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.
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.
D: Mm-hmm.
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?
D: Yeah.
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.
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.
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.
J: Why?
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.
D: Right.
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.

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Sir Doug film plays Nashville, NY, Houston


Sir Doug & The Genuine Texas Groove plays the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, Saturday afternoon, September 17; the Cafe Brasil Music Doc series in Houston, Monday evening, September 19; and the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville, NY on Tuesday evening, September 27.

Info on the Nashville screening here:

Info on the Houston screening here:

Info on the Pleasantville screening here:



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Sir Doug Film @ Crossroads of Texas FF Waxahachie Weds May 18



link here:   Crossroads of Texas Film Festival

Sir Doug & The Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove continues riding the film festival circuit, stopping in Waxahachie, just south of Dallas, on Weds evening, May 18. Sir Doug is one of several great films screening in Waxa for the fest including True Stories and Selena, plus lotsa music.

Check it out. Two other Texas screenings have been added – Sunday afternoon, June 5, at the South Texas Popular Culture Center in San Antonio, and Saturday night, June 11 at the Barnhill Center in Brenham.



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Sir Doug film playing Barcelona, Fort Worth and Houston


Three big film festival screenings are coming up for the film I directed Sir Doug and the Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove

Wednesday, November 4 Sir Doug will screen at In-Edit Barcelona, the music documentary festival InEdit

Saturday, November 7 Sir Doug will screen at the Lone Star Film Festival in Fort Worth


Friday, November 13 Sir Doug will play the Houston Cinema Arts Festival


I will be doing a Q and A after these screenings.

Mil gracias to the Mill Valley Film Festival in northern California for hosting us and screening the film on October 11-12


and mega mil gracias to the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival for hosting us and for three consecutive sold out screenings, and for the festival’s Audience Choice Award.


More screenings are coming, along with (hopefully) a distribution deal.

Longterm goal: get Doug on the nominee list for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this time next year. Here’s a link to sign the petition. Please pass it around. Groove Doug Sahm into the Rock Hall


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Joe Nick Patoski Q&A on Doug Sahm Film


Go to for all the good graphics


Home » News and Reviews » Events » Joe Nick Patoski Q&A on Doug Sahm Film
Joe Nick Patoski Q&A on Doug Sahm Film
June 25, 2015 By Stephen K. Peeples

Totally true tall tales from Texas about Biblical floods, Doug Sahm, Texas music, Texas Tornados, rednecks, cowboys, hippies, San Antonio, Austin, Houston, Huey P. Meaux, Augie Meyers, Flaco Jimenez, the Sir Douglas Quintet, “She’s About a Mover,” sneaky British Invaders from the Lone Star State, Bob Dylan, the Corpus Pot Bust, San Francisco, Bill Graham, the Grateful Dead, Chet Helms, “Mendocino,” Jerry Wexler, Willie Nelson, Freddy Fender, “Groover’s Paradise,” Patoski’s celebrated ‘Sir Doug & The Genuine Cosmic Texas Groove’ film rockumentary, Kickstarter, who owns Doug Sahm’s songs, why he should be in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame…and more!
By Stephen K. Peeples

Sir Doug & The Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove Kickstarter posterir Doug & The Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove Kickstarter posterTexas-born writer, author, radio host and pop culture observer Joe Nick Patoski makes his debut as a film director with “Sir Doug & The Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove,” tracing the wild life and enduring legacy of Doug Sahm, the prodigal multi-instrumentalist from San Antonio who was a Texas music legend from the ’60s to the ’90s.

Patoski, tagged one of Variety magazine’s “10 Documakers to Watch,” co-produced with collaborators including Louis Black, Alan Berg and Dawn Johnson and worked with Arts + Labor, an Austin-based film production company, with funding in large part from the nonprofit Society for the Preservation of Texas Music.

Nearly three years in the making, “Sir Doug & The Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove” premiered to high praise at the 2015 SXSW Film Festival in Austin in March.

The film is complete, with music, but right now, the music is licensed only for screenings the festival circuit.

Doug Sahm and band by Van BrooksA Kickstarter campaign was mounted to raise the additional $75,000 needed to license the film for wide release. The deadline is 10 a.m. PT July 30. With days to go, the campaign is about $20,000 away from its $75,000 goal, and needs big help from more backers fast.

The same night, Patoski and Jason Wehling, who co-wrote the script, are set to host the rockumentary’s much-anticipated Los Angeles premiere, at the Cinefamily Theater on Fairfax Avenue.
Read a Preview of Cinefamily L.A premiere

Along with a lot of Sahm and Sahm-related music, the 80-minute film features archival interviews with Doug and new interviews with his son Shawn, Flaco Jimenez, Augie Meyers, Ernie Durawa, George Rains, Alvin Crow, Bill Bentley, Ray Benson and Spot Barnett.

