Frank Gutch Jr: Doug Sahm & The Search For The Perfect Taco… Plus Notes

‘At freaking Doug Sahm.  I thought I knew him, and I do know his music, but he was a lot more complicated than I’d ever heard.  Hell of a musician.  The epitome of crazy as hell.  Hellbent on glory.  And yet shied back from it whenever it showed itself.  If his life had been all stage, I think he would have been happier, but those times in between shows and rehearsals wore him down.  There are only so many shows in any one of us and Sahm had more than most.  A lot more.

I think I learned more about him watching the documentary Sir Doug and the Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove than I could have learned outside of following him since the sixties and the explosion of Texas music (and The Sir Douglas Quintet) all over the US of A.  There is a lot to learn and watching the film a few more times will more than likely fill in some holes, but man!  What a life!

But first, as aside.  I know the music, all right, but it took me a few decades to piece together the stories.  For instance, I was interviewing a few musicians for a Pop Culture Press zine issue celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love and the last person I expected to be mentioned was Doug Sahm, but there he was, a crucial piece in the development of, and I find this fascinating, Mother Earth!  I know!  Blew me away too.  Here I am, interviewing Tracy Nelson (the lead singer of Mother Earth) and we get to a point at which she seemed hesitant.  How the band got together.  Here’s what she told me.

PCP: Where were you from originally?

Tracy: Wisconsin.

PCP: Why did I think Texas?

Tracy: Because everybody else in the band was from Texas. Our manager and every single one of our musicians were from Texas. Except me.

PCP: You ran into them…

Tracy: In San Francisco.

PCP: What were you doing in San Francisco?

Tracy: I went out there to try to make a career, playing music.

PCP: How old were you?

Tracy: About 21.

PCP: So you were an old person there at the time. Seems to me that in the documentaries I have seen, most of the kids there were in their teens.

Tracy: Exactly. I went to college for two years, stayed another year in Madison and when it became clear to me that I wanted to play music, I went out there because I thought it was the practical thing to do. Which it was. It made getting into the business a lot easier because everybody was looking there at the time.

PCP: How did you meet the guys?

Tracy: I can tell this story with impunity now that Doug (Sahm) is gone, God bless him. He had asked me to not tell this story (laughs) and you will understand why when I tell you.

Travis Rivers was our manager from the beginning and all the way through to the end of the band. He was from Texas. I had met Ira Kamin through (I think) Steve Miller. Ira was the only member of the band who wasn’t from Texas— he was from Chicago. He and Powell St. John, who was also from Texas, and I had gotten together and were just throwing things around. You know, we liked the same kind of music. We were looking for a rhythm section. Ira played organ, Powell played mouth harp and I didn’t play anything outside of a little piano. Travis came up to us one day— Travis was managing the two of them at this point— I’m sorry. This is a little convoluted, but it gets linear at a point. Anyway, Travis came up to us and said, I found a perfect rhythm section. Our problem had been that we couldn’t find anybody who played blues or R&B. I mean, all of the musicians out there had just started playing, literally. Pigpen had gone from being a shoe salesman to playing piano. Everyone was just learning their craft and no one was particularly interested in playing R&B, nor did they have any history in that. But Travis said it was a really good funky R&B section from Texas and I said, great. Where’d you find them? And he said, well, it’s Doug Sahm‘s band. Doug, after Sir Douglas had done what it was going to do, had put together a band called, I think, The Funky Blues Band or something to that effect. It was an R&B band and he had brought them up to San Francisco for the same reason we were all there, which was to get discovered. I said, we can’t just take somebody else’s rhythm section. Isn’t Doug going to be pissed off? And Travis said, fuck ‘im. He just ran off with my wife. (laughs) We definitely got the better end of that deal.

PCP: So, you go to the guys and say we’d like to try it out and they say fine, or…

Tracy: See, Doug had just kind of split and left them hanging, really. They were all sitting there with nothing to do and we got together and went from there.

I had to laugh out loud during this exchange.  Sahm was already somewhat of a legend in my mind.  Remember.  No Internet back then.  Oh, the things we miss.

