The Ballad of Robert Ealey and His Five Careless Lovers: An Oral History

 

This is the story of the band who wised me up to what music is really all about – Robert Ealey and His Five Careless Lovers of Fort Worth, Texas.

This 50 page oral history began in January 2020 with a long conversation with Sumter Bruton III and continued with interviews with Mike Buck, Jackie Newhouse and Freddie Cisneros. Their origin stories together answered many questions I’ve had for almost a half century. That which wasn’t answered retreated behind the veil of mojo and mystery, as tends to happen when you’re dealing with honest blues.

Nancy McMillen Design made all the words look real nice.

The book retails for $20 exclusively at Record Town in Fort Worth and Antone’s Records in Austin.

You can also get a copy by sending a check for $25 (inculding postage) to 706 Deer Run, Wimberley, TX 78676

Contact  joenickp@gmail.com if you want to use a credit card.  And if you’d like the book inscribed, just say so.

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Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel Turn 50 in Texas Highways

https://texashighways.com/culture/art-music/ray-benson-reflects-50-years-seminal-western-swing-band-asleep-at-the-wheel/

A story I wrote for Texas Highways magazine

Ray Benson poses with a guitar near his home outside of Austin Texas

Rolling with the wheel

Western swing disciples Asleep at the Wheel mark 50 years and countless miles of Texas

By Joe Nick Patoski

Ray Benson at his home in Austin earlier this year. Photo by Jeff Wilson

One afternoon this March, the visage of Ray Benson, founder and leader of the band Asleep at the Wheel, flickered before my eyes. Well, on my computer screen, actually, courtesy of FaceTime. It had been a rough two weeks. Plans for a 50th anniversary Asleep at the Wheel reunion show and recording session in the band’s hometown of Austin had been done in by the coronavirus. Without his trademark cowboy hat, Benson looked downright deflated.

He said as much. It wasn’t the thwarted album or the cancellation of his annual birthday party show in March. It was the stage being ripped from his soul. “I haven’t gone this long without playing in front of an audience since I was 18,” Benson moaned.

As it turned out, Benson had plenty reason to be bummed. A few days after our conversation, he was in the news, having tested positive for COVID-19. Thankfully, the 69-year-old recuperated, and a few weeks later, we talked again.

“Well, I’ve got time!” a revitalized Benson boomed through the computer screen. He’d just wrapped up an online board meeting of the nonprofit Texas Cultural Trust, but it wasn’t like he had a gig to rush off to.

In a weird way, it was telling that Benson was among the first high-profile Texans diagnosed with COVID-19. His familiar baritone sounds like Texas—just like the Western swing band he’s led for 50 years sounds like Texas.

If there’s a dance hall in the Lone Star State with a stage and a dance floor that’ll hold enough folks, Asleep at the Wheel has played it. With fiddles and steel, the Wheel has articulated an ensemble sound that links Western swing—the made-in-Texas original sound popularized by Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys in the 1930s and ’40s—with modern Western sounds.

“Asleep at the Wheel have kept Western swing vital and relevant to country music and gave it a worldwide audience,” said Rich Kienzle, a country music historian.

Asleep at the Wheel’s been playing so well for so long, it’s actually eclipsed Wills’ band in longevity. Along the way, Benson and his crew have graced thousands of stages, released more than 25 albums, won 10 Grammy Awards, and counted nearly 100 musicians among its membership.

“I wanted more Broken Spokes, more ‘Cotton Eye Joes,’ more Western swing music,” Benson said, looking back across a half-century of nurturing Western swing’s flame. “Guess what? It happened. There are a number of Western swing bands around the country now.”

Pretty good for an idea hatched by two boys from the suburbs of Philadelphia.

Ray Benson's arm over a guitar with an "Asleep at the Wheel" tattoo visible

A vintage photo of Benson sporting a band tattoo. Photo courtesy Ray Benson.
A vintage photograph of Ray Benson and his sister Sandy Katz slouching in a chair

Benson and sister Sandy Katz as children in about 1955. Photo courtesy Ray Benson.
A black and white picture of Ray Benson playing guitar in 2009

If there’s a dance hall in the Lone Star State with a stage and a dance floor that‘ll hold enough folks, Asleep at the Wheel has played it.

Benson in 2009. Photo by Lisa Pollard.

The story begins in the 1950s, when Ray Benson Seifert and Reuben Gosfield (who later adopted the showbiz names Ray Benson and Lucky Oceans) started running together at age 3, going to the same schools and summer camp, buying records, seeing shows, and playing in bands. A Gene Autry show in Philadelphia was a transformative moment for both of them. Oceans’ eyes popped when he saw Autry ride his horse onto the theater stage. After getting deep into Hank Williams, in 1969, Benson made a proposal: “We’re going to be the first hippies to have a real country-western band.”

Leroy Preston met Benson and Oceans in Boston in 1969. He was a Vermont farm kid with a guitar, raised on country music and rock ‘n’ roll. The three decided to start a band, and in the spring of 1970, they took a break from college and moved to a friend’s farm near Paw Paw, West Virginia. Joining them was Danny Levin, a pianist and fiddler from Boston. For months it was “funky cabin living, bonding, and building the musical base for the band,” Preston said.

“We were broke,” Benson recalled. “Lucky’s folks, in their wisdom, gave us a 100-pound sack of flour, a 100-pound sack of oats, and a tub of peanut butter, and said, ‘Don’t starve.’ Friends of ours brought us deer meat. We were very serious that the band was our job.”

One night at a nearby club, Ernest Tubb and His Texas Troubadours left an impression. “They were blowing jazz in the warm-up set, just smoking,” Preston said. “And then Ernest came out, and straight as tick-tock, they were on classic country. It was the aha moment for us: You can do both.”

Benson, Redd Volkaert, and Dale Watson play guitars under stage lights

Benson, Redd Volkaert, and Dale Watson at Benson’s 2004 birthday bash. Photo courtesy Ray Benson.
Benson, in a black cowboy hat, poses with country singer Carrie Underwood

Benson and Carrie Underwood at the Grammy Awards in 2007. Photo courtesy Ray Benson.

On Aug. 25, 1970, Asleep at the Wheel played their first gig, opening for Hot Tuna and Alice Cooper in Washington, D.C. The Wheel played country standards “Cocaine Blues” and “Truck Drivin’ Man”—as straight as a band could be with a long-haired, barefoot guitarist standing 6-foot-7. One young singer, Chris O’Connell, was so enthralled seeing the Wheel open for the country-rock outfit Poco at American University, she followed the band back to Paw Paw and became its female vocalist.

“All of a sudden we had a big band that was really good,” Benson said.

The band took off for East Oakland, California, in 1971 and immediately gained a following, sharing a manager and club dates with Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen and bills with the Doobie Brothers, Tower of Power, and Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks. Soon, a young jazz-trained pianist from Berkeley hired on after a one-song audition. He then changed his name from Jim Haber to Floyd Domino.

Ray Benson and Willie Nelson laugh inside of a tour bus

Benson and Willie Nelson on Nelson’s bus in 2009. Photo courtesy Ray Benson.

With an opportunity to back up mainstream country acts, the hippie country outfit got serious, cutting their hair and donning Western suits to play with the likes of Stoney Edwards, a Black honky-tonk singer on Capitol Records. Around that time, the band went to Nashville to record its first album. “We wanted to be a country band,” Preston said. “We didn’t want to be lumped with New Riders of the Purple Sage or the Flying Burrito Brothers.”

Their first album, Comin’ Right at Ya, was produced by Tommy Allsup, the Texan who had played in Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys and as one of Buddy Holly’s Crickets. Allsup brought in fiddler Johnny Gimble, another Playboys alumnus. The Wheel’s version of “Take Me Back to Tulsa” became the star of their reinvention of Western swing and got the band touring in Texas.

“The audience in Texas knew our music as roots rather than fad,” Preston said.

Up until then, Wills’ music had been only a small part of the band’s repertoire. But the Wheel added twin fiddlers in California, and in 1973, Benson and the band saw Wills at a Dallas studio during the recording of the Texas Playboys’ album For the Last Time. A formal introduction planned for the next day didn’t happen; Wills had a stroke that night and never recovered.

The Wheel played venues like the Farmer’s Daughter in San Antonio; the Western Place in Dallas, where Willie Nelson showed up to introduce himself and jam with the band on stage; and the Armadillo World Headquarters in Austin, where they opened for Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen. “It was like, ‘Holy moly, this is heaven!’” Benson said of the crowd’s untethered enthusiasm.

The band moved to Austin in February 1973 at the urging of Nelson and Doug Sahm. It was an exciting time, when longhairs in cowboy hats were suddenly a thing. Most of the musicians on the Austin club scene—legends like Steve Fromholz, Jerry Jeff Walker, and Willis Alan Ramsey—played rock, folk, or what was known around town as “progressive country.” The Wheel fit right in. “We were regressive country,” Benson laughed.

Nelson liked the band so much he had the Wheel open shows all over Texas. They were an ensemble of smart players with chops. O’Connell was a featured vocalist, along with Benson and Preston. Domino was the featured boogie-woogie instrumentalist. Upright bassist Tony Garnier and Domino would hold up fingers to represent which classic rhythm section they wanted to emulate during a particular instrumental break. Benson developed a crisp swing-guitar style on his big-bodied Epiphone, which melded seamlessly with fiddles and Oceans’ steel guitar.

Ray Benson and Jason Roberts perform under stage lights

Benson and Jason Roberts in 2007. Photo courtesy Ray Benson.
Ray Benson shakes hands with Porter Wagoner

Benson and Porter Wagoner in 2007. Photo courtesy Ray Benson.

Benson was the focus. He did most of the talking and worked on taking care of business and building relationships offstage.

In 1975, “The Letter That Johnny Walker Read,” a Benson-O’Connell duet in the tradition of Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton, reached No. 10 on the country singles chart and kept the Wheel on the road, playing 200 shows a year.

But by the early 1980s, as far as Nashville was concerned, Asleep at the Wheel was a band whose moment had passed. The band had won a Grammy, had a hit record with Texas Gold, and recorded five albums, but now members were having kids and buying houses. “At that point, I would have done anything else, but nobody offered me a job, and the band still had fans,” Benson said. “They’d say, ‘Don’t quit. There’s nobody else doing this.’”

Benson’s persistence paid off with another string of country hits in the late ’80s—“House of Blue Lights,” “Boogie Back to Texas,” and “Way Down Texas Way.” The 1990s were full-on Bob, as Asleep at the Wheel recorded two Wills tribute albums. In 2009, Benson’s career-long friendship with Nelson was cemented with the album Willie and the Wheel. That same year the band was hired to tour behind Ray Price, Merle Haggard, and Nelson on their Last of the Breed tour.

10 essential Asleep At The Wheel songs

Over the course of its run, Asleep at the Wheel has earned the reputation as a road musician’s finishing school. If you can play with the Wheel, you can play with the best live bands out there. The band’s alumni list is getting close to 100 names long and counts well-known musicians including Jason Roberts, the fiddler who now heads the modern Texas Playboys; and Cindy Cashdollar, a renowned steel guitar and dobro player.

Turnover is routine for any large ensemble, and Benson never hesitated to demand the best of new members. Practically all living veterans from early iterations of the band made the 40th anniversary reunion in 2010. And they’ve all committed to a 50th reunion show, whenever that’s feasible.

“When we get back together, there’s such a fondness for each other, such a love, that any resentment falls away,” O’Connell said. “It’s all about perseverance, and I have to give all the credit to Ray.”

As far as the old band goes, founding member Oceans moved in 1980 to Australia, where he’s a radio broadcaster and an international pedal-steel legend. Preston returned to Vermont after a stretch as a Nashville songwriter. O’Connell moved back to Northern California, where she still performs. Garnier has been Bob Dylan’s bassist for more than 30 years. Domino remains a fixture in Austin beer joints, solo and leading his All-Star’s Western swing band.

As for Asleep at the Wheel, the band plays about 130 shows a year across Texas, Canada, and Europe. With touring stymied by the pandemic, the band staged a virtual dance online in late July. Benson has mellowed to the point of leaving business details to his son, Sam Seifert, who oversees operations at Benson’s headquarters. Seifert’s job, he said, is for “Ray to be able to play music and play golf.”

The old man has earned it. He sits on the boards of the St. David’s Foundation and Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, and speaks to university business classes about life as a small business entrepreneur. He published a book in 2015—Comin’ Right at Ya: How a Jewish Yankee Hippie Went Country, or, the Often Outrageous History of Asleep at the Wheel—and recently donated his archive to the Wittliff Collections at Texas State University.

“Ray Benson has a ridiculous work ethic, and he has something in him that people love to watch,” said Dave Sanger, the Wheel’s drummer since 1986. The secret sauce, he said, is “one part great musicianship, one part accessible yet challenging music, one part freedom to improvise and excel, and five parts Ray Benson. My mom always tells me how much joy we bring to people. Maybe that’s it.”

A black and white picture of Asleep At The Wheel performing at Armadillo World Headquarters

Asleep at the Wheel at the Armadillo World Headquarters in Austin in 1980. Photo courtesy Ray Benson.
Ray Benson, in a cowboy hat and holding a guitar, poses just like a lookalike cake of him

Benson and a look-alike birthday cake in 2015. Photo courtesy Ray Benson.

Back on FaceTime, Ray Benson and I were talking about longevity when he brought up something the late singer-songwriter Steve Fromholz told him back in the 1970s: “It’s easier to get out of show business than it is to get back in.”

Ray has always been all in.

“You’re going to perform until nobody wants to come see you,” he said.

The Wheel keeps rolling, with Nelson and Tubb as its GPS. “With them, it’s the same thing: It’s all about getting on stage and doing it.”