After the Cinefamily premiere, Patoski and Wehling will field audience questions in what’s very likely to be a spirited and informative Q&A session about Sahm, who was born in San Antonio Nov. 6, 1941, and died in Taos, N.M., Nov. 18, 1999. He was 58.
Flashback to 1975: Doug Sahm at Soap Creek, Willie Nelson Picnic
Joe Nick Patoski with Doug Sahm insert

Joe Nick Patoski with Doug Sahm insert

Patoski and this writer first met in Austin 40 years ago when I flew there from L.A. in early July 1975 to cover the third Willie Nelson 4th of July Picnic (courtesy Nelson’s brand-new label, Columbia Records).

My assignment was from Cash Box magazine, one of the three record industry trade magazines then published in Hollywood (Billboard and Record World being the other two). The editor wanted a full-page feature.

Patoski, then writing for Texas Monthly, Rolling Stone and Pickin’ Up the Tempo, had shared musical interests and had a few mutual rock journo friends. He graciously helped tune me into the Austin scene fast, introducing me to people I needed to meet so I could go home and write an intelligent article.

(The resulting Cash Box recap went over pretty well; I hope to find and re-post it.)

Doug Sahm was one of the 1975 picnic co-headliners, along with Kris Kristofferson & Donnie Fritts, Rita Coolidge, the Charlie Daniels Band, Delbert McClinton, Johnny Bush, Billy Swan, the Pointer Sisters and more. The lineup represented the breadth and depth of Texas music and sounds from elsewhere that fit the groove, on one stage in one day and night.
Willie Nelson 3rd Annual 4th of July Picnic bandanna, 1975

Willie Nelson 3rd Annual 4th of July Picnic bandanna, 1975

The picnic was near Austin so most people visiting from points elsewhere were staying in town. The night before, Joe Nick and I were among those invited to a pre-Picnic warmup gig at Soap Creek Saloon, Sahm’s favorite (and closest to home) watering hole and club to play, and thus a favorite of Joe Nick’s.

Half the musicians in town for the picnic and several dozen fans packed the joint, a small, ramshackle old structure up a winding country road outside of Austin. Sahm was a ball of energy, enjoying the role of local host to all the outta-towners, making sure they got a taste of the real deal.

Doug Sahm Live (Vanguard Records promo photo)

Among the crowd were Willie and half his relatively new band (then called Too Hot for Snakes when they worked without Nelson), including drummer Rex Ludwick, bassist Bee Spears. I think harmonica ace Mickey Raphael and guitarist Jody Payne were there.

Willie’s road manager, Poodie Locke, gruff when he needed to be but a great guy when nobody was lookin’, was there for sure.

Everyone was chain-guzzling Lone Star longnecks (supplied by the beer company’s local marketing manager and Austin music booster Jerry Retzloff) and well-oiled; weed was casually but discretely smoked in the parking lot.

Another in the house was a certain Dr. John (not the musician) and his well-stocked little black medical kit.

This debauchery was raging deep in the heart o’ Texas, where possession of even a small amount of marijuana could result in serious jail time, not to mention pills and powders. I halfway expected a raid at some point. But there weren’t any cops for miles. If there were, they just left Soap Creek alone.

I recall a young Austin singer-guitarist-songwriter named Marcia Ball played that night. We met again a few years later when she recorded her first album for Capitol Records when I worked in the label’s Press & Artist Relations department.

Marcia performed a set of her early cool Texas country-cowgirl songs, then Sahm and a bunch of players took the stage and rocked the joint for hours.
Doug Sahm & Willie Nelson

Doug Sahm & Willie Nelson

The Soap Creek audience was so stacked with musos, Sahm just had them rotating in and out of the house band. They all seemed to know all the classic rock, blues, Tex-Mex and Texas roadhouse songs. And if they didn’t, Sahm did; he’d shout out the title, key and chords, and they’d be off.

Some local Good Samaritan, possibly Joe Nick, dropped me off at my hotel sometime before dawn. The Picnic several hours later was a ton of fun, even with a slight hangover and the brain-frying Hill Country heat.

Seeing Doug Sahm at Soap Creek, meeting Willie and all the Picnic performers – it was one wild intro to the Austin music scene, which those two helped establish in the early 1970s.

Doug Sahm Groover’s Paradise Welcome to Tejas poster

I’ve been able to go back many times, often for the annual SXSW music and film festival that takes over the town for a week in March. But the first trip was the best.

Now, after four-plus decades and lots more musical phases and stages, Austin remains weird as ever. It’s still about the only place in Texas where rednecks, cowboys, hippies, cops, musicians, politicians, evangelicals, students and bankers not only put up with each other, they actually seem to get along.

Sahm’s role in Austin becoming a “groover’s paradise” in the middle (roughly) of a state not known for tolerance of alternative or counterculture lifestyles is one of the main themes of “Sir Doug & The Genuine Cosmic Texas Groove,” as Patoski details in the following exclusive, nearly-hour-long Q&A.

An edited transcript follows (here’s the raw interview audio).

* * * * *

Stephen K. Peeples: Speaking with Joe Nick Patoski on July 9, 2015. Joe Nick is in Austin, Stephen is in California, and we’re going to talk about Doug Sahm – “Sir Doug and the Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove.” Where are you right now?

