We haven’t run a Music Documentary Monday in a while, but when we asked filmmaker Brendan Toller about his favorites of the year, he responded with such written enthusiasm for this title – an SXSW 2015 premiere, as was his own Danny Says – that we decided on a one-off revival of our review column to share it with readers at length. Check back in a few weeks for our annual round-up of the year in music film, featuring picks from Brendan and host of other connoisseurs.
Joe Nick Patoski is a rock ‘n’ roll/Texas font, penning books on Willie Nelson, Selena, and Stevie Ray Vaughn. His bylines have appeared in The New York Times, LA Times, No Depression, et al., and he quickly rose to Variety’s “Top Documentarians to Watch in 2015″ with his directorial debut, Sir Doug and the Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove. Doug Sahm’s recordings, legacy, and inducive character are among the thrills of my life, so it was just minutes on the ground at SXSW before Patoski and I were cackling in a corner over a mess of Franklin’s barbecue. This prowess of this production from Austin-based creative team Arts+Labor was the true gem of discovery at SXSW 2015, and few music docs in this “year of the music doc” have reflected the tone and candor of their subject so well.
Doug Sahm is an indefinable character, but here goes.
At 7 he was considered San Antonio’s country music prodigy, getting a tip of the hat from Hank Williams himself. In the mid-’60s, at the suggestion of record producer Huey P. Meaux, Sahm partnered with his longtime friend, organist Augie Meyers, and Jack Barber, Frank Morin, and Johnny Perez to form the Sir Douglas Quintet. The Quintet cashed in as a fake British Invasion band with their ’65 smash “She’s About A Mover.” They traveled the country and, like not a few other Texas greats (the 13th Floor Elevators, Johnny Winter, Butthole Surfers), got busted for a few joints. Sahm’s parents mortgaged their house to get him out of jail.
As soon as he shook loose from probation, Sahm moved to San Francisco, and any remaining “redneck” roots were hippified by the LSD revolution. He took this dual sensibility back to Texas, and it defines the forces that have kept his adopted hometown of Austin weird. As his lookalike son Shawn Sahm recalls in the film, Doug was driven by the groove – a desire to keep the whirlwind of beautiful music, women, and food forever in orbit. His eclecticism and showmanship permeate his solo debut, Doug Sahm & Band (produced by Jerry Wexler and featuring contributions from Dr. John, Bob Dylan, and the Memphis Horns), but those qualities didn’t always pay in the bloated ’70s record biz (see also NRBQ). In the ’80s Sahm took the rollicking highs and lows of showbiz to Scandinavia (“Bavarian Baby”!) and Canada, returning home late in the decade to form Tex-Mex supergroup the Texas Tornados. He passed away in 1999 at the early age of 58. Fans include: Jeff Tweedy, Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, Bottle Rockets, Drive-By Truckers, et al.
Like Sahm, Patoski and Arts+Labor chief Alan Berg are at heart creative-community organizers. They’ve assembled a team of Austinites that wind together beautifully shot interviews, archival stills, and rare footage and audio tapes (including an incredible reel-to-reel recorded by Sahm’s wife foreshadowing her departure from their marriage). Super-8, VHS, and HD formats are embraced and blended to stunning effect by colorist Joe Malina and director of photography Yuta Yamaguchi. Sir Doug and the Genuine Cosmic Texas Groove is infused with a thoughtfulness and heartfelt sense of humor that transcends tribute and effortlessly infects viewers with the groove: you too will be driven to discover astonishing music, love, and food, with Doug Sahm providing your spiritual soundtrack. As Sahm himself put it, “You just can’t live in Texas if you don’t have a lot of soul.”