“I have a theory,” Benson added, his voice buffering along with his image on the computer screen. “When the technology came where you and I can do what we’re doing now, and music legends are being recreated as holograms, people will pay a premium to see a band live on stage. There’s this thing that happens between people. It’s hard to explain, but when people are in the same room with other people, something happens. It’s not like staring at an avatar.”

When we can do that again, my money’s on people taking the dance floor and Asleep at the Wheel taking the stage

50 Years

of Sleeping

at the

Wheel

1970

Aug. 25, Asleep at the Wheel plays its first gig as the unannounced opener on the Medicine Ball Caravan, the “Woodstock on wheels” headlined by Alice Cooper and Hot Tuna at L’Enfant Plaza in Washington, D.C. Wavy Gravy of the Hog Farm commune gets them the job.

1969

Benson and Oceans, students at Antioch colleges in Ohio and Maryland, respectively, meet Leroy Preston in Boston at the house Leroy shares with Ray’s sister. They all move to a cabin in the woods to start a band, joined by Danny Levin.

1954

1972

1971

Reuben Gosfield and Ray Seifert (the future Lucky Oceans and Ray Benson) meet as children in a Philadelphia suburb.

Asleep at the Wheel records its first album, Comin’ Right at Ya, in Nashville with Tommy Allsup producing and guest fiddler Johnny Gimble opening the door to the world of Bob Wills.

Asleep at the Wheel relocates to East

Oakland, California.

1978

After being nominated for Grammy Awards the previous three years, Asleep at the Wheel wins its first award for “One O’Clock Jump” (Best Country Instrumental Performance).

1987

The Wheel records its first music video for “Way Down Texas Way.”

1973

The band tours Texas

and moves to Austin.

2020

2009

1975

Asleep at the Wheel marks its 50th anniversary. A reunion show and new album with the original band are delayed by the coronavirus until fall 2021.

The Wheel and Willie

Nelson release Willie

and the Wheel, which

is nominated for a

Grammy Award.

“The Letter That

Johnny Walker Read” hits No. 10 on Billboard’s country chart.

Photos courtesy Ray Benson

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This might be the prettiest body of water in Texas – from Texas Highways magazine

https://texashighways.com/things-to-do/on-the-water/rivers/shhh-this-just-might-be-the-prettiest-body-of-water-in-texas/

Ranch Road 337 offers great views in the Hill Country

Ranch Road 337 leads to Camp Wood

View of the Nueces Canyon

Sweeping vistas of Nueces Canyon abound along RR 337

A young woman looks down into a swimming hole on the Nueces River

A swimming hole south of Camp Wood off Riverview Road.

Last summer, I drove into the Nueces Canyon
from Leakey on Ranch Road 337,

one of the storied Twisted Sisters drives favored by weekend motorcyclists. I was looking for what I suspected was one of the most pristine bodies of water in Texas, a Hill Country river hardly anyone ever talks about.

A map showing the roads and towns around the Nueces River in Texas

Illustration: Alan Kikuchi

I arrived in Camp Wood, population 736, a century-old town originally known as a hub for raising sheep and goats. Most of the storefronts along State Highway 55—the main drag dually known as Nueces Street—were occupied, but this did not feel like the Hill Country most tourists experience. None of the businesses were gussied up, and there wasn’t a winery or distillery for miles. The newest structure was a Family Dollar. The shuttered two-story hotel, the faded sign identifying the mohair business, the empty Lindbergh Park, and the mysterious point of interest with seven flagpoles on SH 55 just north of town serve as testaments to events that transpired here on the western edge of the Hill Country over the past 250 years or so.

These spots exist expressly because of the Nueces River and its adjoining creeks, springs, and tributaries. The river is why people settled in the remote Nueces Canyon and why they remain. It’s also why a growing number of intrepid travelers are passing on popular Hill Country destinations to play in Camp Wood, as well as Barksdale, Montell, and points in between.

I’m a spring-fed freshwater swimming nut. Rivers and creeks are my thing, as long as they’re unspoiled, untamed, and unchlorinated—the clearer, the better. The sweetest water I’ve ever seen was on a ranch near the headwaters of the West Fork of the Nueces, out in the middle of nowhere. The water, fresh and infused with ozone, even smelled amazing, like a crashing wave at the beach, minus the salt. I wanted to know if the main channel of the Nueces River, about 20 miles south of its headwaters, was as clear, clean, and dreamy to swim in as the neighboring Frio and Devils rivers.

My guide was Jim Holder, a chirpy, suspenders-wearing board member for the local volunteer group installing exhibits and signage for Mission San Lorenzo de La Santa Cruz, a public archeological site near the banks of the Nueces. Holder is a retired school teacher and businessman whose kinfolk go back to the 1880s around these parts. He attended elementary school here before moving away and returned as a retiree eight years ago. Holder enjoys life in Camp Wood.

Various people wade and swim into The Quince on the Nueces River

Chilling in The Quince

“The smaller the town, the more people want to visit,” he noted, as we headed north of town to Camp Wood Springs, aka Old Faithful Springs, a couple hundred yards from the river. “Until two years ago, this was the sole source of drinking water for the town,” Holder said of the gin-clear water in the small pond.

Holder guided me to Barksdale, four miles north of Camp Wood, to look at more springs. We took Ray McDonald Ranch Road off SH 55 past a low-water bridge and across a field of white rubble deposited by the October 2018 floods. The actual river was a thin channel maybe 20 feet wide in the rubble, wedged against a low limestone shelf. As the westernmost Hill Country river, constantly rechanneled by big floods that periodically tear through the basin, the Nueces’ riparian landscape is minimalist: white rocks of all sizes, with occasional stands of hackberry, sycamore, oak, and pecan. It reminded me of the Greek islands.

Holder told me this was one of his favorite places on the river to visit. We parked and I had a swim. The water was brisk for a Texas river in August and practically see-through with almost unlimited visibility. A few small bass and cichlids congregated around rare patches of vegetation.

If I lived here, I’d swim laps every day I could, I thought, as I chugged down and up the narrow channel. The water was that close to perfection. While I swam, Holder read Paul Horgan’s book Great River, about the Rio Grande. “I can spend two hours here every day, easy,” he said.

Compared to Hill Country rivers to the east, the Nueces is relatively unpeopled. The dearth of attractions beyond the water is no liability; it’s an asset.

The next stop was the former site of Mission San Lorenzo de La Santa Cruz, just north of the Camp Wood town limits on the west side of SH 55. Situated on a small ridge above the east bank of the Nueces River, the empty but overgrown grounds sandwiched between two rural residences would have been easy to miss if not for seven flagpoles by the highway. “Those are the six flags over Texas,” Holder said. “Plus, the Lipan Apache had their own flag.”

The water was brisk for a Texas river in August, and practically see-through with almost unlimited visibility. If I lived here, I’d swim laps every day I could, I thought, as I chugged down and up the narrow channel. The water was that close to perfection.

Jim Holder stands by the water of the Nueces

Jim Holder knows the ways of the Nueces

The outside of Two Fat Boys BBQ

Two Fat Boys BBQ on State Highway 55

Lush growth near Old Faithful Springs, which feeds the Nueces

Old Faithful Springs feeds the Nueces and nurtures riparian habitat

The site was originally excavated in 1962 by Curtis Tunnell and a Texas Memorial Museum field crew from the University of Texas at Austin. Over the past two summers, it has been reexamined by Tamra Walter of Texas Tech University along with the Texas Archeological Society, which had 300 volunteers camping near the location while doing excavation work. Interpretive signage will be installed, Holder
promised, as a manner of explaining the site’s deep connection to the river.

Young men jump off of a rock cliff into the water of Lake Nueces

Jumping from a cliff into Lake Nueces

Back in Camp Wood, we turned west and followed a dirt road maybe a half-mile to The Quince. This is the town’s sparkling swimming hole, hollowed from a bed of gravel by the sycamore-shaded banks of the Nueces and named for its 15-foot depth. Heading south on SH 55, we hit water crossings for the next 19 miles. On the dirt path of County Road 416 South, the southern extension of Wes Cooksey Park Road, Holder suddenly cautioned, “Slow down, slow down. STOP!”

The road abruptly ended. A 50-foot-long low-water bridge, built five years ago, had both ends washed out by the October 2018 deluge. The route was impassable. The washed-out bridge is now a choice slab for river swimming.

Nine miles south of Camp Wood, we stopped at a clearing on the east side of the highway with four historical markers, three of them faded and tilted. The markers identified the second Spanish mission in Nueces Canyon, Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria del Cañón. Unlike Mission San Lorenzo, Señora de la Candelaria completely disappeared as the adobe eroded into the terrain.
Holder turned around and pointed across the highway. “That’s Montell,” he said.

Back when I conjured my first “Top Ten Swimming Holes in Texas” list, for the June 1985 issue of Texas Monthly, I had one major omission. Liz Rogers, then a hard-charging attorney in El Paso, told me I should have written about her family place on a creek that fed the Nueces in her hometown of Montell. It was the best swimming hole anywhere, she contended. I couldn’t include Montell, I told her, since it was on private property. More than 40 years later, making my way downriver from swimming hole to swimming hole, I appreciated Rogers’ passion for the water.

The heart of the settlement of Montell is a stout, rectangular old stucco building identified as the Montell Country Club. Built as a one-room schoolhouse in the early 1920s, the building was converted into a community center after the school closed. “That country club is the reason I had no idea that country clubs usually connote wealth,” Rogers told me. “The canyon can be insular,” she allowed. “But it was a beautiful place to grow up. We were surrounded by people that pushed us and cared about us.”

Holder and I drove 9 miles south to Nineteen Mile Crossing, where Nueces Canyon flattens. We then looped back to Camp Wood and Leon Klink Street, just west of Nueces Street. Leon Klink Street was named for the pilot and airplane owner who flew with 22-year-old Charles Lindbergh when their Canuck biplane accidentally landed in a field north of Camp Wood in 1924.

“This was where the plane landed, crashed, and took off,” Holder explained while slow-cruising Leon Klink Street. He pointed out the vacant site of Warren Puett’s hardware store, which the biplane crashed into while attempting takeoff. Lindbergh and Klink were forced to stick around and wait for a propeller replacement and materials for wing repair. “That was the two-story Fitzgerald Hotel where Klink and Lindbergh stayed,” Holder said, pointing to a one-story, blue-green house behind a white picket fence. Three years after the Camp Wood ordeal, Lindbergh became the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.

The past in Nueces Canyon remains shrouded in a tangle of overgrowth and mystery. But I didn’t spend too much time wondering about it. There was more swimming to do.

People lounge in shallow areas along the Nueces River

Lounging in the shallows

A view of the hills upstream from the Camp Wood Hills low-water bridge

Upstream view from the Camp Wood Hills low-water bridge

The Nueces River winds and snakes through the hills

The river as it emerges out of the hills

A young women snorkels in the clear blue water of the Nueces River

Snorkeling in glassy water

The naming of rivers, along with mountains, valleys, and other natural landmarks, is often a perk reserved for their conquerors. That’s why you never hear about the Chotilapacquen, as the Nueces was known to the Coahuiltecan-speaking locals. They were defeated by the Spanish, whose name prevailed.

The Spanish explorer Alonso de León named it “Nueces” for the abundant pecan groves he observed along the river’s banks. Other Spanish explorers mapped the river upstream from Corpus Christi Bay across the Brush Country of South Texas to the westernmost canyon of the Hill Country and its headwaters, 2,400 feet above sea level and 315 miles away. Along the journey upstream, the river disappeared for stretches. Around present-day Uvalde, the water was startlingly clear and surprisingly abundant. Upstream, the river frequently vanished under piles of gravel and rocks, again and again, only to reappear a few hundred yards later.

The early Spanish explorers chose a location 30 miles downstream from the headwaters, just downstream from Camp Wood Springs, which provided a constant source of water. There, in January 1762, Mission San Lorenzo de la Santa Cruz was founded by a Spanish commander with the help of a Franciscan missionary. The mission aimed to spread Christianity while offering shelter and protection to the Lipan Apache, who were being harassed by Comanche and other hostile tribes. The establishment of the mission—at least 14 adobe and limestone structures—came four years after Mission Santa Cruz de San Sabá near present-day San Saba was destroyed by the Comanche. The Comanche were angered by the alliance the Lipan Apache, their enemy, made with the Spanish.

Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria del Cañón, a companion mission 10 miles south, was established two weeks after San Lorenzo. Within seven years, both were abandoned. Two smallpox epidemics, Comanche attacks, and the realization that the Lipan Apache weren’t interested in converting to Christianity prompted the retreat. The closings in Nueces Canyon marked the beginning of the end of the Spanish empire’s expansion into Texas from Mexico.

Following the end of the Texas Revolution, in 1836, Mexico regarded the Nueces River as the southern border of the breakaway territory. That is, until the United States and Mexico signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, formalizing the southern boundary as the Rio Grande. In 1857, the U.S. Army established Camp Wood, near the site of Mission San Lorenzo, as a deterrent to Native American raids. But the camp was abandoned at the start of the Civil War. The town of Camp Wood was eventually founded in 1921 as the railhead for logging cedar.

The past in Nueces Canyon remains shrouded in a tangle of overgrowth and mystery. But I didn’t spend too much time wondering about it. There was more swimming to do.

A person in a floppy sun hat looks out over the still water at Lake Nueces

Kayaking on Lake Nueces, south of Camp Wood.

I returned to Nueces Canyon a few weeks after visiting with Holder. I wanted to drive from the headwaters down toward Camp Wood, a dramatic drop of 1,000 feet in elevation. I came this time to meet the River Whisperer.

