this weird place we call Texas. But if you don’t have soul, you’re going to have a hard time.
More on How Sahm Connected with Wexler
SKP: That’s for sure. Rewind for a second. Tell us how Doug and Jerry Wexler connected, because that’s a pretty critical hook-up in the whole story.
JNP: Doug had come back to San Antonio and had done this wonderful album, “The Return of Doug Saldaña,” which was kind of a back to the roots album. And all of a sudden he got a call from this writer in Austin who’s really responsible for putting Austin music on the map, Chet Flippo, because he was writing for Rolling Stone and for other music magazines.
And he was writing about something that was going here in the capital city of Texas. Really his reporting made people aware that – Nashville, look out! The alternative to Nashville is about to blow up on you. And Chet had done some wonderful writing.
Well, Chet tracked down Doug Sahm with the message, “Hey, Jerry Wexler’s looking for you.” And Jerry had just been given the (OK to start) a new label: Atlantic Nashville. He was going to start a country music label and base it in Nashville. And as he’d said, “I’ve done the R&B trip, I’m ready to do the country trip.” A lot of people of his age and interests, they had just as much of an affinity for soulful country as they did for soulful R&B and blues.
And Wexler – where do you want to start? Sam & Dave, Aretha – everybody that was anybody, Professor Longhair – he was the great talent scout of Atlantic Records rhythm & blues. And so – “Well, I’m going to do the same thing with country.”
Doug Sahm Unknown in Music City, Willie Nelson a Has-Been on Music Row
And this is where things got a little off base. Jerry Wexler’s very first signing to Atlantic Nashville was Doug Sahm. Because in Jerry’s mind, he was this consummate, total musician. No one he’d heard played all these things and played them so well and convincingly.
But Jerry wasn’t thinking about (the Nashville music biz politics)…He announced this new label starts up here in Nashville and people are saying, “Doug Sham? Who?” They didn’t know Doug Sahm from Houdini!
So Wexler was taking a lot of artistic risk – considerable risk!
And similarly, he took enough similar risk – his second signing was Willie Nelson. And people in Nashville were going, “What are you doing? Willie Nelson just left Nashville after spending 12 years with Chet Atkins and RCA. Why would you want to recycle that guy? He’s supposed to be selling insurance by now.”
So Jerry looking for Doug really changed the whole dynamic. (With Wexler), Doug, basically, was allowed to do anything he wanted.
So let’s go to New York and made a record with Fathead Newman, Dr. John, who Doug went back with to the early ’60s with – Mac Rebennack. They worked together. And David Bromberg; Flaco Jiménez was introduced to the world in his first non-Conjunto recording session, which was for Atlantic.
‘Doug Sahm and Band’ Sessions with Sideman Bob Dylan
And then there was also this other sideman, Bob Dylan. And that got incredible hype. There was a billboard for the album “Doug Sahm and Band” on the Sunset Strip, which we note in the film.
And there was great expectation for this album, especially because Dylan had not recorded in a few years, and everybody was buzzing….The music world was all excited, and Dylan was hanging out with Doug Sahm.
And Dylan had met Doug in ’65 at Dylan’s infamous press conference that Ralph Gleason had put on in Berkeley. And I believe it’s (in) ’66, Dylan is asked, “Who are you listening to?” and he said, “The Sir Douglas Quintet. They’re probably the best.” So Doug is running with Dylan in the ’60s.
And I think Dylan admired him mainly because he made the point later on that – he said, “I never met anyone who played with Hank Williams, much less someone my own age.” And that really woke Dylan up.
Dylan was a made-up person, made up name, made up everything. And here’s a guy that was a complete artist trying to pass himself off as British, but once you can cut through that, here’s the most authentic guy that Dylan’s ever hung around. So Dylan admired him, it was a mutual admiration.
But unfortunately the (1973) album “Doug Sahm and Band” just basically became a Dylan album. And it was kind of scattered. I don’t think it’s as good an album as “The Return of Doug Saldaña.”
But Wexler gave Doug the keys to the car, “You do whatever you want.” And he did it for (“Doug Sahm and Band”) and the follow-up album, “Texas Tornado,” which was mainly the outtakes. To me, the music holds up beautifully, but “Doug Sahm and Band” was not that great of an album, so it was considered a commercial flop.