from Variety Magazine, April 14, 2015
Joe Nick Patoski
Erin Lee Carr
Orlando Von Einsiedel
04.14.15 | 10:01AM PT
Variety’s 10 Documakers To Watch
By Variety Staff
Joe Nick Patoski
Joe Nick Patoski makes his directorial debut with “Sir Doug and the Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove,” which chronicles the life and legacy of Austin music icon Doug Sahm. The SXSW Film Festival crowd received the doc enthusiastically at its March premiere. Despite “Sir Doug” being Patoski’s first doc, the man is a seasoned storyteller. A respected music journalist and author, Patoski has written for the New York Times, recorded oral histories and hosted radio programs for decades. Though his meticulous handling of detail usually leads him to pen lengthy tomes on various Texas-themed subjects (500 pages on Willie Nelson, 800 pages on the Dallas Cowboys), he knew Sahm called for something different. “If I write it, you can’t hear that music,” Sahm says. “You can’t see him talk, or realize visually what a character he was. You need to hear him, you need to see him and, most importantly, you need to hear his music.” Patoski insists that Sahm’s versatility in Texas roots music is what makes him a versatile doc subject, not his philandering or quirks. “If he wasn’t such a talented musician, we could have easily just made him into Forrest Gump,” he says. For the project, Patoski and his team conducted 55 interviews about Sahm and drew inspiration from rock documentaries including Malik Bendjelloul’s “Searching for Sugar Man” and Freddy Camalier’s “Muscle Shoals.” It was vital to Patoski that the whimsy of Sahm and his persona permeate the doc, even if its lighter tone stood in contrast to the heavier competition at SXSW. “I’m an outlier,” Patoski says of his film. “Mine’s frivolous and it’s goofy and it’s about music, but I sincerely believe … you can eavesdrop on any culture if you listen to its radio station.” — Marianne Zumberge
Roky Erickson, Godfather of Texas psychedelia and the lead singer of the Thirteenth Floor Elevators, is honored with a restrospective of three reissues of the best music of his solo career. Light in the Attic records has reissued The Evil One, Don’t Slander Me, and Gremlins Have Pictures as splendidly-packaged CDs and vinyl LPs, both formats including extensive liner notes by yours truly. The liners for all three combined make for a small book about Roky’s post-Elevators career. I’d actually participated in the first extensive interview with Roky following his incarceration in the Rusk Hospital for the Criminally Insane (a bad deal that has to do more with Texas’s twisted form of justice than with Erickson’s mental state), and wrote about Roky completing the recording for the Evil One (released on 415 Records in the US and on Epic UK around the rest of the world) when I was a reporter for the Austin Statesman. I learned a lot doing research on these recordings. TEO and Don’t Slander Me were mostly recorded in San Francisco and produced by Stu Cook, the bassist for Creedence Clearwater Revival, along with Billy Miller, the autoharp player who was part of the band Blieb Alien that backed Roky in his first post-Rusk appearances and recordings in Austin in 1975. Duane Aslaksen’s guitar and production skills are critical pieces of The Evil One and Dont Slander Me, as part of the Aliens, Roky’s studio band. Gremlins Have Pictures includes the primitive Ritz Theatre live performance that led to Erickson’s first single, “Starry Eyes” and “Two-Headed Dog” produced by Doug Sahm and issued as a 45 on Mars Records, as well as recordings Roky did with the Explosives, the Austin power trio that toured with him in the early 80s. The Ritz gig (the show is introduced by Austin artist Jim Franklin) led to Erickson’s return to the stage and studio. The stories are told by Stu Cook, Roky’s manager Craig Luckin, along with Billy Miller, Duane Aslaksen, Freddy Steady Krc, Epic A&R chief Howard Thompson, and many others, shining light on a brilliant, sometimes twisted career at its peak, with madness always lurking in the shadows. The deets are here: www.lightintheattic.net
You might also check for news updates.
As the port and melting pot of American music, the Crescent City sound began in Congo Square, where African slaves and immigrants from the Caribbean and Europe played music from their home countries and proceeded to mix it all up. Jazz came from New Orleans, and by virtue of lineage so did rhythm and blues, rock & roll, Zydeco, brass bands, and bounce. Music is the linchpin of Mardi Gras, of St. Joseph’s Day for the local Indian tribes, and of Jazz Fest. Music celebrates births and ushers the dead to the cemetery in festive fashion. If New Orleans isn’t really where all music comes from—as Ernie K-Doe once proclaimed on WWOZ, the city’s community-owned radio station—then I’d like to know where else.