Sky Jones-Lewey, a chestnut-haired 60-something whose steely eyes portray a no-nonsense demeanor, lives on a ranch at the south end of Nueces Canyon. I call her the River Whisperer because she has spent most of her life learning about the Nueces River and all things riparian. She shares that knowledge as resource protection and education director for the Nueces River Authority. Her publication Your Remarkable Riparian: A Field Guide to Riparian Plants Within the Nueces River Basin of Texas is a bible of information about Texas river sedges, grasses, ferns, woody plants, and trees.

The Nueces is Jones-Lewey’s river. She took me to its edge, just downstream from the low-water crossing in the Camp Wood Hills subdivision west of Camp Wood. We parked in a cleared lot she said used to be a dumping ground—“trash, animals, everything”—but is becoming a county park. I was surprised to find such a great spot to take a swim, which I promptly did after she offered her mask and snorkel. As I immersed, I thought back to the detailed explanation of the Nueces’ immaculate state Jones-Lewey emailed me in advance of my trip.

“Nueces basin headwater streams (Nueces, Frio, Sabinal, etc.) are so incredibly clear because they are naturally carrying almost no nutrients, like nitrogen and phosphorus,” she wrote, “and so far, no nutrient-rich wastewater has been allowed to be added to any of them.” According to Jones-Lewey, the towns and camps across the Nueces headwaters utilize the soil, via land application, for their wastewater disposal, with zero discharge into the river.

The clarity of the Nueces, she continued, has to do with the river’s unique underwater landscape. “The base of the aquatic food web in this desert is a delicate community of periphyton (algae, bacteria, and other microbes) that have found ways to prosper on bare rock. These plant-like organisms are harvested by teams of tiny specialized May and Caddis fly larvae, beetles, and snails that are in turn eaten by the Nueces plateau shiner, Spring salamanders, and other endemic species.”

Between dips in the river, we discussed water, riparian habitat, and humans’ relationship to and impact on the environment. The good news is, while some rivers and waterways in Texas are either polluted, compromised, or threatened, the rivers of the Nueces basin—the Sabinal, Frio, and Nueces—don’t attract near the number of visitors that the Guadalupe and Colorado river basins do, although prime swim spots get crowded on summer weekends.

“This is the last of the pristine rivers in Texas,” Jones-Lewey said during one swimming break. “It’s extremely clean.”

Robert Mace, a hydrologist who is executive director of The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment in San Marcos, agrees. “Due to its rural and remote locale, and the perpetual gnawing of water against the limestones of the Edwards Plateau,” he said, “the headwaters of the Nueces are among the most pleasing in the state.”

This is in large part due to the work of Jones-Lewey, who led the Nueces River Authority’s efforts to help persuade the Texas Legislature to ban driving in riverbeds. Sitting on the rocky beach at water’s edge, she illustrated why, scraping away large, dry rocks at our feet to reveal pebbles of wet gravel underneath. “The river’s here, too,” she said. “We just can’t see it with all these rocks in the way.”

The Nueces was all that I thought it would be: some of the best swimming around, with calm and cool waters, free of debris and with clear visibility. Hovering below the surface, rhythmically reaching one arm out after the other, steadily paddling my extended toes, I felt like I was floating in a state of suspended animation. Locals are cautiously optimistic the river will continue to allow a magical experience. Awareness about respecting and protecting it has been raised, slowly but surely.

“The river’s in good shape because there are miles and miles of undisturbed streambed,” Jones-Lewey said. “People have not done anything to it. So far.”

The love for the river is deep and wide, and lives on forever in Nueces Canyon High’s school song:

Down below the plains of Texas, /
where the hills arise, / there’s a land of
sparkling waters, / canyons and blue
skies. / Ring ye Nueces High with music, /
we praise your power and might. / Hail
to thee Nueces Panthers, / hail to Blue
and White. / FIGHT PANTHERS! / FIGHT
PANTHERS! / FIGHT! / FIGHT! / FIGHT!

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Accordion: Texas’ Main Squeeze

https://www.texascooppower.com/texas-stories/life-arts/texas-main-squeeze

My story about the accordion in Texas Coop Power

Texas’ Main Squeeze
The accordion has been a beloved musical instrument since it got here

 

  • Chris Rybak continues a tradition brought to Texas by European settlers in the 1800s.
    IMAGE: Courtesy Chris Rybak
  • Rybak as an 11-year-old.
    IMAGE: Courtesy Chris Rybak
  • Accordionist and bandleader Emil Schuhmann of Fayette County in the 1890s.
    IMAGE: Winedale Photograph Collection | The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin

Of all the musical instruments brought to Texas by German, Czech, Polish and Moravian immigrants in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the accordion made the most unexpected inroads among Mexican, Cajun and Creole communities who embraced it as their instrument of choice. Generations later, squeezeboxes still move Texans.

Chris Rybak, known as the Accordion Cowboy, who hails from Hallettsville, explains that when he picked up the instrument 30 years ago, at age 11, accordion-playing bandleader Lawrence Welk was a big thing. “But that also made accordion not so cool,” he says, adding that now it’s heard in jazz, rock and a wide variety of other musical genres. “It doesn’t have to be just your grandpa’s oompah anymore.”

Packing the full-bodied sound of an entire band into one instrument, the accordion, invented in Europe in the 1820s, provided entertainment at dances of all kinds as Texas was settled. Without the need for electricity or amplification, its sound carried farther than stringed instruments.

The accordion was a key instrument for western swing bands in the 1930s and ’40s. It remains the most versatile musical instrument going in Texas, straddling regions and borders and injecting its sound into rock, country, blues, jazz and zydeco. It’s the defining instrument of conjunto, the folk music of South Texas, and the faster-paced norteño, a folk music of northern Mexico that is similar to conjunto.

Without the accordion, there would be no Mark Halata at Wurstfest, no Brave Combo playing WestFest, no Ennis Czech Boys working the National Polka Festival, no Fritz Hodde and the Fabulous Six performing at an SPJST hall.

The European-style accordion, the traditional large instrument with piano keys on the right-hand side that functions like a glorified organ, is favored by the Bohemians, Czechs, Poles and Germans of South and Central Texas; some Zydeco bands around Houston and southeast Texas; and Fort Worth’s Ginny Mac and Austin’s Debra Peters. It can weigh upward of 30 pounds.

Conjuntos and some zydeco bands favor the smaller, diatonic model of accordion with buttons on both sides that change notes as you push and pull and has considerably faster action. Texas Cajuns play an even smaller, simpler diatonic model with fewer buttons.

Rybak explains that Czech, German, German-Polish, Tejano and Cajun music each embody a distinct style. “On the other hand, when you go to a conjunto place,” he says, “the band will throw in a few Czech songs. And vice versa. The accordion is distinctive, and it can cross boundaries and cultures.”

The universality of the accordion is celebrated at the Accordion Kings and Queens at the Miller Outdoor Theatre in Houston on the first Saturday in June, a production of Texas Folklife. All the bands onstage feature accordions as the lead instrument, but the performers sing in English, Spanish, French, German, Polish and Czech, reflecting each group’s ethnic background. Despite those differences, everyone dances the same on the dance floor, moving in a counterclockwise direction.

These days, Rybak says he mostly uses a digital accordion, which has changed his instrument much the way a digital keyboard changed piano playing. He can create blaring trumpets to open the Johnny Cash standard Ring of Fire.

“I would say for most shows, I play 70 or 80% with a digital accordion,” he says. “And that’s what the new generation really loves, too. They can do anything on it.”

Although Joe Nick Patoski gave up piano accordion for violin at age 7, he owns a button accordion autographed by Flaco Jiménez.

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Conjunto: The Soul Music of South Texas

https://www.texascooppower.com/texas-stories/life-arts/soul-music-of-south-texas

My story on Conjunto music in Texas Coop Power magazine

Soul Music of South Texas
Conjunto, built upon a polka rhythm, turns accordions and 12-string guitars into a unique sound and subculture

By Joe Nick Patoski
March 2020

 

El Flaco

Esteban “Steve” Jordan began playing accordion at the age of 7.
IMAGE: John Dyer

Flaco Jiménez brought the conjunto accordion to Amsterdam in 1989 and Dwayne Verheyden answered the call and learned to play like Flaco

Eduardo Garza of Mission was one of the big winners at the 2019 Big Squeeze youth accordion competition.
IMAGE: Courtesy Texas Folklife

Joel Guzmán at the Alamo.

IMAGE: John Dyer

Teenage conjunto performer Darren David Prieto with Santiago Jimenez and Luis Almanza, Carnitas Uruapan, San Antonio,  2015.

Santiago Jiménez Jr., who gave accordion lessons to Prieto.
IMAGE: John Dyer

Los Texmaniacs have taken conjunto as far as China.

With her 12-string guitar, Lydia Mendoza became the first female star of Mexican American music.

San Antonio’s Eva Ybarra is known as the Queen of the Accordion.

Narciso Martínez was one of the recording pioneers of conjunto.

 

Darren David Prieto played the accordion in Carnitas Uruapan, a meat market on the west side of San Antonio, one Sunday morning in 2016 while customers lined up for tamales and carnitas. Back then, the market hosted a weekly residency with accordionist Santiago Jiménez Jr., younger brother of accordion legend Flaco Jiménez. The gig was practice for Jiménez, but for Prieto, it was an apprenticeship and a steppingstone to a career performing the soul music of South Texas.

Jiménez introduced the shy teenager from New Braunfels, then 16, as “mi protegido”—his protégé—and, blushing, Prieto nodded toward Jiménez and added, “Mi profesor.” This unlikely venue and early start time was a very big deal for the slight, quiet young man because as part of a new generation of conjunto accordionists, it was his opportunity to learn from a master.

As Jiménez played his diatonic button accordion, accompanied by a sideman strumming chords on a 12-string guitar called a bajo sexto, pounding out a rhythm to propel the sounds from Jiménez’s accordion, the meat market’s owner occasionally walked out from behind the counter to harmonize with Jiménez in vocal duets. “Margarita, Margarita,” they crooned, faces inches from each other. Sit-ins from the neighborhood were part of the weekly routine. Grammy Award winner Max Baca of Los Texmaniacs walked into Carnitas wearing a football jersey and shorts rather than his western stage outfit and sat in with the band, playing bajo sexto.

Conjunto’s bouncy rhythm, typically a polka, is why it is also known as música alegre, happy music. Like blues and country, conjunto—pronounced cohn-hoon-toe—is indigenous, only regionally specific to South Texas, with mostly Spanish lyrics. In South Texas, and anywhere conjunto’s influence extends, the term is applied to both sound and subculture.

Conjunto has two key instruments: the diatonic button accordion, which, like a harmonica, changes notes as air is pushed or pulled past vibrating reeds, and the bajo sexto, which provides the rhythm and backbeat. Most modern conjuntos also include drums, guitar and bass.

At a time when most American roots music’s popularity is on the downswing, conjunto’s roots are spreading. Public school programs in La Joya, Los Fresnos, Brownsville and other towns across the Rio Grande Valley have added conjunto to their curricula, and bajo sexto classes are taught weekly at the Conjunto Heritage Taller and the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center in San Antonio. “We get them from 8 to 80,” said Rodolfo Lopez, Conjunto Heritage Taller director. “Conjunto is us, la gente. This is a unique music form.” Kids from the taller (workshop) have dominated the state-wide Big Squeeze youth accordion competition sponsored by Texas Folklife since its inception in 2007.

Conjunto was born in the late 19th century when German immigrants introduced the button accordion to South Texas. In part because of its rural roots, it was known as cantina music. Conjunto made its commercial debut in the 1920s and ’30s, when Columbia and Bluebird joined other labels in the fledgling recording business, setting up studios in rooms at San Antonio’s Gunter and Bluebonnet hotels as well as at local WOAI radio to record musicians solicited by talent scouts. Conjunto accordionists were recruited to San Antonio alongside bluesman Robert Johnson, western swingsters Bill Boyd & His Cowboy Ramblers and the Tex-Czech sounds of Adolph Hofner as well as Texan Mexican singer Lydia Mendoza.

The instrumentals by those conjunto accordionists sounded Mexican with additional Bohemian, Czech and German elements, reflecting the influence of the immigrant communities of South Texas.

Texas conjunto recording pioneers Bruno Villarreal from Santa Rosa, Narciso Martínez of La Paloma and Santiago Jiménez of San Antonio all eavesdropped on Czech, German and Polish dances in South Texas and incorporated what they heard into their own music.

Conjunto follows neither mariachi nor ranchera traditions, nor is it norteño, the accordion style popular in northern Mexico. “It’s a melding of European music and the Mexican bajo sexto,” Rodolfo Lopez explained, noting that Czech redowas, Bohemian schottisches, waltzes and polkas all came from Europe. “We just added our jalapeño chiltepin flavor to it.”

Flaco Jiménez, the older of conjunto pioneer Santiago Jiménez’s two sons, expanded awareness of the genre in 1973, appearing on the album Doug Sahm and Band, featuring the rock musician from San Antonio and an all-star lineup that included Bob Dylan. Sahm sought out and played bajo sexto with Flaco Jiménez in his backyard on San Antonio’s west side. “He could groove,” Jiménez said.

Flaco Jiménez would ultimately take conjunto accordion around the world, recording with Ry Cooder, Peter Rowan, the Rolling Stones, Dwight Yoakum and Emmylou Harris before joining the Tex-Mex supergroup Texas Tornados.

Esteban “Steve” Jordan of Elsa, a dashing figure with an eyepatch known as the Jimi Hendrix of the accordion, also worked as a conjunto innovator. One record label described Jordan’s style as acordeón psicodélico. If Jiménez was the standard-bearer, Jordan was the experimentalist—always pushing the envelope until his passing in 2010.

Another notable exporter of conjunto accordion is Joel Guzmán of Buda, who performs with his wife, Sarah Fox, as Aztex; plays and records with country rocker Joe Ely; and joined Paul Simon on his Homeward Bound tour. One of few professional female accordionists, Eva Ybarra earned a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2017.