Sir Doug & The Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove tileJNP: I’m in North Austin at the headquarters of Arts + Labor, which is the film production company with whom I made this wonderful movie.

SKP: Excellent. And what are you doing there today?

JNP: I’m in between three errands. I had to go talk about our Kickstarter campaign on television Channel 24 and then I had to go by Channel 42. They’re preparing just a stock obituary for Willie Nelson and wanted some comments. And then I had to pick up a car manual for my new old used car.

[Editor’s note: Don’t be alarmed; Nelson’s in fine health and on the road in California at this writing. Media often prepares obits like this.]

Then I’m here and on my way to GSD&M, the largest ad agency in the greater Southwest, who have requested and are getting a private screening of this film. Because they work with Arts + Labor, they’re business partners. So I’m going to be showing the film this afternoon, and then hopefully get home before dark and kick back and relax and forget the rest of the week.

SKP: Hyperactive.

JNP: Well I’ve learned – especially with Austin in the here and now and the fact that I live in the country, that I’ve got to get it while I can.

Austin is – you come in and do your business, but as soon as I’m done with my business, I don’t hang much anymore. I go out to the country outside Wimberley where I live.

I like hanging there a whole lot more with the armadillos and the coyotes and the wolves and the turkey buzzards. It’s pretty good living out there.
Biblical Flood in Wimberley
Wimberley, Texas flood damage May 2015

Wimberley, Texas flood damage May 2015

SKP: Speaking of Wimberley, you guys had a little flood recently, yeah?

JNP: We had a Biblical flood, and we dodged a bullet – my wife and I. That was the good news.

But, boy howdy, I know a lot of people that got hurt, got all of their material possessions basically ruined, wiped out.

And to me the big hit is to look out at the beautiful Blanco River which has always had signature cypress trees, like 80-, 100-feet tall, somewhere up to 300, 400 years old, and the vast majority of them were destroyed by this Biblical flood. They’ve never had a flood…it’s the biggest flood ever in Texas, as far as the most intense, highest rise, and the quickest time.

But it was a nasty thing, and I’m just happy to be alive, I guess, considering it could have turned out a lot worse.
Sir Douglas Quintet PR photo (Sahm at left)

Sir Douglas Quintet PR photo (Sahm at left)
The Return of Doug Sahm & Joe Nick Patoski

SKP: Well, let’s get to Doug. Let’s take it from the beginning…What was your first encounter with Doug Sahm and what sparked your imagination and interest in him?

JNP: Well, my exposure to Doug Sahm was three-fold, pretty much. First off it’s the hit records that I heard on the radio when I was a Texas kid growing up in the mid-’60s, and I heard “She’s About a Mover” and then “The Rains Came.”

Sir Doug Sahm leading the Sir Douglas Quintet, 1965And I’m not sure how it registered, because it really was right in the thick of the British Invasion, but the band passed themselves off as British with “She’s About a Mover” until they were outed on the TV show “Hullabaloo” by Trini Lopez.

The big impersonation of a British band didn’t really sink in much. And I remember hearing about Doug in San Francisco through the latter ’60s. But in 1971, he had returned to San Antonio and made a (Sir Douglas Quintet) album called “The Return of Doug Saldaña.”

And it shows Doug – it’s actually on (Sir Douglas Quintet organ player) Augie Meyers’ porch, sitting in a rocker, and he’s got jeans on and Doug Sahm ‘The Return of Doug Saldana,’ 1971boots, and a cowboy hat, and he’s got long hair, and he’s holding a bottle of Big Red soda water. And if you don’t know about Big Red, you should look it up sometime, but Doug was a big Big Red fan.

I was running a record shop at that time in Fort Worth called National Records. And I just remember seeing that album cover. And this idea of long hair, pretty cool boots, very cool cowboy hat – everything was cool.

It wasn’t like a hippie dressed bad Western. No, this guy knew how to dress Western. So it was almost like a real Western guy that just grew his hair long.

That and seeing that Big Red, I went right down to the corner convenience store and bought a bottle of Big Red and drank it, tried to channel Doug, listening to this album.
Joe Nick Patoski channels Doug Sahm

Joe Nick Patoski channels Doug Sahm

It was mainly Texas R&B. It’s got some country in it, some swing, and definitely some jump blues. But it just really spoke to me. So I was all primed, and I was into Doug Sahm, that was the thing.

Well, shortly thereafter, I moved to Minneapolis and for a year I ran a record store called The Electric Fetus, a place that’s still open. Great place to be around music. Wonderful experience. But it was somewhere in the spring of ’73 – and it might have snowed in April, which happens a lot in Minnesota – but I was really homesick. And I wanted to go home.

But home was no longer Fort Worth, because I had long hair, I was all hippied out, and I didn’t want to get beat up. And that was pretty much the reality of anywhere in Texas, with the exception of Austin.
Chet Flippo Covers Austin, Soap Creek Scenes Early

Rolling Stone early ’70s coverage of Doug Sahm and AustinNow, I’d read a couple of stories that Chet Flippo had written both in CREEM and Rolling Stone about Doug being in Austin and basically holding court at this club called Soap Creek Saloon. So when I moved in August of 1973, my girlfriend and I, first night out, we went to this Soap Creek Saloon to see Doug Sahm.