You can hear music anywhere, but in New Orleans you can feel it and smell it in the thick and salty air. Now and then you can read about it—but rarely in stories as well-told as Unfinished Blues: Memories of a New Orleans Music Man by Harold Battiste Jr. with Karen Celestan (2010), and Ernie K-Doe: The R&B Emperor of New Orleans by Ben Sandmel (2012). These are the first two books in a series published by the Historic New Orleans Collection. The large-format books are liberally illustrated with photographs, poster and record label reproductions, and ephemera—get-well cards, poster boards, newspaper clippings, election buttons—that alone are worth the cover charge. But the storytelling makes the difference in these lavishly produced books.
Of all the arts that inform New Orleans’s rich culture and separate the city from everywhere else, music remains by far the most important. The musicians at Preservation Hall, one of they city’s oldest living traditions, charge $20 for playing jazz funeral standard “When the Saints Go Marching In”; it is so well known around the world that tourists can’t help but request it. And the creators of this culture, the musicians at the heart of it all, from Jelly Roll Morton to Lil Wayne, have been recognized for their contributions and have sacrificed themselves for their art (a moment of silence for James Booker, Professor Longhair, and all the has-beens and never-wills). Harold Battiste Jr. and Ernie K-Doe, the subjects of the two books, traveled wildly divergent paths to reach hometown legacy status.
Battiste is that rare success story from New Orleans’s classic R&B/rock & roll heyday, from the early 1950s to the mid-1960s; he was one of the cats who left town to be somebody and make money. Most artists bitch about never getting paid and having royalties and publishing rights stolen, and were and are bitter, but Battiste rose to a position of prominence as an A&R cat for Specialty; as owner of the trailblazing African-American-owned AFO label; as a producer and arranger of classic American popular music (including Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me” and some of the earliest recordings of the Marsalises, New Orleans’s first family of jazz); and as producer and arranger of Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” and musical director of their television show orchestra. Along the way, Battiste tried to give breaks to others, including Melvin Lastie and Mac Rebennack, whom he produced as Dr. John, The Night Tripper.
Battiste was a scrupulous list keeper and diarist, and many of his diary entries turn up in his memoir. Still, for all the intimate writings, a reader is left wondering about the dynamics of Battiste’s relationship with Bono and with other music-business players, as well as the specific details of what led to his divorce (besides the implicit demands of the lifestyle musicians lead). Too often Battiste gives his personal life short shrift to focus on career highlights.
Ernie K-Doe’s story is more compelling, due largely to the writing talents and outsider’s eye of author, musician, and historian Ben Sandmel, whose prose reads like a great New Orleans song is supposed to sound: you start tapping your foot with each turn of the page, as the tales grow wilder, more exotic, and larger than life. Each time you’re ready to put the book down, you’re swaying and moving to some silent rhythm.
K-Doe was one of those one-hit wonders who never got his due, popularly or financially, after his moment in the national limelight with the number-one single “Mother-in-Law,” in 1961. Like so many others, his story should have ended there, but K-Doe’s mid-life resurrection became the bigger story. First he was a disc jockey on WWOZ, where the self-declared Emperor of R&B became a star in his own right. Then he and his third wife, Antoinette, started Ernie K-Doe’s Mother-in-Law Lounge, where K-Doe held court and gave a satisfying show (on most nights) to visitors seeking an authentic New Orleans music experience—unlike, say, witnessing Frogman Henry singing “Ain’t Got No Home” on Bourbon Street for the two-drink minimum.
Sandmel’s appreciation and respect for K-Doe and Antoinette shows through his rollicking, party-time narrative that celebrates the extreme aspects of entertainment without ignoring the consequences of what the pursuit of pleasure can bring. K-Doe’s post-“Mother-in-Law” life was defined by what Sandmel calls “anarchic madness,” which is a nice way of describing the collateral damage brought on by all that partying, such as alcoholism and broken relationships.
But the redemption K-Doe found late in life through his wife and the Mother-in-Law Lounge is indisputable, culminating with his postmortem immortalization in 2001 as a life-size, stuffed statue that remained the lounge’s centerpiece even after Antoinette’s death on Mardi Gras morning in 2009. Betty Fox, Antoinette’s daughter, ran the joint for a year and a half before she threw in the towel, acknowledging that she wasn’t her charismatic mother. The current owner, trumpet player Kermit Ruffins, temporarily reopened the lounge at North Claiborne Avenue and Columbus Street for this year’s Mardi Gras, and he hopes to eventually reopen the venue full-time.