Conjunto is no longer exclusively a Texas thing. Japan has several conjuntos who were inspired by Flaco Jiménez’s appearance in their country with the Texas Tornados. Dwayne Verheyden from the Netherlands mastered Jiménez’s playing style, then mastered Spanish to better communicate with Jiménez and conjunto audiences. After his performance at the Tejano Conjunto Fest in San Antonio in 2014, fans patiently lined up to have their picture taken with him, as if he was the Justin Bieber of conjunto.

Conjunto’s crossover appeal comes to life in the music of Conjunto Los Pinkys, an Austin band led by octogenarian Isidro Samilpa; a middle-aged Polish import from Saginaw, Michigan, named Bradley Jaye Williams; and Mark Weber, an accordionist from San Antonio. Another crossover success is Stevie Ray Vavages of the Tohono O’odham Nation in Arizona, who learned the bajo sexto playing the native sound called chicken scratch.

Darren Prieto is part of the next wave.

Typical of most Texas kids, he grew up listening to rock, country, jazz and hip-hop. Not typical of most Texas kids, he chose to play accordion when he was 14. “I was always with my grandfather,” he explained. “Around our house, conjunto music was always on. I listened to all types of conjunto, from Los Pavo Reales to Ruben Naranjo.” The summer before he entered high school, Prieto picked up his grandfather’s accordion, just as his own father once had. By that September, he’d learned some polkas. “I started falling in love,” Prieto said.

Web Extra: Where To See and Hear Conjunto

KEDA-AM (1540) in San Antonio, which streams online.

Rancho Alegre Radio’s sampler playlist.

Texas Folklife presents Big Squeeze competitions in the spring. The Museum of South Texas History in Edinburg hosts the semifinals, and the finals are staged at the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin. Big Squeeze champions all perform at the Texas Accordion Kings and Queens concert and dance at the Miller Outdoor Theatre in Houston the first Saturday in June.

The Tejano Conjunto Festival in San Antonio, sponsored by the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, is conjunto’s biggest bash of all, staged at Guadalupe Theater and in Rosedale Park May 13–17.

Rancho Alegre Conjunto Music Festival in May in Austin, plus weekly tardeadas in the spring and fall.

Narciso Martínez Cultural Arts Center Conjunto Festival in Los Fresnos in October.

Two documentaries tell the story of conjunto: 1976’s Chulas Fronteras, by filmmakers Les Blank and Maureen Gosling, and Songs of the Homeland, filmed in 1995 by Hector Galán.

Conjunto Musicians, Their Lives and Their Times is an audio program in the Onda Latina Collection at the University of Texas featuring Esteban Jordan, Flaco Jiménez, Santiago Jiménez Jr. and Tony de la Rosa.

The Texas Conjunto Music Hall of Fame and Museum in San Benito is one of the cradles of conjunto. It’s open Thursday–Saturday at 210 E. Heywood St. Call (956) 245-1666 for more info.

Janie’s Record Shop is the go-to shop for conjunto 45s, CDs and 12-inch vinyl, with a store jukebox and loads of autographed photos of conjunto stars. It’s at 1012 Bandera Rd. in San Antonio. Call (210) 735-2070 for more info.

Del Bravo Record Shop, run by the family of conjunto composer Salomé Gutierrez, is as much a museum as a record shop. Don’t miss the Lydia Mendoza tribute display, which includes one of her stage dresses. It’s at 554 Old Highway 90 in San Antonio. Call (210) 432-8351 for more info.

Those Sunday morning performances on the small stage at Carnitas Uruapan, where he learned from Santiago Jiménez Jr., stoked Prieto’s creative fire. “He helped me learn to get over stage fright, how to talk to the crowd and even how to be a humble musician,” Prieto said.

The gigs at Carnitas Uruapan stopped in 2018 when the owner retired. But Prieto remains tight with Jiménez. “You can hear a little bit of Santiago Jiménez Jr.’s style in my own playing,” Prieto said. “Playing conjunto music is so fun. It isn’t like any other music. It has that beat that makes you want to dance. It makes you feel alive.”

Web Extra: Joe Nick Patoski’s Conjunto Experience

Writer Joe Nick Patoski, a self-confessed conjunto addict, offers this playlist of some of his favorite conjunto songs and artists. He has been writing about conjunto music since 1975 for Texas Monthly, Oxford American, Rolling Stone, Country Music and other publications. He hosts the Texas Music Hour of Power, 7–9 p.m. Saturdays on Marfa Public Radio and Wimberley Valley Radio.

Writer Joe Nick Patoski, a confessed conjunto addict, lives outside Wimberley and is a member of Pedernales EC.

This appeared in the March 2020 issue

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The Many Threads And Generations Of Chicano Soul, All In One Place

My story for National Public Radio Music’s webpage on Adrian Quesada’s Look At My Soul show at Lincoln Center, along with Black Pumas, Grupo Fantasma, Brownout, Brown Sabbath, and Johnny Hernandez and Ruben (El Gato Negro) Ramos

NPR Music’s story

More than half a century after it crept into the DNA of young Mexican-Americans in the southwestern United States — particularly in Southern California and Texas — Chicano Soul endures. Chicano Soul in California has been well-documented, in Ruben Molina’s book Chicano Soul and in several documentaries. The Texas version happened away from media and music limelight as a wonderfully provincial scene unto itself, and persists through events like the Friday Night dances at Pueblo Hall in San Antonio, retro bands like Eddie and the Valiants and the San Antones, and through DJs such as the Austin Boogie Crew, Jason Saldana’s El West Side Sound in San Antonio and the Fistful of Soul collective in Houston — all spinning vintage tracks in clubs across the state.

Three Songs That Define California Chicano Soul

Cannibal and the Headhunters, “Land of 1,000 Dances”
Thee Midnighters, “Jump, Jive and Harmonize”
The Blendells, “La La La La La”

No look back, though, is as far-reaching and ambitious as The Look at My Soul: The Latin Shade of Texas Soul album project, hatched by 42-year-old, Austin-based producer-writer-arranger-guitarist Adrian Quesada. Released late last year on Nacional Records/Amazon Music, the album will be performed live for the first time at Lincoln Center in New York this Saturday (July 27), with a cast that includes first-generation Chicano Soul stars Ruben Ramos, El Gato Negro (The Black Cat) and Johnny Hernandez from Little Joe and the Latinaires.

Three Songs That Define Texas Chicano Soul

Sunny and the Sunliners, “Talk To Me”
Little Joe and the Latinaires, “Ain’t No Big Thing”
Royal Jesters, “Meet Me In Soulsville”

Quesada will also be performing with one of the opening acts, the Black Pumas, his new band with lead vocalist Eric Burton. Black Pumas are standard-bearers of the psych soul sound buzzing around Austin; dominated by mid-tempo ballads, along with tinges of psychedelia, funk and groove – a sound that could easily pass for a new version of Chicano Soul. But in no way is this your parents’ Tejano.

Three Songs That Define Modern Texas Psych Soul, a.k.a. New Chicano Soul

Black Pumas, “Colors”
Grupo Fantasma ft. Tomar Williams, “Let Me Be Me”
Los Coast, “Monsters”

The mothership of this Latin-funk-soul-R&B mashup is Grupo Fantasma, a nine-piece horn band founded by Quesada, Greg Gonzalez and Beto Martinez in 2000. All three had grown up in the border city of Laredo, each smitten with modern music, like any American kid in the ’80s. “[In Laredo] we listened to the radio, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Beastie Boys, Nirvana,” Gonzalez tells me. “People in Laredo listened to mariachi, rock and roll, heavy metal and funk.” Cumbias, the dance rhythm that dominates Latin music globally, were also an unconscious part of their border town upbringing. Teenagers could party and drink alcohol across the river in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, Mexico. “The best live bands [in Mexico] were Colombiana bands with keyboards and guitars and accordion,” Gonzalez says. “It was cumbia played with a full ensemble, almost a Tejano instrumentation with Colombia music.”

Grupo Fantasma.
Sarah Bork Hamilton/Courtesy of the artist

Gonzalez and Martinez became friends in eighth grade in public school as fellow metalheads. Quesada was a year older and attended St. Augustine, the Catholic school. After graduating, they all met in Austin in 1996, where they were chasing the music muse.

“We were playing funk, rock and roll, hip hop, psychedelic, fusion,” Gonzalez tells NPR. With Martinez, he started a band called the Blimp. Quesada had a jazz group called Blue Noise. The two shared bills, then started playing together as a funk band that liked to test limits. The common bond was their new shared obsession with cumbias.

We wanted to be a party that everyone was invited to.

“We rediscovered Colombian cumbias through some compilations some friends had,” Gonzalez said. “There was a Latin music scene in Austin, but it excluded people who weren’t part of that scene,” Martinez recalled. “If you didn’t dress right and go to the salsa club, then you couldn’t appreciate that music. That turned us off. We wanted to be a party that everyone was invited to. You didn’t have to understand any dance moves or know Spanish. We wanted to make a sound that incorporated all our influences and didn’t exclude anybody. ”

Their response was the Night of Cumbias, performed every other week at a small Sixth Street club called the Empanada Parlor. By the third gig, a line outside the door was the norm. Their debut album, Grupo Fantasma from 2002, was followed by relentless roadwork, beginning in the southeastern and northeastern United States, helping put Grupo Fantasma on the map. “These cumbia rock shows in these divey punk rock clubs covered in stickers were rowdy,” Beto Martinez says. “We started pulling people in places like Hattiesburg, Mississippi and Atlanta. When we got to New York, there was this big packed house waiting for us.”

A year later, Grupo Fantasma formed a second band. “Brownout was a respite,” says Gonzalez of the project. “After we had delved into the cumbia, and started expanding our palette of Afro-Latin music all sung in Spanish, Adrian and I wanted a funk band like we had before. We wanted to play that too, minus the cumbias and the Grupo Fantasma style. We were playing so much with Fantasma, it was a much-needed outlet. We came up with a list of our favorite breakbeat and funk 45s and started doing parties. It was freakier, funkier and all instrumental.”

Grupo Fantasma’s cumbia obsession would be followed by further explorations — into salsa, merengue, bomba, and other Afro-Latin ritmos — after Jose Galeano, a Nicaraguan living in Austin, joined three years into the band’s life as singer and timbalero. “He chose a lot of music and opened our eyes to some of those sounds,” Gonzalez said. “He’s the nephew of Jose Chepito Areas, the percussionist for the original Santana who was part of that taking the Latin style and incorporating it into rock and roll and blues genres. He brought to us the concept how you blend those sounds. That was sixteen years ago. Since then, everybody has become a lot more sophisticated.”
Grupo Fantasma Masterfully Adapts Funk On Its Vision Of ‘American Music Vol. VII’
First Listen
Grupo Fantasma Masterfully Adapts Funk On Its Vision Of ‘American Music Vol. VII’

Late in 2006, Grupo Fantasma got a call. From Prince. Well actually, it was Prince’s management, relaying the message that Prince would like to fly the band to Las Vegas to play at his 3121 Club on Thanksgiving night. The band didn’t see Prince that first gig, but he was watching and listening — and subsequently invited Grupo Fantasma to play the club every Thursday. Grupo did the gig for six weeks before meeting its benefactor. One evening in the middle of a set, His Purple Majesty walked onto the stage with his guitar, asking “Is it cool?” before launching into a Hendrix-style jam and enigmatically departing again. “He knew all the lines,” Beto Martinez recalls. “He’d practiced what we were playing.” In a matter of weeks, Grupo Fantasma became Prince’s go-to horn section, flying to Vegas every Thursday, playing with Prince at a Golden Globes party in Los Angeles (with sit-ins from Mary J. Blige, will.i.am and Marc Anthony), at a Super Bowl party in Miami, another party in London, at Coachella — over the course of a year, wherever Prince asked, they were there.

We’re from here. We’re a product of all these influences. Ultimately, it’s American, in the sense that jazz is.

Grupo Fantasma was no longer just a Latin funk band. With the Prince connection, they were the funk. Through it all, the band has resisted labels and being pigeon-holed, evidenced by the title of the latest album, American Music, Volume 7 (Blue Corn), its seventh.

“Everybody wants to put us in this nice category,” says Beto Martinez, fresh off a three-week tour of Russia and Turkey that included stops at the Mongolian border, Siberia, Moscow and Istabul. “That’s what’s behind the title of the record, being lumped into this Latin music category, dismissing all the various influences. We’re from here. We’re a product of all these influences. Ultimately, it’s American, in the sense that jazz is.

“In Russia, people asked us, ‘Where you from,’ ” Martinez continues. “We’d say, ‘We’re from Texas.’ ‘But where in Texas, like what’s your ethnicity?’ I’d say, ‘Mexican-American’ and have to explain that. Then it would be, ‘Texas is full of cowboys, it’s the capital of country music. How does it feel to be a strange band in Texas?’ We had to talk about how Texas is huge and very diverse, how Texas shares a giant border with Mexico. We’re a good representation of that diversity — a few of us are from the border, a couple guys are from California, our drummer John [Speice] is from Oklahoma and wears a cowboy hat.”

“We’re more well-received outside the United States,” says Greg Gonzales. In America, “we’re a Latin band that sings in Spanish. There [in Russia and Turkey], Spanish and English are both foreign languages. They’re just hearing the music. They’re not thinking, ‘This is Latin. I have to dance salsa.’ It’s more like, ‘Wow, this is awesome music.’ They see us as an American band. A lot of people thought it was jazz. We’ve got a horn section. We’re American. The music borrows heavily from African music, funk, soul, rock and roll that all essentially came from jazz. Seventy-five percent of our songs are in Spanish.”