And I’ve got to say, this doesn’t happen where you read something, and then you go do it, and everything is just as the writer says it is.

But Chet Flippo was not lying. He was a truth-teller. And everything he described and made so magical to me reading it in Minneapolis was true when I walked through the door in Austin.
Doug Sahm 1+1+1=4 inside

Doug Sahm ’1+1+1=4′ inside

And seeing Doug play, that was a revelation. I liked “She’s About a Mover,” and I loved that album, “The Return of Doug Saldaña,” and “Honky Blues Plus Two,” “1+1+1 = 4” – those are some great recordings.
‘Little Doug’ Learned from the Masters, Passed it On

But at Soap Creek, this guy playing live was unlike anyone I’d ever seen. He sang. Most of the songs were his own compositions. He played blues guitar like T-Bone Walker, and he could play steel, and if you sat down and listened long enough, you figured out that, oh, yeah, he was a child prodigy at the steel guitar, sat on Hank Williams’ lap.
Little Doug Sahm, late 1940s

Little Doug Sahm, late 1940s

And he watched T-Bone Walker play as a teenager, along with Gatemouth Brown, at the chitlin’ circuit club Doug lived across the field from. So he got direct transmission from country and R&B from the greats.

And then on top of that, he was that guy that went as an Anglo, a German kid, over to the barrio, the Mexican part of town, and dug the music there. So through Doug’s interest in Mexican music, he introduced to the world Flaco Jiménez, with his very first recordings ever done outside of the barrio of West Side San Antonio.

Doug introduced the world to the great tenor sax player Rocky Morales. And he revived, single-handedly, the career of Freddy Fender, who had retired and was going to college to seek a degree in Corpus Christi and wasn’t going to play anymore.

Doug got Freddy to come up to Soap Creek and play and basically restarted his career, which peaked (in the mid-’70s) with the song “Before the Next Teardrop Falls” and the redo of “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights” where Freddy was reinvented into a country-pop star.
Doug Sahm and Hank Williams, Skyline Club, Austin, Dec. 1952

Doug Sahm and Hank Williams, Skyline Club, Austin, Dec. 1952

Doug Sahm could play every kind of indigenous music that came out of Texas: Western swing, country, hardcore country, rock ’n’ roll, rhythm and blues, jump blues, Cajun, swamp pop.

He was beloved in Louisiana because he could sing swamp pop like only the Cajuns could.

I mean, this guy could do all these musics. And it’s one thing to be able to play them, but he could articulate them. And that part is what still blows my mind.

He was authentic, whatever style he played. And no single player I’ve heard in my 40 years of writing about music and listening to it here in Texas has done what Doug did, as far as being able to play all the forms of Texas music and play them authentically.

He was the real deal. There was no bullshit in what he did.

And the music was about as honest as it could get, and probably is the reason why we’re not talking about him in the context of “DOUG!” with an exclamation point, the one-name superstar. He had too much in him musically, and he had to work out all those musical styles.

And if he could have stayed on just one of those styles and just repeated it, he would have been famous. But instead he landed in Austin in the early ’70s, and found bands that he could attach himself to that played all these different kinds of musics. So he basically became this organizer of roots music in Austin.

And the argument is that Americana music really began in Austin in the early ’70s, and if that’s true, the instigator – the person you can credit is Douglas Wayne Sahm. It’s no brag, just fact.
Producer Huey P. Meaux, “The Crazy Cajun”

Producer Huey P. Meaux, “The Crazy Cajun”
‘Crazy Cajun’ Huey P. Meaux Sells the Sir Douglas Quintet

SKP: It all lines up that way. I wanted to ask you also about Huey P. Meaux and Doug and their relationship, how that came about and how that worked.

JNP: Well, in Texas music, for a period of time, certainly in the 1950s and ’60s into the ’70s, basically you could get signed by a major record label if you were lucky and go to L.A. or Nashville or New York and become somebody, or you could go to an independent producer regionally and hope you could get discovered.

Doug went on that quest after he was – he had one of the number one records while he was in high school that were regional hits. San Antonio hits, South Texas. And he was more ambitious than that. He wanted more.

Sunny & The Sunliners ‘Talk to Me’ LPAnd basically following the footsteps of Sunny Ozuna, who had gotten considerable success as the leader of Sunny & The Sunliners with the song “Talk to Me.”

Doug followed Sunny’s footsteps to Houston to where Huey Meaux lived. And Huey Meaux, “The Crazy Cajun,” was that guy that could get hit records. He was always listening for hits, and he was always about (finding) raw talent and refining them, and making them into something bigger.

Barbara Lynn is one of the great examples with “You’ll Lose a Good Thing.” But Huey had quite the track record.
Mike Smith of The Dave Clark Five and his Vox Continental

Mike Smith of The Dave Clark Five and his Vox Continental

And Doug and Huey hit it off. So Doug for about a two- or three-year period would continue to go back to Houston – “Huey, sign me up, let’s do a recording.” “No, brother, I don’t hear a hit.”