Sahm Rebounds with ‘Groover’s Paradise,’ Makes ‘Illogical Logical’
And yet Doug, going on, he then resurfaces with “Groover’s Paradise” (1974, Warner Bros.) and he keeps putting out product. Which makes it pretty clear, Doug doesn’t really give a shit. He wants to make money and he wants success.
But after Huey (Meaux), he never lets anyone dress him up or tell him what he wants to do. He’ll dress up, and he’ll assume different characters, but it’s all his choice.
But what he does do is try to work out all the different kind of musics that are in him. And this is – forget being a child prodigy, this is a savant that’s got too much music in him.
And how does he work it out? Because one minute he’s playing Western swing two-step music with Alvin Crow and Jimmy Day and doing twin fiddles – because he knows how to do that.
This was a guy who was on the “Louisiana Hayride” as a teenager and then he’ll turn around – “Ah, I got to do my Flaco thing!” and do Tex-Mex. And he’s playing bajo sexto guitar…
Or, “No, I need to do my rock ’n’ roll thing,” so he’s prancing around like Mick Jagger and singing Creedence Clearwater (Revival) with Creedence Clearwater’s rhythm section (as on “Groover’s Paradise”).
John Fogerty’s not a fan of Doug Sahm, because basically, when (CCR) fell apart, Doug swept right in and got Stu Cook to play with him as part of his band.
He’s the guy that brought Roky Erickson – of the very first psychedelic band anywhere, the 13th Floor Elevators – brought him out of retirement and launched his solo career.
I mean, psychedelic music, Western swing, Tex-Mex – you may ask, what the heck am I talking about? And it doesn’t make any sense at all unless you say “Doug Sahm.” He made the illogical logical.
SKP: I think you hit on it earlier. You couldn’t really write a book about this. It really needs to be an oral and visual experience, because a book would not get that across about him.
SKP: You’re talking about a guy who some contemporary people might look at as somebody with attention deficit disorder, right? He can’t focus on something more than a short period of time. But on the other hand, that’s pretty consistent with a creative spirit. A restless creative spirit is never going to be standing around waiting for the next big thing. They’re going to go out and do it.
JNP: Stephen, you hit the nail on the head right there, and that’s why I was driven to tell Doug’s story, and it’s a complicated story to tell it in film. You really had to hear him. You had to get an idea of what he was as a personality, but also, hear the breadth of his music.
What I got out of the film, besides telling his story, is really this bigger question: How does an artist deal with their art? If they really are an artist, you want to survive, you want commercial success, you don’t necessarily want to sell yourself out, but you want to pursue your art.
And that became Doug, certainly after 1980. He kept making records. None of them were great successes, but as long as he could get some money and do another recording, that kept him going. All he wanted to do was play music.
So even when he’s a big deal, when he’s got a No. 1 record, and he knocks Michael Jackson and The Police off the charts in Sweden with “Meet Me in Stockholm,” or maybe when he gets his JUNO award in Canada, he’ll come back to Austin and play The Hole in the Wall with his buddies, The Texas Mavericks, or he’ll go over to Antone’s and put together The Last Real Texas Blues Band with Derek O’Brien and all the Antone’s house band people. That was his driving force.
Yeah, it would have been great to play a show in front of 100,000 people. He did open for the Dead and the Allman Brothers at DC Stadium in – what was it, ’73? – in front of, like, 60,000 or so.
But that didn’t matter as much as just getting to play all the kinds of musics that were in him.
And if he couldn’t play one or the other, he was an unhappy person. So you couldn’t say, “Hey, Doug, do a country album and just play country for a while.” He’d do it for a little while, but he’d get bored easily. This was a prodigy. And the prodigy just basically had to keep working his heart out.
And I think the way the story is told is: How do you resolve that dilemma? How do you get all this art in you out, and how do you satisfy your soul?
Paying bills is part of that, but at the end of the day, it was more important to satisfy who he was and where he’d come from. And he did it.
Sahm Hated Sellouts, Short Sets, Ultimatums
SKP: Definitely. Now, I want to get to the film, “Sir Doug & The Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove,” but since we’re kind of in that area, I wanted to talk a little bit more about his personality. I mean, we’ve got a pretty good vision so far, but he had a reputation for being difficult with some people and a real friend to other people. He was a complicated guy, just like most other people. But what was it about Doug – what pissed him off? What was the thing that was, like, the thorn in his side?
JNP: Well, Doug would always talk about sellouts in any scene that he went to, any scene that got discovered. And as soon as it got discovered, he was kind of done with it.