In 2013, as Grupo Fantasma changed management and its record label Nat Geo Music folded, Adrian Quesada left the band, burned out from the road and wanting to pursue studio projects and produce. It was time for an extended break. During the downtime, Brownout, which had gained a vocalist, did a residency at Frank in downtown Austin, playing a different theme each night. The final night’s theme was Black Sabbath, an idea that took hold, then took off, as Brownout morphed into Brown Sabbath, playing Black Sabbath songs with a Latin groove — and finding their biggest audience yet, practically eclipsing the whole Grupo Fantasma juggernaut.

Last year, Brownout applied the Brown Sabbath concept to one of their favorite groups growing up, Public Enemy, for the album Fear of a Brown Planet.

The Money Chicha project followed Brownout and Brown Sabbath. “We discovered this style called chicha from Peru from the ’60s and ’70s,” Gonzalez says. “Peruvians wanted to play a blend of their indigenous music from the mountains with the song form rhythms of Latin America, cumbias, salsas, stuff like that, along with fuzz guitar and psychedelic effects, lots of reverb. It was all guitars, no horns. We got so obsessed with chicha that we started another band. The joke was, lets book some gigs, because that’s how we normally force ourselves to learn something like this. We booked these gigs and needed a name. Our other bands had nine people, this had only five, so we’ll finally make some money.”

Even though Quesada had left Grupo Fantasma, he continued playing with Brownout and Money Chicha until a couple years ago, when his plate was full. He was looking back with one project, the Look At My Soul album, and looking forward with another, the Black Pumas.

Eric Burton had arrived in Austin in October 2015, after busking on the street in Santa Monica. After six months of playing farmers’ markets, open mics and solo shows, he met Quesada. They instantly clicked. “He had a few instrumentals he was working on that he wanted to see if I could sing on,” Burton says. “I was expecting that if it was a success it would turn into some publishing deal for both of us. I didn’t realize he had 17 instrumentals he was sitting on after our first session. We kept at it until we filled most of those instrumentals he had. The songs almost write themselves.”

Black Pumas brought stability into the 28-year-old singer-songwriter’s life. “When you’re busking, or playing music in general, you have to have thick skin,” Burton says. “You’re always moving, shifting, trying to get by on the power of the song and the generosity of the people. Austin has given me a home where I can develop as a singer-songwriter and be rooted.”

Quesada had been looking for a voice for music he’d composed that didn’t fit into the Look at My Soul concept he was working on. “I went off on a tangent,” he says. “Those were the Black Pumas songs. I’d met Eric. He was originally writing and singing on my songs, and then he started bringing in his songs. That’s what really kicked it into high gear – my production and his songwriting.”

The two recorded together for several months. “The intentions were pure,” Quesada says. “I didn’t show anybody any of this music for half a year. I didn’t even know Eric was an incredible front man.”

Look at My Soul had been on Quesada’s radar ever since Grupo Fantasma did a taping with Ruben Ramos for the Austin Latino Music Association, 16 years ago. “That’s when Adrian and I started talking about what we’re doing right now,” the 79-year-old Ramos says.

“I heard Ruben talking about growing up, listening to rock and roll and soul music, Little Richard and Jimmy Reed and blues,” says Quesada. “In my head, I imagined somebody like Ruben Ramos grows up singing mariachi music and regional Mexican music all their life. I saw the parallels. For us, back in the Grupo Fantasma days, we grew up listening to hip-hop, rock and roll, heavy metal. We didn’t really embrace [Latin sounds] until we were older.

“I realized all these guys – Ruben, Little Joe – opened doors for us. Our story was similar to theirs. We discovered who we were a little bit later, musically. That planted the seed way back when. I thought it would be interesting to make that connection.”

Quesada collected classic recordings by Ramos, Little Joe and the Latinaires, Sunny and the Sunliners, the Numero Group’s reissue of the Royal Jesters, and the Texas Funk compilation featuring Latin Breed, and studied them. “You can hear the progression, where the music turns into Tejano music, but early on, these bands always had a soul song or funk song, right after a cumbia. It would be common to hear the Meters’ ‘Cissy Strut’ after a mariachi or ranchera. I was fascinated by the history, learning my own roots, what came before my friends and me started doing this music. I had enough information to connect my generation with theirs.”

In this time, in this era, where there’s more and more division happening, especially in Texas and along the border, even though Chicano Soul sounds like people would be excluded from it, it’s actually an inclusive scene.

Listening to Little Joe and the Latinaires records, he realized Little Joe’s brother Johnny Hernandez sang the soul numbers. Hernandez came to Austin to add his vocals, singing lead on “Ain’t No Big Thing,” which he’d sung with the Latinaires. “I hadn’t recorded live in the studio like we did in the old days for decades,” he says. “It was a thrill getting into the studio [with Quesada, Charlie Sexton and Michael Ramos]. It took me back to my roots. When the horns came in on the introduction, I was right back there in 1965.” Saturday’s gig at Lincoln Center will be the first time Hernandez has performed in New York.

Look at My Soul is just the start. “I need five volumes to tell the story I want to,” Quesada said. “I feel like this is episode one of a Ken Burns miniseries. Originally, my idea was to revisit the old songs and re-record them, but I spent a summer writing a bunch of songs inspired by the styles I was listening to. This is now a lifelong journey to explore. In this time, in this era, where there’s more and more division happening, especially in Texas and along the border, even though Chicano Soul sounds like people would be excluded from it, it’s actually an inclusive scene.”

Black Pumas, on the other hand, are not a Chicano Soul band, at least as far as Eric Burton is concerned. “I don’t feel like it’s Chicano music at all. It’s black music.”

Then again, Burton wrote the title track for Look at My Soul, and sings lead on the title song.

These old and new strands, along with the Grupo Fantasma legacy, will converge on Saturday — Greg Gonzalez joins the Look at My Soul band on the heels of a Money Chicha gig in Austin; on August 2, a week after Lincoln Center, Gonzalez joins Martinez, fresh off some European dates with Golden Dawn Arkestra; then a reconvening with the rest of the Grupo Fantasma/Brownout aggregation in Johnstown, Pa. for a Brown Sabbath show at the Flood City Music Festival.

“We’re kind of schizophrenic,” laughs Gonzalez.

Black Pumas will be on tour through the end of the year. “I’ve been doing this long enough not to get too excited,” says Adrian Quesada. “As much as I like to multitask and stay busy, I feel like I’m too old to jump from one thing to another. But it’s worked out. Black Pumas were on the Billboard charts the week the album came out. That’s a first for me. I’ve been looking out at the crowds and people have been singing along with the songs.”

And he knows when the Black Pumas tour wraps, those four unfinished volumes of Chicano Soul will be waiting.

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Review: Austin to ATX

Chris Riemenschneider of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune weighed in with a review of Austin to ATX that’s been picked up by several newspapers/
Star-Tribune link

Reviews: ‘Austin to ATX,’ by Joe Nick Patoski, and ‘I Know Who You Are,’ by Alice Feeney

“Austin to ATX” by Joe Nick Patoski
ustin to ATX: The Hippies, Pickers, Slackers and Geeks Who Transformed the Capital of Texas

By Joe Nick Patoski. (Texas A&M University Press, 376 pages, $32.)

Old Austinites and fans of the lively Texas capital will undoubtedly miss the bygone eras revisited in this overdue chronicle of the city’s liberal cultural scene. Even more, they might also feel like they missed the boat on many occasions.

A Texas Monthly alum who has written definitive biographies on Willie Nelson, Stevie Ray Vaughan and the Dallas Cowboys, author Joe Nick Patoski doesn’t just lovingly chronicle the musicians, filmmakers, foodies and other creative entrepreneurs who famously made Austin “weird” (a favorite T-shirt slogan for tourists nowadays), but he also shrewdly details how these things made Austin rich.

There’s the little music festival started simply to help fill bars when all the UT students left for spring break, which became the $300 million annual revenue-generating South by Southwest brand (SXSW). There’s the little hippie grocery store bought up for $13 billion by Amazon two years ago, Whole Foods, and the three-man concert company behind the Austin City Limits Festival, in which Live Nation bought a 51% share at $125 million in 2014. And of course there’s the little hippie cowboy who tried but couldn’t sell out to Nashville, about whom Patoski offers even more great color over what’s in his Martin-guitar-thick book “Willie Nelson: An Epic Life.”
“I Know Who You Are” by Alice Feeney

Oddball filmmakers Richard Linklater, Robert Rodriguez and Mike Judge, barbecue maker Franklin’s and other musicians who made it big (at least in influence) are also covered in this not-too-tediously informative, dryly witty, tastefully snarky book. Unlike most old-school Austinites, Patoski doesn’t seem to begrudge all the new money and newly transplanted residents overrunning the booming city these days. He just wants to give them a history lesson on all the blood (“Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” anyone?), sweat and marijuana roaches buried beneath their sleek new condo and office towers.

CHRIS RIEMENSCHNEIDER

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Texas Music Hour of Power Sat nites 7-9 pm central KRTS Marfa & KWVH Wimberley and anytime here

tmhoposterofficial

www.marfapublicradio.org

www.kxwt.org

www.wimberleyvalleyradio.org

www.kwvh.org

www.keos.org

Every Saturday nite, yours truly hosts the Texas Music Hour of Power, showcasing all kinds of Texas sounds created over the past century of recorded music. The show runs two hours because Texas spans two time zones and frankly, the music is too dang big to limit it to one hour.

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Mac Rebennack, Doctor John the Night Tripper: a conversation

Back in 2014, we ventured to Mandeville, across Lake Ponchartrain from New Orleans, to interview Mac Rebennack, Doctor John, for the documentary film Sir Doug & The Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove. It was a suitably strange setting: suburban tract home on an anonymous street with an interior that looked like Mac had just moved in, and might be fixin’ to move out.

The gentleman was charming, accommodating, and told great stories, especially about working with Joe Tex, Joe Scott and the Duke-Peacock hit machine, and knowing Doug in San Antonio before he became Sir Doug.

Here’s the raw manuscript of the interview. Someday I’ll clean it up for accuracy and spelling.