And finally, Huey went to see Doug open up in San Antonio in 1964. Doug Sahm was opening up for the Dave Clark Five. And there was another band opening up called Denny Esbitt & The Goldens.

And fortuitously, Dave Clark’s (Vox electric) organ player, Mike Smith – his organ had futzed up and had broken, and he learned pretty quickly that the organ player in Denny Esbitt & The Goldens, a guy named Augie Meyers had the only Vox Continental in the United States. And Augie loaned Mike Smith his Vox organ so the Dave Clark Five could play their San Antonio gig.

Huey Meaux was at that gig. And he heard Augie and that sound, and he heard Doug, and Huey was the one who said, “Doug, you need to get together with this guy, Augie. You need to try some stuff out.”
Sir Douglas Quintet first album, 1965

Sir Douglas Quintet first album

And Doug and Augie had known each other since they were kids. They traded baseball cards together. Doug’s mom was a customer of Augie’s mom at her grocery store. So there was a long history.

And so when Huey Meaux proposes, “You two ought to get together,” well, okay, they did.

And they worked up a bunch of tunes, basically put out a single of “Sugar Bee,” a swamp pop classic. And they put that out in early 1965. It did nothing. But if you listen to that version on Pacemaker Records, it’s got that backbeat, and it sounds like what Huey was after. Huey wanted that organ sound, the backbeat, because he thought it sounded British.

All of Huey’s hits were kind of drying up because of the British Invasion and the impact The Beatles were making in the United States. So seeing the Dave Clark Five and seeing the crowd they drew in San Antonio and seeing Doug and Augie – “Okay, you guys get together and let’s put together this record” – and they did this recording called “She’s About a Mover.”
Sir Douglas Quintet, 1965

Sir Douglas Quintet, 1965

Huey, thinking about the sound of the song and what it was about, sent the band to the Carnaby Street clothier in Houston to dress up as British. They all got Beatle bob haircuts, and he’d tell them, “Don’t say a thing, just shut up.”

And instead of putting the record out on one of his record labels Pride or Pacemaker, he did a deal where it was distributed by London Records. And (seeing or hearing) the very first recording, “She’s About a Mover,” for all you know, this is a British band.

And they were outed on “Hullabaloo” which was hosted by Trini Lopez. Trini knew Huey. And he heard this band, he didn’t think twice about it – he saw Huey and the band and said, “No, don’t tell me!”

So Huey said it was okay to out the band, and Huey basically let Trini announce to the world, they’re not from England, they’re really from Texas. And that started, I guess, the real career of the Sir Douglas Quintet.
Sir Douglas Quintet at Family Dog posterCorpus Weed Bust & Exile on Haight Street

But within a year of the success – and tremendous success, touring around with The Beatles and The Lovin’ Spoonful, touring around with The Beach Boys, and on all these package tours, Sahm was busted for a small amount of marijuana in Corpus Christi.

And at that time, in January of 1966, that would land you in prison in Texas. And they all dodged a bullet. Doug got a suspended sentence, but was advised to leave the state. And so he did what a lot of kids were doing at that time. He went to Northern California, parked his family in Prunedale near Salinas, and then started visiting San Francisco.

So basically, he was an old soul that had already had hit records when the Summer of Love hit San Francisco (in 1967). And he was a player. He played a lot at the Avalon Ballroom more than the Fillmore. (Doug was a) big friend of Chet Helms, the other great promoter in San Francisco, along with Bill Graham.

Sir Douglas Quintet ‘Mendocino” album cover(Sahm) got on the wrong side of Bill Graham because he played too long. But (Doug) did things like introduce the horn sound to San Francisco. Up till then it was all drums and guitars. No one was using horns, and Doug had a very talented horn player, Martin Fierro, who was like a teenager. He’d grown up in El Paso. And the bop player from Oakland. Those were good horn players, and he was getting way out there.

(Sahm) took advantage of San Francisco and the experimenting and made some pretty interesting records, none of which sold, which basically in 1969 led to the return of Augie Meyers.

Augie moved out to Northern California and recorded with Doug at Doug’s request. And because of that organ and Augie being back there, in 1969 Doug returned to the charts with “Mendocino,” probably his biggest hit of all. (Check out Doug, Augie and band performing “Mendocino” on “Playboy After Dark” in ’69.)
Sahm Back in Texas; Jerry Wexler & Willie Nelson
Producer Huey P. Meaux was a talent funnel for Jerry Wexler and Atlantic Records.

Producer Huey P. Meaux was a Texas talent funnel for Jerry Wexler and Atlantic Records.

Within a year (of that), though, (Sahm) followed his family back to San Antonio. His family wanted to move back, his wife was tired of hippies, and Doug was probably missing home a fair amount.

He lived in San Antonio for about a year, was starting to work with Jerry Wexler, who’d been swapping talent with Huey Meaux, when a deputy sheriff beat Doug up. He basically beat him up for no reason at all. And so Doug said, “Screw that,” and like all good Texas hippies, he found a safe place in Austin.