So when I started watching the film, I wasn’t surprised to watch a collage of various stages of Sahm’s bands work their ways through She’s About a Mover but I was surprised at how magical it was.  The song filmed at a variety of times at a variety of venues with a variety of players but all in the same key!!!  It wasn’t just the song— there were a few short inserts of musicians and music people making comments— but it was the song which threaded it all together,  At one time I would have said it was what you expect out of Hollywood but Hollywood is not what it once was.

A vocal line superimposed over that thread— “Doug was never satisfied with one thing.  If this record was on Venus, the next one would be on Mars.”  Hearing that was a sledgehammer to the forehead.  Exactly, I thought.  Exactly!  Throughout Sahm’s career I had thought that.  If he would only put together one cohesive album— one which flowed beginning to end— not for the person immersed in music but for the people who needed that cohesion.  Jesus Christ, Sahm was so far beyond most musicians at the time that it was hard for them to follow let alone the listener who bought album after album and was disappointed because every song was not an AM hit.  Even Mendocino, Sahm’s biggest album, had its detractors, some reviewers specific about album continuity.  But the dude just simply couldn’t stop!  I mean, he had a whole universe in front of him.

It was Country when he first started (his first instrument was a pedal steel, I believe) but as he became proficient on certain instruments and as he found more and more musicians he loved playing with, he became obsessed.  The better he got and the more time he spent working with some of whom would be recognized as some of the best musicians anywhere, the happier he was.  Maybe that was the cosmic, you know?  The unknown.  The future.

The future would find Sahm and his cohorts exploring all kinds of musical styles— blues, conjunto, rock, swing and more.  One might have thought that a musician as excited about experimentation would have traveled the world because he could have played with just about anybody, and he did to a certain degree, but he was always brought back to Texas and the compadres he had grown up with— members of the Quintet, Augie Meyers, Flaco Jiminez, Freddy Fender and others.

Chet Flippo, a supporter of Texas music, would occasionally write about Sahm.  Sahm was a huge part of Flippo’s Texas Rock & Roll Spectacular piece he wrote for Phonograph Record Magazine back in ’74.  Just for fun, let me share a paragraph from that article.

“Owing to the peculiarities of the Texas character,” he wrote, “the psychedelic era in the Lone Star State was as bizarre as possible. Texas hippies worked hard to be what was expected of them. Long hair and peyote and marijuana had been common with the folkies since 1960 and these folkies became hippies without realizing it. As a result, the psychie era actually started about two or five years before it really did. And it continues to this day. The most, ah, interesting musician in Texas today is a short one-eyed Mexican named Esteban “Steve” Jordan, who plays— get this— psychedelic accordion. Inspired by Jimi Hendrix, Jordan records for an outfit named Falcon and was discovered by— who else— Doug Sahm, who has an uncanny talent for disappearing into San Antonio’s Mexican barrios or the wilds of the Rio Grande Valley and reappearing with a Rocky Morales, Flaco Jiminez, or Freddy Fender. ‘Jordan,’ says Sahm, ‘is really far out. Freddy, now— Freddy’s done time in Angola and he’s a far-out cat but Steve is the only Mexican cat who’s done like 600 ac id trips. Those old-time Mexican conjunto cats in the Valley, man, they can’t figure him out. Steve could be the next Johnny Winter.  Dig it.’”

Needless to say, he wasn’t, but God bless Sahm for trying to help the guy out.  I mean, it says a lot about Doug Sahm as a person, right?

Vic Sahm, Doug’s brother, talked about the very young Doug Sahm… “Doug was just mesmerized by music… he was in a trance, just floating with it.  When these big-time musicians would play, he would hover around that steel guitar.  He was I another world.”

God, do I know that feeling, only for me it was The Wailers and The Sonics and Don & The Goodtimes.  It would have been Paul Revere & The Raiders too, but I never had the pleasure of soaking up the sound through those Fender Showman amps (when they switched to Vox, I was incredibly unnerved).

Is it no wonder that Sahm was eccentric?  He had music in his soul, you know?  It just would not let go.

But as good as he was with music, he was as bad at business.  One person said “Financially, he was a disaster.  (And) I think he realized that needed the Augie sound to have a hit.  Because the Augie organ is what people remember about the early Sir Douglas Quintet hits.”  I accept that except I always thought the sound was co-owned by Meyers and Sahm.  It is hard to separate them.  Watch the documentary and you will understand.