J: Joe Nick
P: Producer
D: Dr. John

[0:52-1:18 playing piano]
D: I think Doug loved that song and I remember I was gonna learn it for him and he was gone. That’s just how fast things went but I remember also when I first got out of Fort Worth.
[1:48]
And I was federal ??? one of a few that I was in, but that was a long time ago, but I think that was in maybe ’59. But I know that I was in one, in Lexington before that [laughs]. And I was in Texarkana after that [laughs]. But that’s, anyway –
J: Name and what you do.
[2:28]
D: Alright, well they call me Dr. John the Night Tripper but my real name is Mac Rebennack. And there that is.
J: What do you do for a living?
[2:39]
D: I play the piano and the guitar.
J: Where’d you grow up?
[2:45]
D: Right here, well in New Orleans.
J: Did you grow up around music?
[2:53]
D: Yeah my father sold records and also my sister, she played the piano, she played but she always knew a lot of Pearl Bailey songs. And she used to go, she’s ten years older than me. And she used to go sing with Fats P Shaw’s[3:19???] band. And they was very popular in them days. I never forgot, my pa told me to wait in the car, kid.
[3:30]
And I saw Danny Barker and Blue Lu Barker and I said I’m gonna go meet ‘em [laughs] and that was that. My pa came out of that joint and saw me joking with Danny Barker and Blue Lu and that was, I was in trouble [laughs]
J: Your parents knew you were into music.
[3:54]
D: Oh yeah well my pa told me, he gave me some really good advice when I was, I got kicked out of three schools in 9th grade. And I never went back to school but my pa told me, he said, take that job with them old men on the Chitlin’ Circuit. That’s what I did.
J: You’re out there performing, touring, recording. You’re not even 21 yet.
[4:30]
D: No, I was a teenager.
J: It came pretty naturally to you then.
D: Mm-hmm.
J: You have any guides? I know you had at least one piano ??? tour.
[4:43]
D: I had Professor Longhair, I had Huey Piano Smith, I had Allen Toussaint, I had James Booker, I had Albert Franks, a lot of ‘em. And they were all great piano players. But my second guitar teacher AJ Gomer taught me first, then a guy named Walter Papoose Nelson, played with Fats’ band. He was my second teacher. And then I had a third guitar teacher Roy Montrell.
[5:18]
And he was, he took me, he had every kind of music I had never heard. He took me to hear Flamenco music and all kind of music that was very hip to me.
J: New Orleans music isn’t one sound or is it?
[5:39]
D: No, it’s, they, they say this is the, the of the Caribbean. And I think they, Jelly Roll Morton said if it’s New Orleans it’s gotta have a little Latin tinge. And I always agreed with Jelly Roll. I, somewhere I might have a picture of him put up [chuckles] ‘cause it’s ??? pa??? right?
J: So you were a success as a teenager. You’re making money playing music.
[6:22]
D: Well I was, I was doing my, my damnedest to keep everything floating and, uh, due to lifestyle I was living, which was a lot of problems, uh, with drugs and a lot of stuff like that, but especially heroin, that was my big problem in life.
[6:58]
And I got 24 years clean and I feel blessed.
J: Is that part of being a musician, you’re just exposed to a lot of things regular folks aren’t exposed to.
[7:17]
D: Hey, when I remember Sonny Lee and Slim taking me to meet all these guys. He introduced me to, uh, uh, my ??? played Pookie’s daddy??? when he was singing with Goodnight Sweetheart, well it’s time to go do-do-do-do-dooo. Anyway, uh, but I met Willie Mabon, that made I Don’t Know.
[7:52]
I met Memphis Slim, I met, uh, Ro-Roosevelt Sykes but I had met him before because he used to send me to get cigars for him when I would be working a session at the studio. And, uh, I met oh just so many cats from Sonny Lee and Slim.
[8:22]
And he, he was back then, he was a special cat. But you know life was all over the place and out there on that Chitlin’ Circuit and, and you’re doing that and then come back here and it’s like we’re doing sessions and doing, and everything was always something.
[8:46]
And then when we had a gig, we’d be working like strip clubs. That was the main hustle for a musician back then ‘cause you got better tips at a strip club then you got and they didn’t pay you too much money back then. That was not a musician’s forte???, you know. I was into a lot of things that was not cool. But that was my lifestyle then and I feel blessed to not be there now.
J: I know there was some Texans that showed up at least in some of your recording early on ‘cause Huey P Meaux, he used to talk about Malcolm Rebennack, the man with the plans from the get-go.
[9:42]
D: Yeah [laughs] I was gonna tell you this story where I pulled a piece on, on Huey and I said Huey came back to the dressing room and says oh man, it’s, it’s really good hearing your band and blah-blah-blah. And I said well just wait here a minute.
[10:13]
And I went out to the car and got a piece. And I said now if you give me the money you owe. I, I would dig it [laughs] and I, and I cocked a piece. So he says well I don’t have much money on me but I could get you some. I said no. I said I want you got right now.
[10:45]
And he said ahh, you know, he didn’t know what to say. His brother had just got busted for short eyeing a girl and then he had got busted for short eyeing a kid. It was like what is this, but I, I was working for Irving Green at Mercury Records back then. I was a spy for them.
[11:14]
I was a spy right in Houston Texas at, at Don Robey’s Studio. And I was spying on Johnny Majors and Tye??? Ching who was operating pay table for Don Robey in those days. But I got to do a lot of session work for them and was making a extra hustle on the side from what Mercury was paying me back then.
[11:45]
And but I got really disgusted because they paid me more to be a spy than they did to be a record producer. And I didn’t like that.
J: So you mentioned Don Robey, Huey Meaux. Is this the type of people you had to do business with when you’re a musician?
[12:14]
D: Well yes listen I started working for Johnny Vincent Imbragulio at Ace Records in Jackson, Mississippi. That’s the first job I had and I was a talent scout for them and I was also whatever else Johnny might a wanted. And, uh, uh, I remember Johnny was alive when I, when my book came out.
[12:48]
And I must’ve really badmouthed him in the book ‘cause I, I don’t even have a clue what it said but I know that Johnny wasn’t too happy about whatever. But I was telling the truth and that was that and [laughs] I remember Earl King, myself, Huey Smith, all of us, we had to turn Johnny upside down, hold him by his pants so all the stuff in his pockets would fall out.
[13:22]
And then take his shoes and socks off and then actually strip the guy ‘cause we couldn’t trust him. But this was the first guy I worked for in, in, in the studios. But Cosimo Matassa, he was a good guy.
[13:46]
Cosimo always kept everything straight up and, and he was a good man like that. And I, I have a deep appreciation for Cos ‘cause he was a great engineer in the studios and he was a good man. Second job I got was for Joe Ruffino and that was at Ric and Ron Records.
[14:15]
And he was not that cool because I remember when Henry Glover and Morris Levy came to New Orleans ‘cause they owned, uh, uh, Joe Jones’ record of You Talk Too Much.
[14:40]
And [laughs] they actually, uh, my boss Joe Ruffino said, I don’t know who you guys are but you can get the hell outta here. And it almost started a gang war between New York and New Orleans. But back in those days the, the Black Hand was the local mafia.
[15:18]
And that was what the hell was going on you know. I mean, uh, Carlos Marcello and all those guys was like that. They, his brother Pascal, he looked out for my band. But Pete Marcello [other brother] Looked out for Sugar Boys Band. And that was how it was.
[15:47]
You know there were certain guys that looked out for certain people. And you were stuck with that. And I’ll never forget working at the Wego Inn on the Hill, that was in Westwego Louisiana. And when Happy Cuchero, who was running the joint, start shooting his club up.
[16:18]
Now it’s, you’re not gonna keep a audience too long when you’re shooting a club up. Well, uh, back then we used to get paid and there was guys behind bars that was counting the money.
[16:46]
And you know every nickel and dime they, they made was put on, into the machines and you got paid. But it was not a easy thing to do [laughs]
J: It sounds like in this environment the musician was the last one to get paid.
[17:12]
D: Well yeah, even though the Marcellos used to take us to this place that is now a restaurant Oscar’s???, and that’s where they used to pay us at back then. Now it’s a nice restaurant [laughs].
[17:34]
But I was told back in the game that if all the guys that was buried in the swamps behind there would do something, uh, that there would be a lot of people that know something different.

[17:59]
But that’s life I went in. But you know we’re gonna get back to Doug.
J: We’re getting to him. I was going to say coming out of Orleans and working for Robey and running, going to Houston, was Houston different than New Orleans?
[18:20]
D: Actually, uh, I remember the club where Lightnin Hopkins used to play at was packed. And you could smell the weed all in the street. And the club where Johnny Clyde Copeland worked at was another, he didn’t have that many people in there but they had some people in there.
[18:47]
And where I was working with Joe Scott’s band, there wasn’t nobody [laughs] but they just had Al TNT Braggs fronting the show. And without somebody like a Bobby Bland or Junior Parker or somebody else fronting the show, they ain’t gonna draw no people [laughs].
J: That’s hard to believe. Joe Scott though I’d think people would flock to him. You’re right he’s as good as his front man is. Was there a difference in the horn sound New Orleans horns and Houston horns?
[19:30]
D: Well, they didn’t use as many horns on a New Orleans session as, as like Don liked to use on those sessions. And he, we, we all did the sessions in what was formally Johnny Ace’s pad. And he had the horns play against this wood thing that was the, the, the, the brass section.
[20:00]
Would play against this wood stuff and all of the reeds would play anywhere that they would just be facing different ways. But I never forget, uh, Joe Scott and Edward Franks was doing shots. And the most thing I remember they were both drunk as a skunk.
[20:30]
And never made one mistake in those shots. And I, I couldn’t believe that there was not one mistake.