And that’s pretty much where everything started cooking, where I first saw him, and where I think Doug Sahm became this instigator.

He declared Austin a “Groover’s Paradise.”

He turned Jerry Wexler on to this other guy that was making a noise in Austin named Willie Nelson. And if not for Doug, I don’t think Jerry would have found Willie, and we probably wouldn’t be talking about Willie.

And Doug was a regular at the early Willie picnics, he was part of Willie’s first Atlantic recording sessions (in 1973) for “Shotgun Willie.” He was a player all the way through into the ’80s and ’90s, into the ’00s.
Sahm Also a Hero in Sweden; Texas Tornados a Third Act

Doug Sahm & Sir Douglas Quintet ‘Meet Me in Stockholm’

Doug found success in Sweden with a hit called “Meet Me in Stockholm.” He found success in Canada and won a JUNO award with Gene Taylor and Amos Garrett, known as The Formerly Brothers.

But ultimately (Sahm) came back to the United States in the early ’90s and formed a band with all his cohorts: Flaco Jiménez, Freddy Fender and Augie Meyers – The Texas Tornados. It kind of brought it all home. It took Tex-Mex around the world and (they) finally won some Grammy Awards.

And (Sahm) basically completed the circle of what is to me a remarkable life that deserves to be told and needs to be told.
You Have Believe it With Your Own Eyes and Ears

I’ve written books on Willie Nelson and Stevie Ray Vaughan and Selena, and the Dallas Cowboys. I couldn’t have written a book on Doug.

People have to hear him. They have to hear him talking and figure out what a character he is. But they have to hear his music to really realize this guy was that talent. And to me, if you’re interested in Austin, he’s that part of the Austin creation myth. If not for Doug we wouldn’t be talking about Austin music.
Texas Tornados, 1996 – Flaco, Doug, Freddy and Augie

Texas Tornados, 1996 – Flaco, Doug, Freddy and Augie

But he’s also all about San Antonio, this very unique soulful city, and he reeks of Texas. I mean, he’s a rock ’n’ roll hippie hillbilly chitlin’-circuit redneck. I don’t know how you combine them all, but he is that cat, all rolled into one.

I love the description that Texas music is pretty much whatever you want to call it, as long as it’s soulful and as long as it’s from Texas. And that’s Doug in a nutshell. Doug can play all the sorts of Texas music we have, play them authentically, and just as important as authentic, soulfully, with feeling.

And he’s really been about teaching a lot of people what soul is in the music and this place.

That song, “At the Crossroads,” recorded in ’69, wasn’t a hit, but it was covered almost immediately by Ian Hunter and Mott the Hoople. “At the Crossroads” has this line that when I’m gone from Texas just hits me in the heart:

“You can teach me a lot of lessons / you bring me a lot of gold /
but you just can’t live in Texas / if you don’t have a lot of soul.”

Friends and neighbors, that’s all you need to know. And if you’ve got soul, you can withstand this weird place we call Texas. But if you don’t have soul, you’re going to have a hard time.
Chet Flippo and friends

Chet Flippo and friends
More on How Sahm Connected with Wexler

SKP: That’s for sure. Rewind for a second. Tell us the story of how Doug and Jerry Wexler connected, because that’s a pretty critical hook-up in the whole story.

JNP: Doug had come back to San Antonio and had done this wonderful album, “The Return of Doug Saldaña,” which was kind of a back to the roots album. And all of a sudden he got a call from this writer in Austin who’s really responsible for putting Austin music on the map, Chet Flippo, because he was writing for Rolling Stone and for other music magazines.

And he was writing about something that was going here in the capital city of Texas. Really his reporting made people aware that – Nashville, look out! The alternative to Nashville is about to blow up on you. And Chet had done some wonderful writing.

‘Tipitina’ by Professor Longhair on AtlanticWell, Chet tracked down Doug Sahm with the message, “Hey, Jerry Wexler’s looking for you.” And Jerry had just been given the (OK to start) a new label: Atlantic Nashville. He was going to start a country music label and base it in Nashville. And as he’d said, “I’ve done the R&B trip, I’m ready to do the country trip.” A lot of people of his age and interests, they had just as much of an affinity for soulful country as they did for soulful R&B and blues.

And Wexler – where do you want to start? Sam & Dave, Aretha – everybody that was anybody, Professor Longhair – he was the great talent scout of Atlantic Records rhythm & blues. And so – “Well, I’m going to do the same thing with country.”
Doug Sahm Unknown in Music City, Willie Nelson a Has-Been on Music Row

‘Doug Sahm and Band,’ produced by Jerry Wexler for AtlanticAnd this is where things got a little off base. Jerry Wexler’s very first signing to Atlantic Nashville was Doug Sahm. Because in Jerry’s mind, he was this consummate, total musician. No one he’d heard played all these things and played them so well and convincingly.

But Jerry wasn’t thinking about (the Nashville music biz politics)…He announced this new label starts up here in Nashville and people are saying, “Doug Sham? Who?” They didn’t know Doug Sahm from Houdini!

