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
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.
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.
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?
D: I play the piano and the guitar.
J: Where’d you grow up?
D: Right here, well in New Orleans.
J: Did you grow up around music?
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.
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.
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.
D: No, I was a teenager.
J: It came pretty naturally to you then.
J: You have any guides? I know you had at least one piano ??? tour.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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].
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
J: Was that kinda your connection to get work as a musician?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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 –
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.
And, and then, uh, oh Louie Gasca.
J: Louie Gasca, of course.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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 –
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
J: Otherwise these musicians wouldn’t hang out with one another. He was a real organizer.
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.
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 –
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
D: Well, if you don’t gotta groove, I’m gonna give you a little thought here. Like, uh, [plays piano] –
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]
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].
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
D: James Burton, yeah he gave me a guitar at that gig. And I still got that sucker.