J: They knew what they were doing. What other name before we get to Doug, in New Orleans do you run across Freddy Fender at all?
[20:56]
D: I haven’t seen Freddy in years. But you know what? I remember when he first come out of Angola and, for growing weed in his yard. And Freddy came and sat in with our band somewhere in, in Houston. And that was maybe one of the last times I saw Freddy.
[21:27]
But I haven’t seen him in a gang and a half a years. I, I actually have seen a couple of the guys who used to be with Doug. I, I seen, well I seen Augie Meyers somewhere but I saw, uh, I used to sub for Augie on some gigs with Doug.
[21:54]
And out in California when I got shipped to that state, it was like wow, I couldn’t believe that they actually would use two studios and have the string section in one studio and then the rhythm section in another studio. But it was for Phil Spectrum or Sonny and Cher.
[22:28]
And I thought these guys is padding the payroll ridiculous. And I couldn’t get that right. And back then I used to write a little shorts??? and stuff, do stuff for the band. I can’t even write shorts??? no more. But it’s life, how it goes.
J: How did you get to California? Why did you leave here?
[23:01]
D: Well you know what, it was weird. I, I, I got shipped to that state and it was not somewhere I really wanted to be. But my sister, my mother and, and my brother-in-law was all living out there. And I had like a nephew and a niece out there.
[23:33]
And it, you do the best you can with what you got. And you gotta roll with anything in this racket. And I will call this a racket til the day I die. I don’t think of this is a business [laughs].
J: Was Harold Batiste out there when you went out there?
D: Yeah.
J: Was that kinda your connection to get work as a musician?
[24:05]
D: Well, actually, Harold did get me some work. Earl Palmer got me some work. Players Johnson got me some work. All these guys and I mean let’s face it, Earl Palmer played on the Pink Panther movies and Players played on ‘em, too. And they were like featured guys in the movies.
[24:31]
But you know, they was special in, in their way ‘cause Players played all the solos on all the things out there and Lee Allen played all the ones here. And maybe Herbie Hardesty played some of ‘em here but mostly Lee Allen played ‘em. But those were different kinds of days.
[24:56]
I mean you know it’s like I think the first recording session I saw when I was a little kid and I remember this, Dave Bartholomew reached over and just played the last note to make a fatter chord at the end of this song. And I thought wow, he’s the producer and he’s sitting out there just gonna play the last note of the song.
[25:32]
That’s kinda cool. But those were in those days you know.
J: It was a different scene in California. This was LA I take it.
[25:45]
D: Right and that, I actually through Doug I was supposed to go meet Junior Parker in San Francisco and Junior wasn’t really there when I got there. But he said oh he’s staying but he’s not here right now. But Irving Green from Mercury was, sent me to, to do some stuff with Junior Parker.
[26:24]
Which I wound up, I, I gotta a song to ???, I got, I got songs to other people but I didn’t get ‘em to Junior. And that’s who I was aiming for [laughs]. But life is all over the place.
J: Where did you meet Doug Sahm?
[26:52]
D: Well I think I first met him and I think I met him first when I was working a gig in San Antonio with Donald Wilkerson. And Don and him, no I was playing guitar with, let’s see, yeah, Wayne Talbert was playing the keyboards. He was from Texas. He’s from Houston though.
[27:28]
But all these guys were like, we always just knew each and other from, from the streets but we also knew each and other from the studios. So it was like a good thing. But I, I’m sure I met him, Doug at the, at one of those gigs I did with Donald Wilkerson there.
[27:57]
It was just so, that’s so back in the game but it was, it’s hard, it’s hard for me to really remember that but I know there was a lot of other times we was doing stuff. I know he, Doug turned me onto a guy in Houston that was, used to play guitar on a trapeze.
[28:29]
And that was, uh, I’m trying to remember this guy’s name but he was on that same block where all these joints was back then in, in –
J: It wasn’t Curly Mays was it?
[28:45]
D: Mm-mm, but this guy was so off the hook. He, he, he just was special [laughs]. I mean anybody that would have the heart to just go play on a trapeze is off the hook.
J: Did you run into Doug out in California?
[29:14]
D: Yeah I ran into him a lot of times in California. And then that’s when I started doing them gigs for him, subbing for Augie. Augie was passed out in, in one night and Doug called me and says listen, Augie’s not gonna be here tonight. Can you make a gig? And I said yeah. I’m always was on top of making a gig.
[29:44]
That, uh, but I wouldn’t play the guitar, I mean or, the, the, the Farfisa Organ that Doug had the hits on other than on the two hits that he had then.
J: That wasn’t your favorite style of playing I take it?
[30:07]
D: No, it was not my favorite instrument to play. I, I really didn’t like those suckers but he had a hit record and I respected that. But that’s about as far as it went. I played the piano on the rest of the gig.
J: You were part of the Sir Douglas Quintet.
[30:26]
D: Well, I was just subbing for Augie. And I, I, I did whatever gigs we did that was, and it was probably five, ten gigs or something over the years you know.
J: By the way Doug’s son Shawn has a canceled check for you for 60 dollars that Doug made for you. We’re gonna get it to you. He wanted you to get it. Maybe pay you again. Those two songs, She’s About a Mover, Rains Came, Mendocino, that’s Doug’s pop sound you heard. That ain’t that cat though.
[31:15]
D: I know listen, I knew Doug good enough to know he was like into the Gene Allison songs. He was into the good music. I knew that about Doug from the minute I met him, he loved all the stuff. The only other guy I know that loves all that music is Aaron Neville. He loved the same stuff because they both sang in like something spiritually hip that they, they couldn’t deal with it no other way.
J: Take away the arranger, the musician, was he a good singer?
[32:00]
D: I loved the way Doug sang. I loved the way, I loved, when he cut Bobby Charles song, the Tennessee Blues, and I think it was on that record that I’m talking about Fathead was playing on and I can’t remember all the who else was on that session. But I loved that. I thought man, Doug is really coming around now. Doing some different stuff and that was a special thing.
J: Bobby Charles was pretty special too when you get down to it.
[32:39]
D: Well, Bobby was my partner. They got pictures of Bobby all over this place, somewhere. And but Bobby is a good person and he, he just, I, I was producing his last record that he made.
[33:02]
And I thought that was some good songs on it but it’s life how it goes. It did, it didn’t sell a gang and a half of records but Shannon McNally made a tribute to Bobby and that’s a good thing.
J: I’m thinking you went to Cali and based in LA, did you go see Doug? Was he in San Fran or in LA?
D: He was in San Francisco mostly.
J: Wayne Talbert, George Rains, hanging out, how weird was that? I mean you’ve been to Cali but San Francisco is a kind of different thing.
[33:43]
D: Well I, I kinda liked it better than, than LA. There was just a different kinda scene there. And I liked it. ‘Cause it was kinda off the hook but it was, it was and I, I had met guys like Bryan from the Diggers and all these guys up there.
[34:11]
And back then you could say anything on a radio show and Brian and, and some of the Diggers always took me to these radio shows. And I could do whatever the hell I felt like doing. And that was a blessing.
J: Sounds like you were a hippie.
[34:35]
D: Well, listen, there was a little kid that said and I’ll never forget this little kid. He says you guys are outmoded. You guys are like passé ??? or something. But whatever this kid said, he said yeah you guys are junkies. Nobody’s doing junk out here.
[35:04]
Everybody is taking whatever, acid, they were taking whatever. And that was then, but you know listen, I didn’t, I, I, felt kinda like towards a lot of the people that, that was straight up people. They, they cool.
[35:30]
But you know everything shifts a gear somewhere and all of a sudden you’re where you’re at.
J: I like you said there was this freedom there, this guy from Texas you knew from San Antonio and Houston, Doug was he buying into it?
[35:54]
D: Doug was off the hook and a half anyhow. And do you know the first gig I heard and I went by to hear Doug band and there was another act playing and I couldn’t take ‘em and that was the Byrds. And I didn’t like the Byrds then. They, later they got a little better but I didn’t like ‘em too much at all in them days.
J: Doug, did you play on the Honky Blues album with him and Wayne Talbert?
[36:33]
D: I probably, I don’t have a clue. You know what, I don’t remember a gang and a half of stuff that, that’s one of my big defects of character.
J: You know what? You’re busy living. That’s the way I look at it. If you can remember stuff great. When you’re living you’re not always taking notes, oh I gotta remember this later.
[36:56]
D: Hey listen, you know something, one of the things that I always felt blessed with was just knowing guys like Doug. Wayne was a character. You know listen I was staying with Darlene Jenkins the ho, I shouldn’t say her last name, Darlene the ho.
[37:20]
Anyway that and Wayne just got out of jail and I had offered Irving Green, I said well I’ll put him up. I didn’t even have a pad. I’m staying with this girl and it was like what does Wayne do? He jacks a guy up in a parking lot right around the corner from, from this hotel.
[37:57]
And takes this guy off whatever he had. And I say well Wayne, I could fence some of this stuff off but I don’t think I could fence most of it off. But I can fence this and this, this. And Wayne says like a threat, he says, eh, just make sure I get all the lace.
[38:31]
And then that was that. But Wayne was a character just like Doug. I mean listen these guys was very special to me.
J: Doug seemed, he had to leave Texas ‘cause he got popped for pot. He liked weed.
[38:54]
D: Oh he loved that herb. Listen, Doug was a special guy. I mean he’s like, he was like the Willie Nelson of that day. And Willie’s gotten popped all over the country. I mean he even got popped in this state. But I love Willie. I loved Doug. You know these are guys that’s the real MacGillycuddy.
[39:27]
And it’s just a, a, a, some of the stuff that happened along the way just is weird. It’s like I remember when ??? brought this girl that was gonna be a singer. And she became a very well-known singer and her name was, I can’t remember now.
[40:00]
But, uh, Janis Joplin, I thought, me and Wayne both told, don’t give up your day job. And we were serious. And we didn’t think this girl had any shot of pulling anything off.
[40:27]
And all of a sudden she became like a humungous star and Albert Grossman was managing her and all kinda ridiculous stuff. But then again Albert was managing me at one time and then he was managing the Band, he was managing Bob Dylan, he was managing all kinda people back then.
[40:54]
But this guy that me and Shawn, or Alvin Robinson, got his pictures up there, he’s, he, him and me used to go put all this voodoo stuff all over this guy’s front of his office. And we knew when he came to work he would see all of this stuff. We’d make veves in the bottom and just all this stuff all over, like a hand of, of glory, whatever you know.
[41:35]
But we do this stuff to this guy and his name was Bennett Glotzer. And he continued the suit with me after Albert Grossman was dead. They were suing me for about 15, maybe 20 years. And that’s the kinda people managers is.
J: So in Cali the businessmen weren’t any more honest than they were in New Orleans.
D: Eh, listen that’s why I call this a racket and I’m, I’m gonna stick with it.
J: Tell me about Irving Green, I know he gave Doug a lot of leeway, hiring production and hiring you.
[42:25]
D: Yeah, well he, look, like I say he paid me more to be, for, for, for, to be a spy than when I was working as a record producer. That’s something shaky right there. And then I called Irving Green after he retired and he was into the construction racket then.
[42:54]
He didn’t know who the hell I was after working for this guy from 1953 or ’54 ‘til, for a long, long, long time. And he actually gave me a, a, a, me and Harold Batiste he gave us both a thing to produce records. And I insisted Harold do this thing with me.
J: You worked with Sonny and Cher as well?
[43:28]
D: Yeah I was, I was with the, uh, road band, I was with the whatever they are. That’s how I met Jackie Kennedy at a gig. And at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York.
J: What about John York, he played with the quintet out in California after Doug went out there ???.
D: I didn’t, listen, I don’t remember all of the guys names.
J: That name don’t ring a bell at all.
[44:05]
D: I can’t remember, listen there was so many shifts in that band in the days I was there that I, Doug sticks out and the rest of ‘em, I, I can’t says I remember any of the guys. But that, I do remember Doug had one little drummer that, that I used to like.
[44:35]
And, and he was living somewhere, uh, around, with where Al Hurts??? pad used to be in, in, in a section of LA that my old partner Charlie Stein used to live in. And this was like off the hook stuff, but that guy –
J: Johnny Perez.
D: That’s the guy.
J: Johnny Perez?
D: Yeah, that’s the guy I can remember. I really liked that guy.
J: He was a boxer, old boxer.
D: Yeah.
J: Pretty good drummer, too.
D: I thought he was cool.
J: Tell me Doug, when the Quintet was first happening they were trying to pass as British.
[5:14:49]
D: Oh yeah they, they had that look. They, they was so, uh, uh, off the hook and then some that yeah they was special.
J: You think dressing up British, was that different then when you started putting on beads and feathers?
[5:15:13]
D: Hell I don’t know, you know what, look, I don’t think like this is over here and this is over there. I just looked at everything was like, that’s what it is. And you know around the time that some guys started taking all the stuff I was doing and taking that, uh, like the, the glitter and all of the stuff that they was doing.
[5:15:52]
Eh, I started thinking about it, thinking I’m gonna do something else ‘cause that was what they was doing. And I didn’t like what they was doing anyways. Nah, but what, it was, I remember this one band Iggy Pop and the Stooges.
[5:16:18]
And this guy was swinging a mic around me and Sun Ra and Dittimus was standing on the stage looking at this guy. And he swung this mic around and he hit the drummer in the face and the bass player in the face. And I’m thinking it’s not a good way to keep a band.
[5:16:45]
But Sun Ra was making me laugh and Dittimus was making me laugh so I, by the time we got through we were just rolling. And that was crazy stuff but that’s how life was going then.
J: Doug comes back to Texas, first to San Antonio then Austin. Jerry Wexler enters the picture. Did you see Doug in Austin before you saw him in NY for that Atlantic recording session?
[5:17:27]
D: Yeah I probably did. I’m sure, I know me and Fathead was doing some productions on some of the people that, uh, Cliff Antone’s joint in Austin. But I had saw Doug somewhere else before that. I think I went to see my old trumpet player in San Antonio. And, uh, uh, uh, oh god I can’t think of this guy’s name.
[5:18:00]
But, uh, it, oh he’s, he, he was a bad, he played the trumpet on, on Mongo Santamaria’s Watermelon Man. But he’s from San Antone.
J: But not one of Doug’s boys. He had Charlie McBurney and pretty good horn players. Hell I can’t remember –
[5:18:29]
D: This guy was, he was bad. He played on that original Watermelon Man with Mongo Santamaria. And but I got to hire him after for a while. And I remember the saxophone player with my band, he punched Ray out on the stage.
[5:19:00]
And, and then, uh, oh Louie Gasca.
J: Louie Gasca, of course.
[5:19:09]
D: And Louie, uh, uh, stomped Ray when he hit the ground and so I called a band meeting. I said look why you, why’d you punch Ray out? And the saxophone player said, uh, well, uh, he beat me for some money. And I said look I tell you if you put your money in Ray Draper’s hands you’re fired.
[5:19:40]
And I said and Louie why did you stomp him when he hit the ground? He said I couldn’t help myself little daddy. And so that was a blessing to me. Man, just that he said that, I said you still got the gig.
J: It’s one thing to play piano, guitar be a musician, another to be a singer and leader of a band. It’s a whole other thing to be an arranger and lead a band. You have that, Doug has that. I’m just wondering, was it a connection there? You both knew how to do that.
[5:20:26]
D: Well, look we was always, me and Doug was like a good combo. That we had fun doing no matter, like as long as I didn’t, when I was playing them Just About a Mover and the other damn songs, that was it but for that. But when I could just play the piano, I was happy.
J: I remember hearing this recording after you’d done the Atlantic session you’re in Austin and Doug’s trying to teach you a Charlie Walker song, Pick Me Up On Your Way Down, old country song. How’d you get on with the country stuff he knew?
[5:21:15]
D: Hey listen, I loved any, listen, I, from back in the days in the school where, I worked at the Louisiana Hay Ride with Hank Williams and I worked there also, and I worked that gig with, uh, uh, with Elvis Presley. Now this was, we was in a band with Werly Fairburn.
[5:21:44]
And that was an opening guy for the, for the gig. But you know what? Elvis Presley stole the guy’s name, the Hillbilly Cat. And I thought I don’t like this guy already. But that was, I thought that was jive you know. ‘Cause this guy had ducktails and he had like a pencil in his ducktail.
[5:22:17]
And those were like in them days when guys wore ducktails in they head, zoot suits and stuff like that. I remember our band used to have zoot suits, that we all wore that. That was a long time ago but it was like until Paul Gayten says nobody’s wearing a zoot suit no more.
[5:22:46]
And, uh, and we were working for Paul at the Brass Rail here in New Orleans. And it just bothered me, and so one day we, we, we just was, uh, uh, we tried to get some other kinda suits but we couldn’t do it. We didn’t make enough money to do that.
J: I think Doug was 12 when he played the Louisiana Hay Ride. You all talk about that?
D: Oh listen I just worked those two gigs with Werly Fairburn long time ago.
J: But you know how to play country.
[5:23:31]
D: Hey you know what? It’s like, the old studio musicians always used to tell me you better play any kind of music and play it right. And that ain’t nothing that you, if you don’t know how to do that, so I was open to anything.
J: Did Wexler come along, were you already working with Wexler when you did this recording session with Doug in NY?
[5:24:04]
D: Yeah, I had been, I had been cutting records for Atlantic for, let’s see, I cut from 1960, I think the first record I had came out in ’68. And then I don’t know how many years it was until we did that thing with Doug.
J: Who’s Jerry Wexler?
[5:24:40]