So Wexler was taking a lot of artistic risk – considerable risk!
Willie Nelson, Jerry Wexler, Atlantic Studios New York, 1973

Willie Nelson, Jerry Wexler, Atlantic Studios New York, 1973

And similarly, he took enough similar risk – his second signing was Willie Nelson. And people in Nashville were going, “What are you doing? Willie Nelson just left Nashville after spending 12 years with Chet Atkins and RCA. Why would you want to recycle that guy? He’s supposed to be selling insurance by now.”

So Jerry looking for Doug really changed the whole dynamic.(With Wexler), Doug, basically, was allowed to do anything he wanted.

So let’s go to New York and made a record with Fathead Newman, Dr. John, who Doug went back with to the early ’60s with – Mac Rebennack. They worked together. And David Bromberg; Flaco Jiménez was introduced to the world in his first non-Conjunto recording session, which was for Atlantic.
‘Doug Sahm and Band’ Sessions with Sideman Bob Dylan
Doug Sahm and Band at Atlantic Studios in New York with producer Jerry Wexler. Photo: David Gahr

Doug Sahm and Band at Atlantic Studios in New York with producer Jerry Wexler. Photo: David Gahr

And then there was also this other sideman, Bob Dylan. And that got incredible hype. There was a billboard for the album “Doug Sahm and Band” on the Sunset Strip, which we note in the film.

And there was great expectation for this album, especially because Dylan had not recorded in a few years, and everybody was buzzing….The music world was all excited, and Dylan was hanging out with Doug Sahm.

And Dylan had met Doug in ’65 at Dylan’s infamous press conference that Ralph Gleason had put on in Berkeley. And I believe it’s (in) ’66, Dylan is asked, “Who are you listening to?” and he said, “The Sir Douglas Quintet. They’re probably the best.” So Doug is running with Dylan in the ’60s.

And I think Dylan admired him mainly because he made the point later on that – he said, “I never met anyone who played with Hank Williams, much less someone my own age.” And that really woke Dylan up.
Bob Dylan and Doug Sahm during ‘Doug Sahm and Band’ sessions.

Bob Dylan and Doug Sahm during ‘Doug Sahm and Band’ sessions.

Dylan was a made-up person, made up name, made up everything. And here’s a guy that was a complete artist trying to pass himself off as British, but once you can cut through that, here’s the most authentic guy that Dylan’s ever hung around. So Dylan admired him, it was a mutual admiration.

But unfortunately the (1973) album “Doug Sahm and Band” just basically became a Dylan album. And it was kind of scattered. I don’t think it’s as good an album as “The Return of Doug Saldaña.”

But Wexler gave Doug the keys to the car, “You do whatever you want.” And he did it for (“Doug Sahm and Band”) and the follow-up album, “Texas Tornado,” which was mainly the outtakes. To me, the music holds up beautifully, but “Doug Sahm and Band” was not that great of an album, so it was considered a commercial flop.
Sahm Rebounds with ‘Groover’s Paradise,’ Makes ‘Illogical Logical’
Doug Sahm and Band ‘Groover’s Paradise’ LP

Doug Sahm and Band ‘Groover’s Paradise’ LP

And yet Doug, going on, he then resurfaces with “Groover’s Paradise” (1974, Warner Bros.) and he keeps putting out product. Which makes it pretty clear, Doug doesn’t really give a shit. He wants to make money and he wants success.

But after Huey (Meaux), he never lets anyone dress him up or tell him what he wants to do. He’ll dress up, and he’ll assume different characters, but it’s all his choice.

But what he does do is try to work out all the different kind of musics that are in him. And this is – forget being a child prodigy, this is a savant that’s got too much music in him.

And how does he work it out? Because one minute he’s playing Western swing two-step music with Alvin Crow and Jimmy Day and doing twin fiddles – because he knows how to do that.
Roky Erickson receiving a lifetime achievement award from ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons at the Austin Music Awards (2008).

Roky Erickson receiving a lifetime achievement award from ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons at the Austin Music Awards (2008).

This was a guy who was on the “Louisiana Hayride” as a teenager and then he’ll turn around – “Ah, I got to do my Flaco thing!” and do Tex-Mex. And he’s playing bajo sexto guitar…

Or, “No, I need to do my rock ’n’ roll thing,” so he’s prancing around like Mick Jagger and singing Creedence Clearwater (Revival) with Creedence Clearwater’s rhythm section (as on “Groover’s Paradise”).

John Fogerty’s not a fan of Doug Sahm, because basically, when (CCR) fell apart, Doug swept right in and got Stu Cook to play with him as part of his band.

He’s the guy that brought Roky Erickson – of the very first psychedelic band anywhere, the 13th Floor Elevators – brought him out of retirement and launched his solo career.

I mean, psychedelic music, Western swing, Tex-Mex – you may ask, what the heck am I talking about? And it doesn’t make any sense at all unless you say “Doug Sahm.” He made the illogical logical.
Sir Douglas Quintet Chrysalis promo picSahm a Complex Artist: Classic Art & Commerce Conflict

SKP: I think you hit on it earlier. You couldn’t really write a book about this. It really needs to be an oral and visual experience, because a book would not get that across about him.