You would have to be brain dead to not understand after watching the film.  Son Shawn, who took Doug’s place in the Texas Tornadoes when Doug died, understands.  He understands the whole aura of the genuine Texas cosmic groove.  “My dad’s whole life revolved around what he called the groove,” he says in the film.  “The groove is a million things but it’s basically the things that make Doug happy.”

Now let’s address the film itself.  After having watched what seems like thousands of hours of film directly relating to music, I consider myself somewhat of an expert (nee, fan) on the subject and I can say that Sir Doug & The Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove is at the top of the list.  Director Joe Nick Patoski and his crew packed in so much information and music and did it in such a way as to not spill a drop.  This film deserves a Grammy just for editing.  Had I seen it in a theater (and I would go in a second if it ever comes within a car’s drive) I would have wondered why the lights went on so soon.  One hour and twenty-two minutes seemed like just a few moments and yet it seemed like just long enough.  And the content?  Put together so well that it is a pleasure watching it again and again (I am on my third viewing).

Joe Nick, in case you are interested, does a radio show on Saturdays featuring Texas music.  He calls it The Texas Music Hour of Power and involves a Facebook feed and the broadcast.  Part of Marfa Public Radio (www,marfapublicradio.org).  I stop by when the workload is not too great and have never been disappointed.

By the way, you can pick up a copy of the DVD on Amazon (click here) or, if you prefer, you can watch for free on Amazon Prime.  Wait.  I just tried to find the purchase page.  They won’t let me, for some odd reason.  Oh well.  Streaming can be had by clicking here.

Lots of things going on here, so I am going to cut this short.  Before I go, though, what say we look at a few more…

Notes…

The new year has not started out that great for some of us.  Case in point:  Chris Milam, one hard-working musician who somehow has hurt his hand.  Guitarists know the implications of that.  Milam is not stopping, though.  He has put out the word that he is available to sing if others can supply the instrumentation.  I saw this guy play in Eugene.  He was fantastic.  I hate this.  I just plain hate it.  Here’s to a quick and foll recovery!

New video by one of the more impressive musicians I have discovered of late: Matt Hectorne.  When I reviewed the album, I was quite taken with his sense of song.  Check it out.  Album will be released on January 19th.

Heather Maloney is making a real run these days.  When you hear this song, you should understand why.  A most impressive EP, a video worth sharing.

Holy Mackerel!  If this is what William Matheny is all about, he’s going places!  Sometimes it is good to crawl out from under the rock I live under.  Man, Wesy Virginia is loaded with topnotch musicians— Tim Browning, Jeffrey Mangus, Mark Bayes (who also plays under the name Mark Cline Bates), Jeff Ellis…  What I really should do is put together a column of just WVA artists so you can see how deep that State is when it comes to music.  Right now, though, take a listen to Matheny.  I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

 

There is a lot of talk about Anderson East recently and after hearing a few tunes and watching this video,I can certainly understand why.

I just don’t understand why a musician like Dave Rawlings can put out a song and video this damn good and not have it go viral.  This guy impresses the hell out of me.

Have I talked about Amilia K. Spicer before?  I know I posted a review of her album on No Depression not too long ago, but am not sure if I posted this video in my Notes section.  No matter.  It deserves a double post at least.

There is this person (who shall remain nameless) who has been hammering me about Rod Melancon for a couple of years ago.  Well, Kim, I think I am beginning to get it.

Who is Robert Randolph?  He’s the cat who can play this…  damn good band too.

I’m digging on Lilly Hiatt too.  Here is a live recording from August of last year.

=FGJ=

Frank’s column appears every Tuesday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

dbawis-button7Frank Gutch Jr. looks like Cary Grant, writes like Hemingway and smells like Pepe Le Pew. He has been thrown out of more hotels than Keith Moon, is only slightly less pompous than Garth Brooks and at Frank bottle capone time got laid at least once a year (one year in a row). He has written for various publications, all of which have threatened to sue if mentioned in any of his columns, and takes pride in the fact that he has never been quoted. Read at your own peril.”

One Response to “Frank Gutch Jr: Doug Sahm & The Search For The Perfect Taco… Plus Notes”

  1. Peter Montreuil Says:

    Boy, that was a trip down memory lane! Excellent.

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