K-Doe may have talked a lot of shit (he once said, “Ain’t nothin’ but two songs gonna make it to the end of the world—’The Star-Spangled Banner’ and ‘Mother-in-Law'”), but he was always worth listening to. The man’s radio wizardry and penchant for hyperbole has been preserved for posterity:
As for the larger question K-Doe posited about all music and New Orleans, both books go a long way in providing the answer: music couldn’t have come from anywhere else.
For more on Ernie K-Doe and the outsize influence of New Orleans on America’s musical tradition, read “All Music Comes from Louisiana” by Chris Rose, featured in the OA’s Louisiana Music Issue.
K-Doe on DJing and WWOZ http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=UNSdf9i0ixA
from the Aquarian, a nice shoutout. Willie will be with me until I’m no longer here.
Rant ‘N’ Roll: The Wisdom Of Willie
—by Mike Greenblatt, February 27, 2013
Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die: Musings From The Road (William Morrow), by Willie Nelson, with a foreword by Texas Jewboy Kinky Friedman, can be read in one sitting. Consider it dessert to the much more substantial main course of Joe Nick Patoski’s Willie Nelson: An Epic Life. Willie, who hits 80 in a few weeks, is still vital. His current album, Heroes, is terrific and his new album, Let’s Face The Music And Dance, due this spring, will have new originals and covers in the Willie way of Irving Berlin, Carl Perkins, and most surprisingly, Spade Cooley. Cooley (1910-1969) has fallen out of favor ever since he murdered his wife who had an affair with cowboy movie star Roy Rogers.
“It’s already been proven that taxing and regulating marijuana makes more sense than sending young people to prison for smoking a God-given herb that has never proven fatal to anybody,” writes Willie, who also writes “the greatest musician, singer, writer and entertainer that I have ever seen or heard is Leon Russell” and “the best country singer of all time was, and still is, Ray Price.”
Willie’s also a big fan of the three-fingered gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt (1910-1953), whose “Nuages” he covers on the upcoming album. I saw Willie at Farm Aid last year. His guitar playing is extraordinary. He came on to jam with Neil Young and his timing was so jazz it was thrilling. Neil did all he could do to keep up with him. He sings the same way, a bit behind the beat. Drives musicians crazy. New cats find it hard to deal. His band seems to stay put. They know his predilections. Harmonica player Mickey Raphael says, “When I started this gig, I was 21 and I’m 60 now. I learned so much from watching Willie play, and his unique phrasing has given me a musical education I would have received nowhere else.” The book features other testimonials including his sister, his fourth wife, Annie, and some of his six children and seven grandchildren (but none of his eight great-grandchildren).
Willie is as comfortable playing with jazz trumpet legend Wynton Marsalis as he is playing reggae, blues or standards. Screw Rod Stewart’s five albums of American standards. They’re all garbage. When Willie Willie-izes the great American songbook, everything old sounds new again.
“Annie and I have oral sex all the time,” he writes.
He admits to having been beaten up a few times in his life. Even had a gunfight once when he kicked off his property the abusive husband of his daughter and the wife-beater came back shooting. Luckily, everybody missed.
Greatest songwriters? Willie lists Billy Joe Shaver, Roger Miller, Kris Kristofferson, Hank Williams, Merle Haggard and Vern Gosdin.
“I’m so opinionated that I can give you my opinion on anything, anytime, and I’m glad to do so because I’m just an asshole,” he writes.
He tells a few jokes and gives out with one Major League piece of advice: “If you want to be a star, you should start acting like one now, so that when you become one, you will already know how to behave, and maybe you won’t blow it. For instance, I don’t know anybody who is better drunk than sober. You might get by awhile, but sooner than later it will take you down. I know. I tried it.”
There was a period in his band with two drummers and two bassists, and the music got harder and wilder like The Allman Brothers: “Everything was great until we all got on different drugs,” he writes, “then it sounded a lot like a cluster-fuck and a catfight going on at the same time, but we had fun.”
Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble EPIC/LEGACY [Box Set]
SRV breaks out of the gate with Little Stevie Vaughan before he was Stevie Ray. A member of Paul Ray and the Cobras, the kid’s doing “Thunderbird”the upbeat, swinging standard by the Nightcaps, Texas’ first great white-boy blues banda song that every Dallas kid with an electric guitar and an attitude knew by heart. The voice is already full-formed, deep and bluesy. The instrumental prowess, in terms of tone, technique, and attack, is already over the heads of his bandmates. And so begins a long evolution, detailed by the low-down and dirty reading of “I’m Crying,” from Vaughan’s first recording session with Double Trouble, followed by a full-throttle shuffle, “You’re Gonna Miss Me Baby” and 51 other tracks. Most of the songs on this three-CD set are unissued alternate studio takes or live performances. Rarer gems like “Rude Mood/Pipeline” performed with brother Jimmie for MTV and three songs from Vaughan’s last gig, at Wisconsin’s Alpine Valley, are worth the price of admission alone. Taken as a whole, it is even bettera remarkable body of work. So if earlier recordings Vaughan made as half of Blackbird with Christian-Charles de Plique or as part of the Nightcrawlers with Doyle Bramhall and Marc Benno in the early seventies are missing (or even “Let’s Dance,” the song and guitar break that made David Bowie’s career), it’s a minor complaint. What’s important is that the box set captures Stevie Ray Vaughan in full blazing glory, locked into that sweet spot where he could soak up roots, tradition, and soul the way he did so well and then take all that to the next level. Ten years after he died, it’s clearer than ever: SRV was in a different zone. Texas guitar will never sound the same.
Within the first few bars of “Rainbow Riot,” the opening track of the West Side Horns’ San Quilmas, three great revelations came to me while getting reacquainted with the honey-dripping saxophones of Eracleo (Rocky) Morales, Spot Barnett, and Louis Bustos blending with Al Gomez’ trumpet, Jack Barber’s swinging bass, and Arturo (Sauce) Gonzalez’s fat Hammond B-3 chops: 1.) Doug Sahm lives! The Horns defined Doug’s puro San Antonio pachuco soul, and you can hear it right here. 2.) San AntonioExpress-News music critic Jim Beal was right on comparing the West Side Horns to the Memphis Horns, and the reggae rhythms of Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare. They’re that good, and that distinctive; worthy of the North Texas tenor tradition, articulated by Buster Smith and carried by David “Fathead” Newman, and the Honker & Shouter school, defined by Arnett Cobb and still practiced by Grady Gaines. The West Side Horns sound like San Antonio should, with roots firmly planted in the R&B and swing traditions of Aaron (T-Bone) Walker and Clarence (Gatemouth) Brown in particular, with a jalapeño con Big Red afterburn. 3.) They’re pretty great taken on their own terms, especially with the added presence of Johnny Moeller on guitar and his brother Jay on drums. They traffic in a bluesy instrumental jazz-funk, where lead breaks are economical, short, and to the point, and all ears are first and foremost locked on the rhythm. Sort of like those other all-stars from Memphis, Booker T. & the MGs, if they’d grown up on El West Side: an obscure Freddy King instrumental (“High Rise”) here, Joe Zawinul there (“Mercy, Mercy, Mercy”), and like-sounding originals (“Hit’ N the Jug”) sprinkled in. Thrice the formula is broken, when Morales vocalizes (quite well) in an earthy voice, recalling in verse and timbre the great Jimmy Reed, one of the first black bluesmen to find favor among white audiences in the south and Texas in the late Fifties and early Sixties (he influenced Delbert McClinton, Steve Miller, Augie Meyers, and Dusty Hill among others). Ever since he single-handedly revived the career of Freddy Fender with his searing solo on Sahm’s version of “Wasted Days, Wasted Nights” more than 30 years ago, I’ve regarded Morales as the one of the best, if not my very favorite, horn player in the state. His sendup of Reed seals the deal, because he’s got Jimmy, trashed-out and drawling, down cold. Rocky Morales is beyond cool. Rocky is hep. But on this recording, he’s only among equals, because he stands next to Spot Barnett, the house band leader at the Ebony Club on San Antonio’s east side, and the object of admiration of all three horns in the West Side Horns as teenagers as well as Doug. (“I used to want to be a pimp like Spot,” Sahm told me almost three decades back.) Barnett came out of retirement at Sir Doug’s behest in the mid-Nineties and has stuck around, his seasoned honks providing the anchor for the horns in more ways than one. In that respect, San Quilmas is really a piece of history, a continuum of Doug, T-Bone, Gatemouth, Freddy, Clifford Scott, and all the other arbiters of Texas jump blues pumped into the corpuscles of SA vatos. The breadth of their repertoire, always coolly danceable, and a pedigree of those they quote from underscore a greater, bittersweet truth that when the Horns finally hang it up, this kind of sound will be gone for good. Hear it while you can. It’s the sound of roadhouses and jukes, dancing to the music so hard you can feel the whole joint shake. And while you’re at it, you might want to work on those dance steps, too.