His first goodbye letter to Austin, even though he came back continually till the very end, his first goodbye letter to Austin (said it) was over in 1977, everybody. So if you got here, or you’ve seen Austin since then, it was over, you should have been there before then, according to Doug.
But people would (try to) tell him what to do. That’s what I’m saying. Huey was one guy he let tell him what to do. He achieved success. He didn’t get a lot of money out of the deal, but it was like going to college. But he never let anyone do that to him again. It’s like, a club owner – “The set ends now.” No it doesn’t, it ends when Doug wants it to end.
Bill Graham Imbroglio: Opening for Grateful Dead at the Fillmore
And that was the Bill Graham thing. When the Grateful Dead were recording “Live/Dead” at the Fillmore, Doug was good friends at that time with Jerry Garcia. Garcia loved Doug, just like Dylan loved Doug, because Doug knew all the songs. He knew all the great American blues, and the great American country songs, because that’s what he’d grown up with.
And so The Dead are recording, and I think there are two or three opening acts each night. And Doug is part of it the first night, and he’s supposed to play 40 minutes, and he plays an hour and a half because he’s feeling the groove. And Graham subsequently banned him for three years from any Graham building.
Then (they) booked him again, he said, “Okay, did you learn your lesson? Are you going to mind yourself this time?” Doug said, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” So, “Okay, 30 minutes tonight. Did you understand? Thirty minutes?” “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” He played for an hour and half again.
So don’t tell Doug what he can and can’t do. That pissed him off.
Later Years: Music, Baseball, Wrestling
And some changes – he didn’t do well with punks and the New Wave crowd. He’d call them the kids with purple hair. And he did turn into John McCain towards the end. But he would tease Ernie Durawa, his Mexican-American drummer with The Tornados, he’d call him a “muppie.” “Well, what’s a muppie, Doug?” He says, “It’s a Mexican-American urban yuppie.” Because he played with computers and stuff. Doug wasn’t buying into that.
Doug was all about music – and this was the other thing: He loved sharing and turning you on to stuff. He was as much a music nut as a listener and a fan as he was an entertainer. So he turned me on to so much, but if he wasn’t talking music, he was talking baseball or he was talking wrestling.
And those were his other two great interests because they’re both similar entertainment. And Doug loved to go watch baseball. He wasn’t that good of a player. I played with him on the Soap Creek Bombers. And when he went out to the mound to pitch – slow pitch, wearing catcher’s equipment, because he was Doug Sahm – he didn’t want his pretty face ruined. That’s when I was kind of, “Okay.”
But the last three years of his life we got to call the championship game at South by Southwest. They have a softball tournament that closes it out.
And I remember the first time we did it (in 1997). We sat down next to each other. He had a microphone, I was handed a microphone, and Doug just said, “Okay, I’m Dizzy, you be Pee Wee. Okay?”
And I knew exactly that he was talking about Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese, the CBS broadcast team for the CBS “Game of the Week” back in the late ’50s-early ’60s.
And that was some of the most fun I’ve had with Doug. Just getting to insult the players and the fans, calling a softball game.
But he’s the real deal, man, that’s the thing I admire so much. And my reason for doing this film was that the opportunity to do a book slipped by several times and I’m glad it did, because I don’t think it would have been as compelling as this hour and 20-minute movie. I’ve told this story how I think it needs to be told and I’m real proud of what we’ve got.
And I hope people come out to Cinefamily on (July) 30th and see what I’m talking about.
‘Sir Doug’ Premiere Rocks 2015 SXSW Film Festival
SKP: The film premiered at SXSW a few months ago (March) and went over pretty big.
JNP: Yeah, it went over great, and I got to say, I’ve written books. I’ve done okay on books. I’ve written about Willie and Stevie Ray and Selena and the Dallas Cowboys – all these icons in Texas. And I’ve been to signings and events, but man! The first night at the Paramount Theater, SXSW, it is a full packed house. (They’re) already laughing and stepping over the lines in the first minute.
But at the end to get a standing ovation when you walk out (for) something that’s really a collective effort – it’s just a feeling, but I knew during that moment, “This is never going to come your way again. You’d better savor this as much as you can.” Because it’s just indescribable.
And that’s what’s been fun about the movies, is to see how it’s resonated. And it’s important. The Doug-heads are coming out of the woodwork, and it is a global cult. I’m glad the call has been issued, and they’re showing up.