D: Uh, listen, he, he was a character and I, I got along, uh, uh, better with him than I did with Ahmet Ertegun (pronounced “Omelet”), but I got along the best with Nesuhi Ertegun . He was alright. And he hired this guy Joel Dorn and that guy was the masked announcer [laughs] and he was a good producer.
[5:25:20]
But, uh, I do remember stuff that Joel and TK? did.
J: I remember one time I got to visit with Henry Roeland Byrd I brought up Jerry Wexler and I got a look like don’t bring that man’s name up around me.
[5:25:45]
D: Hey well you know what Atlantic, they don’t have the, the original record of Big Chief that was Fess like trademark, they never reissued that record. And that’s kinda jive.
J: So this recording in NY there was David Fathead Newman, you knew Fathead, you worked with him. He fun to work with?
[5:26:19]
D: Oh yeah and Fathead, all, all, whether it was Hank Crawford or Hog or Marcus Belgrave or John Hunt, any of them guys from the original section from, from Ray’s band, I knew ‘em all. I went to meet the band when they were cutting here.
[5:26:46]
And, but that’s when I think Donald Wilkerson was playing the, uh, uh, uh, the tenon??? alto and Fathead was playing the bari and I can’t remember what, who was playing the alto beside Donald then. But I, it was a long time ago.
J: I want to go back to NY Atlantic session. I think everyone was thinking it would make him break out international star.
D: Right, we thought that.
J: There was Fathead Newman, David Bromberg, Wayne Jackson, Memphis Horns, Augie, Flaco, Jack Barber –
[5:27:43]
D: Flaco Jimenez, yeah, that’s another guy I was trying to think of Flaco’s name ‘cause he was a good partner of mine, too. And I thought he was special.
J: Why?
[5:28:00]
D: Just because he did things that was really, really a cross of musics that he was special.
J: Still is special.
D: Oh man I think he’s very special.
J: You and Doug and Wexler were all talking about Chicano polkas being the next big thing. In fact there’s a line you’re saying, yes kinda like the second line back in my hometown. What’d you make of that? Chicano polka Doug’s cooking up. That ain’t rhythm and blues.
[5:28:39]
D: Hey listen no matter what it was, I love Doug enough to say one thing, Doug was my partner and we went through a lot of crap. We went through a lot. That was not cool but we went through it. We came out the other end and we still kept going. We was trying to pull a lot of stuff off.
[5:29:17]
But who knows what, where we could’ve went but that’s what I always think about with Doug.
J: I think you both did pull it off. You went through real, that’s rough college there. A lot of people get shaken up, they don’t come out of it. They go in but they don’t come out. You all came out on the other side. Both wise for it. I don’t see many people, your contemporaries, able to come out the way you did.
[5:29:53]
D: Well, I was blessed, you know, I was blessed.
J: You kept in touch with Doug over the years. The Atlantic album didn’t work. He was onto something else.
[5:30:07]
D: You know what? That’s when I, I loved Doug’s spirit, ‘cause man he just had spiritual hip things in him that always like it didn’t matter to him if this sucker is selling. If this sucker is do, whatever that record ??? thinking is.
[5:30:36]
Nothing’s gonna always be right. And we, we kinda got the idea a long time ago that we gotta roll with whatever we can roll with ‘cause you know, when, when some of the stuff that we got hit with was really lowdown.
[5:31:03]
I’m a tell ya, some, some of the stuff, Huey and I’m talking about Huey Meaux and when he started that, got the studio in Texas, I was gonna, uh, uh, me and one of my songwriting partners, we was gonna rip him off for some stuff that belonged to us.
[5:31:43]
It wasn’t Huey’s. And it’s the kinda thing that I’d pull a piece on for, you know? It’s, it’s just all part of certain things that wasn’t cool at all [laughs]
J: I think of music being a happy thing but in order to do it you gotta pull pieces out on people. That part of it people don’t know.
[5:32:12]
D: Hey, listen, if you knew how many times we had to pull a piece out on a club owner to get the money, this is typical and back in the days of the Chitlin’ Circuit, you had to have ‘em ready, willing and able to go all the time.
[5:32:38]
And you, you couldn’t, you couldn’t, it’s like when Willie Jones, I was on the road with him a long time ago, and he had a shoulder piece here, he had a shoulder piece here. He had two pieces back here and two in his, on his feet, I mean on his ankles.
[5:33:06]
How could anybody shoot that many guns? That’s ridiculous! But this is, and every night Willie Jones would do this really cockeyed thing with Charles Brown and Amos Milburn, and Amos was coming out the closet then.
[5:33:37]
And it was strange thing but Billy Diamond took this, took this tour on the road and it was like, I thought, what am I doing here? And this was one of those kinda roles that I thought, this, these guys are crazy, way, way crazier than my ass.
J: Over your career do you like playing in Texas?
[5:34:13]
D: Yeah you know listen I used to love, I used to love Doug’s hometown. I got my old partner August living there. Him, Louie Gasca and, and one of my old partners, it was a little lockdown situate with me but he, all three of them, the, the, the, we at the, uh, uh, I can’t remember, but it’s like the St. Francis Hotel or something like that.
J: St. Anthony.
[5:34:51]
S: St. Anthony Hotel, yes, that’s right. And [laughs] oh god, that, that hotel, said if you’re gonna be with these three guys, you’re gonna have to go outside. And I said why? And the guy said well this guy pulled a, he was selling dope in this place and some, this guy was dealing, and this guy was dealing hot stuff here and this guy was doing this here.
[5:35:24]
And I’m thinking oh okay. We’ll go outside [laughs]. But it’s a long time ago but you know what? That, those were things that kinda, I had fun with.
J: St. Antonio not like New Orleans. People say New Orleans is exotic and different.
[5:35:47]
D: Hey listen, I think San Antonio, Guadalupe Street, you’re gonna see some characters. I don’t give a damn what it is, you’re gonna see a gang and a half of characters and maybe every now and then a ??? car’s gonna be in between ‘em.
J: When Doug came back to Texas did you visit him in Austin when he lived next to the club?
[5:36:15]
D: Yeah, I, I, I remember just seeing him a couple of times though but, I can’t remember this, this girl, she said she was gonna come sing at this, uh, thing, god damn, anyway.
[5:36:38]
But I just, I just, it’s like when Doug was around, he, he was a special guy. He, he had an interest in all kinds of music. And he had that flow for all kinda music. That, was special.
[5:37:07]
And then he had a complete picture of something in his spirit that was like, hey, we, we, we all on the same page length and that was Doug. That was the Doug I dug. And you know –
J: There was already a lot of music in Austin but he got the country people to talk to the blues people to talk to Tex-Mex people and to him it was all the same thing.
D: Right.
J: Otherwise these musicians wouldn’t hang out with one another. He was a real organizer.
[5:37:50]
D: And he was a special type of organizer ‘cause Doug had all these kinda people working with him at different times. And he didn’t like he never failed to do whatever he did ever. He, he, he could work a house.
[5:38:15]
He could sell his business and he knew how to work his show. And that’s magical.
J: Not even Willie can play rhythm and blues authentically like Doug could. Doug played steel guitar. Link Davis he played Cajun fiddle. Then Louie Ortega out in California says he turned me onto swamp pop. I never heard of swamp pop. I know the ??? and all those guys are always talking about Doug. I don’t understand how he connected so well –
[5:38:53]
D: Hey listen he was a guy that spiritually was on like a balanced feel. And he had that understanding like nobody else. Nobody had an understanding like Doug. And this was a little bit later, but this was a balancing factor for Doug that I thought was very hip.
J: Did you keep up with the Texas Tornados?
[5:39:36]
D: Yeah, I remember, I re-…the guy that, where he got that name from, uh, who was the Texas Tornado originally? It was a, it was a saxophone player.
J: I’m trying to remember, you’re right, Houston saxophone player.
D: Mm-hmm, or maybe somewhere right around Houston. Might’ve been in, in the Heights but it might’ve been –
J: No, Arnett Cobb was the Texas Wild Man.
D: Right, uh, but it was, it was one of those slamming guys that was the Texas Tornado and –
J: Do this for me, how does Texas sound different than New Orleans?
[5:40:37]
D: Well there’s a lot of different things but there’s elements that crosses borders all the time. Look I went, I first met Joe Scott, he was coming here to New Orleans to hear me play on Miss Lavelle’s session.
[5:41:00]
And all of those days that I played on some other sessions for him, whatever, he was coming here. And then I got to make a hustle with him in Houston. And I felt really good ‘cause he remembered me. And that’s important.
[5:41:26]
It’s like a guy like Johnny Cash remembered me and he, he remembered me pretty good from the old, the old days when he was out there doing the same thing I was doing on the Chitlin’ Circuit. And people was all working in those days but we wasn’t getting paid too much but we was working.
[5:41:52]
But the, the thing that like Doug had that was the best thing was he had opened this for everything and everybody. He, and just like you were saying he could communicate with everybody. His spirit was open like that. His spirit was wide open like that.
[5:42:21]
And that’s one of the things you, you gotta feel from people. You can’t just say hey well that’s this or that, the other thing. It ain’t, it’s something special in certain people.
J: Doug always talked about the groove. How do you understand the groove? What is the groove?
[5:42:47]
D: Well, if you don’t gotta groove, I’m gonna give you a little thought here. Like, uh, [plays piano] –
[5:43:54]
That that’s one kinda groove. But there’s a million other kinda grooves that could’ve played any one of. I’m just gonna give you a idea of another kind of groove like [plays piano]
[5:45:07]
Anyway but that’s another kind of little groove. But there’s, Doug had that understanding that any way you can pull a groove together is gonna be better. If the band don’t be grooving, you ain’t got much of a band [laughs].
[5:45:30]
And if the guys that’s in the band ain’t feeling the groove you ain’t got much of a band. You gotta have every aspect working together.
J: Doug ever play piano around you?
[5:45:55]
D: I never heard him play but you know what? I’m sure he could play anything.
J: I noticed on the recordings whenever triplets was involved Augie wasn’t playing, Doug was playing. He could play the triplets pretty well.
[5:46:12]
D: Oh yeah Doug, Doug had a lot of off the hook knacks that he was pushing into one zone, pulling out of the another zone and make it go.
J: One guy I forgot to ask you about at the Atlantic session, Bob Dylan. Did you know him before or hang out with him?
[5:46:37]
D: Well Bob is kinda been a pain in my ass but you know he’s, uh, I can’t say I don’t like the cat even though he fired me in Houston off of the, the, the Night of the Hurricane tour. And it was okay ‘cause I, I had, I had a couple gigs lined up in Houston anyways.
[5:47:10]
So it was alright [laughs]. But Judge Eddie Sapir from right here, and I told Bob that this guy, Ruben Hurricane??? he talked to some of the convicts that was with him and said he did that.
[5:47:39]
And they didn’t like that especially while they’re doing all this thing to help the guy. But I told ‘em what I had, they didn’t like it and they fired me.
J: He didn’t bring much to Doug’s session. I guess if he was the star, the record should’ve sold a lot more. If sales was where it was at.
[5:48:07]
D: Hey listen I, I, I look at some of the cats that’s off the hook, but he’s one of them guys that like he’ll tell me something like see me off the stage for a minute and say let ‘em film this gig or something. I said no, I ain’t letting nobody film this stupid gig.
[5:48:36]
And he would be really insistent upon that. And I’m thinking this guy’s, he’s just whatever he is, I don’t know.
J: Not easy man to work for. Producer?
P: How would you describe Doug to someone who never knew him?
[5:49:01]
D: Well I think Doug was a great guitar player but he had vibes about him that stretched past anything. And even though listen I can’t say that I loved his hit records, I loved his music.
[5:49:28]
That was the Doug I thought was the pure manure. And he was like special. And I, I remember, I remember Doug came here one time and it, and I know this was with Huey.
[5:49:55]
And one of the things Doug told me early on and I’ve, and I’ll, I’ll always remember this lyric from him but it, it, it’s not really a lyrical but it, it’s a, it’s just Doug’s feelings. But he said something about, we’re gonna just try to make this thing work.
[5:50:26]
And I said, and how am I to suggest we do that? And he said look you done been there with Joe Tex, you been there with these guys and all of that. He says, use them tactics. And you know what? We was able to pull the thing together by using some tactics that we may not a used.
[5:51:02]
That was Doug. He had a way of opening things up and that was a good thing. I love the guy you know. He was a special guy in my spirit. Nobody was like that.
J: I know he felt the same way about you. It’s the highway 90 connection. You two are on opposite ends of highway 90 but connected by all that music in between.
[5:51:41]
D: Hey we was, we was both destined some kinda which a way to hook up. And we was destined to hook up in weird places that we never thought we was gonna be. We wound up doing things that we never thought we was gonna do. And that was all part of what Doug, me was like trying to pull off.
[5:52:13]
You know, I, I remember I had, Doug found this guy for Wayne Talbert’s album that, that, and he had this guy play a saw. And I had never heard anybody play a saw before. But the guy played it with a violin bow and really made it sound like something.
[5:52:43]
Now Doug found that guy for Wayne but he, you would’ve thought, he went out for like two or three days looking for that guy. And finally found the guy and brings him to the studio. And just happened that we was still cutting this record on Wayne. And that was like wow and the guy played beautiful.
J: I think about Flaco Jimenez, everybody says white boys didn’t go over to the Mexican side of town. Doug did all the time and he pulled Flaco out. You think about he recorded with Dwight Yoakam, Buck Owens, the Rolling Stones, put a sound on Nashville music. It’s Doug but he didn’t get the credit for it. If Doug hadn’t done it Flaco would still be playing the west side of San Antonio.
[5:53:49]
D: Hey listen man, Flaco Jimenez was a bad sucker and no matter what, Doug had a ear for people that was bad. As long as Doug had that, felt that in his spirit, he’d roll. Nobody could roll like that. Doug could roll like that.
J: I like he took you to see a guitarist that could work a trapeze. Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top said oh yeah he took me to San Antonio where a guy played guitar with his feet.
[5:54:30]
D: Hey you know what? All of them guys that I know, the ZZ’s and the Tops and all of that, they, they, they come from a different space of time but it’s okay. We all part of something. And that’s, that’s what we’re part of.
J: You know dancers here in town, Pork Chop and Kidney Bean?
[5:55:00]
D: Pork Chops and Kidney Stew and Spoonman used to pick pocket along with a good lord lift her??? And they was picking pockets while Pork Chops and Kidney Stew was dancing to the Hambone Kids.
J: I don’t know if it was Pork Chop or Kidney Stew or a separate Curly Barefoot Miller? You ever hear, he danced barefoot on the street.
[5:55:30]
D: No, I, I, I don’t remember this cat but I do remember all of them guys, Cousin Joe and Google Eyes turned me onto back in the game ‘cause they was, but I, I have this great memory of Good Lord the Lifter and Spoonman just picking pockets like nothing was.
[5:56:09]
But they had a guy who’d come up in the front of these people and distract them from just that minute. And then their pockets were empty.
J: Takes a lot of talent.
D: Well you gotta, if you know something about picking a pocket [laughs]
J: If you don’t it’s not gonna turn out well for you.
D: That’s correct.
P: One last thing, what was Doug like as a person?
[5:56:43]
D: I tell ya, I think Doug was cool as people and he was a sincere cat. That was one of his little things that he knew worked in a better way than most people. His sincerity came out of something that was really on the one.
[5:57:14]
That Doug, he didn’t just feel things, he knew things but he had a way and when, I don’t know if Doug was like this when I first met him ‘cause I didn’t know him that good. But when, when I later met him, this guy was on the one. And he just was like that all the time.
J: Kinda jacked up or a quiet guy?
[5:57:50]
D: Oh yeah, Doug, Doug had about four sides to his personality that was all whatever was going on at the time. And he could see this or that or the other thing or the other thing and say well this is cool, this ain’t cool, this is really not cool and this ain’t cool at all or whatever.
[5:58:21]
You know it’s certain little things that Doug could see that made me feel like this guy’s special.
J: He had good judgment then to determine what’s cool, what’s not.
[5:58:36]
D: Yeah ‘cause look, he, he was open to things that a lot of people ain’t open to. He was spiritually hip to a lot of things that people ain’t hip to. But basically he was somebody that was easy to get along with and easy to deal with.
[5:59:02]
And that’s pretty good. In, in, in this world today where everybody’s about computer machines and we’re living in a world of machines, that, hey, it’s, it’s alright. But it’s not maybe sensible.
J: One more question and it’s kinda going way back, to strangers who never heard of Doug. How would you explain the Louisiana Hayride? What was the Louisiana Hayride?
[5:59:47]
D: Well it’s funny but you know what? It was some part of Shreveport that, that was just it. That was whatever the hell it was, I think I actually played a gig back there with a guitar player that was, worked with Elvis.
[6:00:26]
And I think they got his statue up with Elvis statue and I don’t know why they don’t have one of Hank Williams but just –
J: James Burton?
[6:00:38]
D: James Burton, yeah he gave me a guitar at that gig. And I still got that sucker.

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Roky Erickson

Roky Erickson, founding father of Texas Psychedelic Music, lead singer for the trailblazing 13th Floor Elevator, and the most famous dropout William B. Travis High School in Austin has ever had, departed for a higher plane recently.

Back in 2013, I wrote extensively liner notes for three Roky reissues from back in the 80s for Light In the Attic Records – The Evil One, Gremlins Have Pictures, and Don’t Slander Me. Light in the Attic has graciously allowed me to publish those liners notes here, with the reminder that all three reissues are still available for purchase. Light In The Attic Records

The Evil One

Gremlins Have Pictures

Don’t Slander Me

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