You may know Jim Dickinson as the daddy of those North Mississippi All-Stars, producer of the Replacements’ Pleased to Meet Me, or the guy who played piano with the Stones on Sticky Fingers and Dylan on Time Out of Mind. For others, he’s the white cat out of Memphis, who 30 years ago cut his one and only solo album Dixie Fried, one of the best rock & roll albums of all time. Well, the Dickinson growl and his hard-bitten Easy Credit No Money Down, Years to Pay philosophical rant is back, most clearly evident in “Hungry Town,” which throws more than a few hints about where the Stones at their peak learned their funk. Or take “Asshole,” a tune that manages to rhyme the orifice with both “that’s so” and “low class-o,” and even inject “little children” into the lyrical fray while skipping along to a musical duel to the death that pits a gypsy violin against a smoky xylophone. With his greasy fingerprints smudging a gospel rant/Ry Cooder retro-roots mandolin stomp (“JC’s NYC Blues”), sentimental covers of Irma Thomas’ “It’s Raining,” and Blaze Foley’s “If I Could Only Fly,” plus loads of references to gambling that only Texas hustlers in Vegas and Southern cads on riverboats can fully appreciate, Dickinson’s album should be required to carry the following warning: “Anything Dixie Fried may not be good for your health, but it sure sounds good anyway.” The artery-clogger lives.
Buddy Holly took the world by storm when he broke out of Lubbock, Texas in 1957. His singing and playing was the freshest version of rock and roll to come down the line. It was as if his music had come out of a vacuum from somewhere in the middle of the proverbial nowhere. But locals knew better. Before there was Buddy Holly, the all-American rock and roll hero, there was Buddy Holly, the good ol’ boy from the Hub City of the south plains know for his style of Western Bop. That was a nice way of saying that the hormone-addled nitro-fueled teenager played western, honky tonk, and western swing music with way too much energy and enthusiasm to pigeonhole him as plain old country. Countless hours of picking and singing went into polishing, honing, and embellishing his sound that would later become an international sensation.
Stay All Night – Buddy Holly’s Country Roots is the first historical accounting of how Holly got where he did, performed by those who knew Holly best: Buddy’s bandmates; Tommy Allsup, Carl Bunch, and Larry Welborn, and Buddy’s earliest professional collaborator Jack Neal. They are joined by the Texas Playboys, that swinging big band led by Bob Wills from down the road in Turkey, Texas. Adding to the account are Buddy’s brothers and mentors, Larry and Travis Holley, and his contemporaries Al Perkins and Billy Grammer. Featured also are a new generation of stars from Lubbock – the Flatlanders; Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock; and some Holly disciples from far beyond Lubbock including Robert Reynolds from the Mavericks, and blues masters Judy Luis-Watson and Paul Watson. Together these players weave the cultural heritage of West Texas through the thread of this music. Each and every song is an old familiar tune for those who grew up in Buddy Holly’s place and time. Some are jukebox standards, others dancehall favorites. A few drifted in on static airwaves from faraway radio stations in Shreveport and Nashville. Two are previously unreleased tracks by Buddy Holly and Jack Neal as performed for their radio show on Lubbock station KDAV. Each and every track tells a piece of the story about how the torch was passed to the kid with horn-rimmed glasses, and how that torch has been passed on to others.
Stay All Night is more than the name of a song. It’s more than an album title for a collection of soulful, heartfelt songs that could have been made nowhere but Texas.
Stay All Night is a celebration of a talent like no one before or since, the talent that nourished Buddy, and the talent he’s inspired since, from Lubbock, Texas to the entire planet.