But the more amazing thing to me is the people that come up to me – “I don’t know this guy, I’ve never heard of this guy before,” or “I had no clue.” Or what Patty Griffin, the singer, said: “I met him once, but I didn’t know any of this.” And she said, “I’m going home, I’m going to go practice for a while.”
(“Sir Doug & The Genuine Cosmic Texas Groove”) tells a compelling story. You don’t have to know who Doug Sahm or this “Doug Sham” or the Sir Douglas Quintet or whatever (were to appreciate) who this person was. It’s great if you have, because if you do know who he is, I brought him back to life, 15 years after he’s gone. He is back.
But if you never heard of him before, you’re my target audience. I want you to see it because this isn’t just about the great unsung Texas musician you’ve never heard of. This is about being an artist. And it’s about, how does an artist make their art and not sell themselves out? And here’s a guy that threaded the needle and managed to do all that.
I like to think I’m not too much of a fan-boy, that we’ve got some critical aspects in there that some people might have said, “Oh! Why did you put that in there?” But we try to tell a very truthful, honest story, and to show success…and what is not success. And a lot of that is, Doug Sahm did not define success with dollar figures, and that’s the best thing I can say about him.
The ‘Sir Doug’ Production Team
SKP: Bingo. Now, you mentioned your collaborators. You didn’t do this by yourself.
SKP: Give us a quick recap of what sparked the film and how you got your collaborators involved. Louis Black and a couple of other people.
JNP: Well, I got lucky and found someone that was a Doug-head in Austin in the mid-’70s, who’s gone on in life to make a pretty good income. And he urged me to do something. He gave me the seed money to do a little sizzle reel.
And at that point, when the sizzle looked like five minutes, “Yeah, we can put a film together,” I engaged Arts + Labor production company in Austin. I’ve been a talking head in several of their documentaries. And it’s almost a film incubator. It’s a business, but they draw from a bunch of young people.
So I threw down with them, and producer Don Johnson and Jason Welling who works at Arts + Labor was invaluable with his production and direction advice, and two really incredible editors. In digital, this is where everything happens – in the editing.
Then Cody Ground and Patrick Higgins stayed up many nights and saw the sun rise many days, many mornings where I was at home in bed sleeping. They did the hard lifting and the heavy work.
And as we’re putting it together, I got on my advisory committee Bill Bentley from Los Angeles, who’s been in the record business since he left Austin in the mid-’70s.
And I got Louis Black on the advisory board from SXSW and the Austin Chronicle. I don’t know any more of a film person in Austin. He has been a mentor to Richard Rodriguez, Mike Judge, people like that. And he was a great mentor to me. Showed me how the film business works, and he’s been valuable, as an adviser, basically, to get us with Submarine Pictures, who repped “Searching for Sugar Man” and “Muscle Shoals.”
Because everybody thinks this can be taken theatrically, so right now, we’re in a Kickstarter campaign to raise $75,000 to pay for music licensing. If we can pay for licensing – over 40 songs are in this film – then we can show this film wide.
“And the ulterior motive is to get Doug Sahm in the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame.” — Joe Nick Patoski
And all the info for this Kickstarter and the link to go sign the petition to get Doug in the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame, whether you back this film or not, it’s all right here.
(Searching) “Sir Doug film Kickstarter” will also get you to where you need to go.
But we’re doing a big benefit and fundraiser in Austin at the Broken Spoke (July 29, 2015) the night before the L.A. screening (July 30, 2015), and we think we’re going to meet this goal, and not only get to show this film all around the world, which is my goal, but it would be really great to get Doug in the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame, because he’s the real deal, and the Hall of Fame could actually use some legitimate people in there.
SKP: Yeah, I would definitely agree. I think some of the people you mentioned are already in and they wouldn’t necessarily be there without having had a Doug Sahm connection.
JNP: Well, the connections are far and wide. I really wanted to do a Pete Frame family tree to show how wide and broad – he was friends with Paul Stanley of Kiss. And put that together with (being) the guy that introduced Austin to the psychedelic accordion player Esteban Jordan. What did they have to do with each other? It’s nutty!
And what was his band, the Texas Mavericks, when they were all wearing wrestling masks – what does that have to do with The Texas Tornados? Well, a lot and a lot not. But he was a goofball.
That’s the other thing, is to watch him as a person. Moving a mile a minute. And you’re right, today he would have been diagnosed A.D.D. or A.D.H.D., and they would probably have tried to put him on some kind of drugs.
Sahm an ‘Early Adopter of Weed’
Well, you need to understand that he was an early adopter of weed. This is very important. He was smoking weed in the ’50s.
He was turned on by J.R. Chatwell of Adolph Hofner’s band. He used to buy it in Loredo and then in San Antonio. And then as a teenager he played with Spot Barnett, this rhythm & blues guy, who slung dope – he had a trap door beneath the bandstand where he kept his weed.
So when the ’60s hit, and everybody was getting into marijuana, Doug’s an old soul. And we got Jann Wenner talking about – he would show up at Rolling Stone with a briefcase – Jann described it as a magic briefcase. And he’d open it up. And as he said, it wasn’t just weed, it was like files – all these different kinds of weed. We hadn’t seen that.
So he introduced a lot of people to weed. Jann Wenner thinks he should be called the patron saint of marijuana because he was such an early adopter.
But weed got him through that A.D.H.D. or whatever it was, his speediness. And of course you didn’t want to be in the circle when the joint was passed around because he might hold on to it and pass it to you, but he’d never let go. And usually he’d bogart and it was usually, “Well, Doug, hey, come on, pass it around!” “No, man, I need it. I’m going back on stage. I need it so y’all can get off when I get out and play.”
And it’s really true. But I remember the early ’70s. Weed started showing up, and most weed in Austin was what I’d call San Antonio street brick, not high quality. And Doug was always the guy that had the stuff that would make you forget what you were going to ask.
SKP: He had connections deep in the heart of Mexico, probably?
JNP: Now, look, in the 1980s – well, actually starting in the late ’70s, for about 10 years, he would go every October to Springfield, Missouri. He had a guy who played with him on the Soap Creek softball team who was a grower, and that was a very early-adopting area in the United States.
I’m told a lot of Vietnam vets came back in Springfield, the Ozarks. The product they created there was what Joe Bob Briggs, the drive-in film critic, called “Arkansas polio weed.”
And Doug would go up to Springfield for a month just hanging out and playing. And I talked to (Michael) Supe Granda of The Ozark Mountain Daredevils.
He said, “Yeah, Doug would call, and he said, let’s put a band together,” when Supe was living in Springfield.
“When are you going to be here, Doug?”
So they’d put together a band and he said, “We loved playing with Doug, even though he stole all our girlfriends. He was just so much fun to be around.”
The Ozark Mountain Daredevils – this is something I didn’t know about. He had a lot of connections in a lot of places, that’s all I can say.
Sahm’s Final Road Trip; Musical Legacy
And he was the consummate traveler. Everybody in the band talks about (how) he was a great tour guide, liked showing people where they were.
He made the most out of traveling, and even when he didn’t have to travel or tour, he liked taking off. He either drove a Lincoln or a Cadillac, he had big rides. But he just liked taking off and going on road trips.
And in fact his very last road trip was to Taos, N. M., where he died in a motel room in his sleep. (He’d) been complaining about numbness in his extremities. And he had cardiac arrest and died in his sleep.
SKP: Wow. Well, at least he was doing what he wanted to do.
JNP: He died at the age of 58. Too young for me, but…he died pretty much at the peak. He did not die a cranky old man. He was making a new record. And he had just produced a new record. So he was going full bore.
SKP: He wasn’t done yet, he just ran out of time.
JNP: That’s just it, and it’s sad that he did, but the legacy continues. The Tornados are out there touring. (His son) Shawn Sahm leads the band. There are a lot of acolytes and disciples out there. I mean, around here, off the top of my head, my old charge Joe King Carrasco is definitely doing that. Shinyribs, Kevin Russel is a chip off the old block. You can’t hear Jeff Tweedy without thinking of Doug Sahm.
And I love the fact that Raul Malo is closing The Mavericks’ show and included Doug Sahm on their latest album, “Nitty Gritty.” And I love it when he does it on the album, or even does it live, when they play “Nitty Gritty,” and it comes time for the organ break, Raul yells out, “Augie!”
Because Augie’s part of this story, too, and it’s pretty mind-blowing. Augie is as much in this story as Doug is, in the way that we tell it. And it’s really about two brothers who came out of San Antonio from very different worlds and how they play and spend their life in music together.
Music Licensing Funding Gap; Film Festival Circuit Hit
JNP: Yes, but we are limited. All we can do is show it at festivals. There’s a festival, right? And that’s why we’re raising the $75,000, because Submarine (Pictures) thinks we can get this in theaters, but we’ve got to take care of our budget first. If we can raise $75,000, then we can show it anywhere.
SKP: Who owns the music?
JNP: Warner-Chappel owns a big chunk of it. There’s a lot of different publishers out there, and not all of it is necessarily Doug’s composition. I think our initial price that we were given was over $250,000, but we’ve knocked them down to a buddy discount of $75,000. It sure seems a lot to me, but I have to deal with what we’re doing.
SKP: Music licensing is probably the most expensive part of post-production.
JNP: I wish you would have told me that when I started.
It’s funny how it’s developed, and look, after SXSW, I had no expectations, I mean, we didn’t know.
But I’m going to be in Missoula, Montana on the 19th of July as part of the Big Sky film festival, it has a summer series. We’ve been accepted at the Santa Fe independent film festival in October, and we’ve just been accepted into Edit, which is the music documentary festival held in Barcelona, Spain, in November. And I’m sure hoping I can weasel my way over there and get to show up as the director.
It’s fun talking about it now, because the dirty work’s over with. And I get to go watch the film — I’m still not bored with watching it — and then I get to answer questions at the end, I mean, this is, like, not heavy lifting at all, this is easier than a book signing.
SKP: Yeah, which brings us to the Cinefamily gig in L.A. You’ve got the big Broken Spoke benefit in Austin on Wednesday night, the 29th of July, and then you’re going to somehow get out here and be recovered enough from that to attend the L.A. premiere and do a Q&A there, right?
JNP: My flight better not be late, that’s all I can say. Yeah, I’m cutting it pretty short, but I’m not going to stay all night for the Broken Spoke gig. It’s a good deal, because (the lineup features) Augie and Sean/Shawn and Ray Benson and Bruce Robison and Jack Ingram, Kimmie Rhodes – they’re coming out of the woodwork for this one, it looks like a lot of fun.
Doug was a regular at the Broken Spoke. I mean, this is what I love. Doug can hang around in a blues club or a honky-tonk and get along with the owners and everybody, because he could talk the language. He would jump borders, that’s what it is more than anything. He could jump boundaries. He didn’t let anything get in his way. And that’s what I love about him to this day.
The music intrigues me and does not bore me and I can continually delve into the Doug Sahm catalog. Of course, over 50 albums and God knows how many singles have been recorded, but he ain’t boring, and that’s for sure.
And (if) I’m bored with Doug’s San Francisco period. I’ll go into his Canadian period, or his Tex-Mex period and I can wallow in that. But I love all the Dougs that I’ve discovered.
Wrap: Preview of Patoski’s ‘Texas Music Hour of Power’
SKP: At some point, I also want to talk with you about your radio show, “The Texas Music Hour of Power” (on NPR affiliate Marfa Public Radio in the tiny but very hip West Texas town of Marfa, Saturdays from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Central). You have so much fun with that, and the music is so great. My wife and I sit here on the West Coast and listen to it online and just have a great afternoon.
JNP: You make me very happy saying that, because it’s cheap thrills and fun, again, for all the wrong reasons, but I dig it. It’s my outlet, and I like playing with it.
SKP: It’s your bridge club, you know?
JNP: Absolutely. Well, I’ve got to go talk to these advertisers, but this was fun. Thank you, and “Sir Doug and the Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove” – that’s all you need to know.
Visit the “Sir Doug and the Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove” Facebook page and Kickstarter campaign page.
Click HERE to sign the petition to induct Sahm in the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame.
Doug Sahm Timeline – Austin Chronicle
Doug Sahm Discography – Killian Mathis
Visit Joe Nick Patoski’s website.
Special thanks to Marcus Rigsby for the transcription.
Grammy-nominee and Santa Clarita journalist Stephen K. Peeples is an entertainment reporter for Santa Clarita television station SCVTV and its website at SCVNews.com, and for Santa Clarita radio station KHTS AM 1220 and its website at HometownStation.com. He hosted and co-produced SCVTV’s WAVE-nominated “House Blend” music and interview program for five seasons, 2010-2015, creating 69 shows spotlighting local artists performing their original material. He is also an award-winning international radio producer and newspaper online editor, and a website project manager and content editor. He blogs at his personal site, https://stephenkpeeples.com.