JNP: Precisely.

SKP: You’re talking about a guy who some contemporary people might look at as somebody with attention deficit disorder, right? He can’t focus on something more than a short period of time. But on the other hand, that’s pretty consistent with a creative spirit. A restless creative spirit is never going to be standing around waiting for the next big thing. They’re going to go out and do it.

Doug Sahm & The Last Real Texas Blues Band, live in SwedenJNP: Stephen, you hit the nail on the head right there, and that’s why I was driven to tell Doug’s story, and it’s a complicated story to tell it in film. You really had to hear him. You had to get an idea of what he was as a personality, but also, hear the breadth of his music.

What I got out of the film, besides telling his story, is really this bigger question: How does an artist deal with their art? If they really are an artist, you want to survive, you want commercial success, you don’t necessarily want to sell yourself out, but you want to pursue your art.

And that became Doug, certainly after 1980. He kept making records. None of them were great successes, but as long as he could get some money and do another recording, that kept him going. All he wanted to do was play music.

Doug Sahm & The Last Real Texas Blues BandSo even when he’s a big deal, when he’s got a No. 1 record, and he knocks Michael Jackson and The Police off the charts in Sweden with “Meet Me in Stockholm,” or maybe when he gets his JUNO award in Canada, he’ll come back to Austin and play The Hole in the Wall with his buddies, The Texas Mavericks, or he’ll go over to Antone’s and put together The Last Real Texas Blues Band with Derek O’Brien and all the Antone’s house band people. That was his driving force.

Yeah, it would have been great to play a show in front of 100,000 people. He did open for the Dead and the Allman Brothers at DC Stadium in – what was it, ’73? – in front of, like, 60,000 or so.

But that didn’t matter as much as just getting to play all the kinds of musics that were in him.

Doug Sahm & The Texas MavericksAnd if he couldn’t play one or the other, he was an unhappy person. So you couldn’t say, “Hey, Doug, do a country album and just play country for a while.” He’d do it for a little while, but he’d get bored easily. This was a prodigy. And the prodigy just basically had to keep working his heart out.

And I think the way the story is told is: How do you resolve that dilemma? How do you get all this art in you out, and how do you satisfy your soul?

Paying bills is part of that, but at the end of the day, it was more important to satisfy who he was and where he’d come from. And he did it.
Sahm Hated Sellouts, Short Sets, Ultimatums
Huey P. Meaux and Doug Sahm, Sugar Hill Studios, Houston, 1974, Photo: Hank Lam.

Huey P. Meaux and Doug Sahm, Sugar Hill Studios, Houston, 1974, Photo: Hank Lam.

SKP: Definitely. Now, I want to get to the film, “Sir Doug & The Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove,” but since we’re kind of in that area, I wanted to talk a little bit more about his personality. I mean, we’ve got a pretty good vision so far, but he had a reputation for being difficult with some people and a real friend to other people. He was a complicated guy, just like most other people. But what was it about Doug – what pissed him off? What was the thing that was, like, the thorn in his side?

JNP: Well, Doug would always talk about sellouts in any scene that he went to, any scene that got discovered. And as soon as it got discovered, he was kind of done with it.

His first goodbye letter to Austin, even though he came back continually till the very end, his first goodbye letter to Austin (said it) was over in 1977, everybody. So if you got here, or you’ve seen Austin since then, it was over, you should have been there before then, according to Doug.

But people would (try to) tell him what to do. That’s what I’m saying. Huey was one guy he let tell him what to do. He achieved success. He didn’t get a lot of money out of the deal, but it was like going to college. But he never let anyone do that to him again. It’s like, a club owner – “The set ends now.” No it doesn’t, it ends when Doug wants it to end.
Bill Graham Imbroglio: Opening for Grateful Dead at the Fillmore

Doug Sahm onstage

And that was the Bill Graham thing. When the Grateful Dead were recording “Live/Dead” at the Fillmore, Doug was good friends at that time with Jerry Garcia. Garcia loved Doug, just like Dylan loved Doug, because Doug knew all the songs. He knew all the great American blues, and the great American country songs, because that’s what he’d grown up with.

And so The Dead are recording, and I think there are two or three opening acts each night. And Doug is part of it the first night, and he’s supposed to play 40 minutes, and he plays an hour and a half because he’s feeling the groove. And Graham subsequently banned him for three years from any Graham building.

Then (they) booked him again, he said, “Okay, did you learn your lesson? Are you going to mind yourself this time?” Doug said, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” So, “Okay, 30 minutes tonight. Did you understand? Thirty minutes?” “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” He played for an hour and half again.

So don’t tell Doug what he can and can’t do. That pissed him off.
Later Years: Music, Baseball, Wrestling
The Texas Tornados

The Texas Tornados

And some changes – he didn’t do well with punks and the New Wave crowd. He’d call them the kids with purple hair. And he did turn into John McCain towards the end. But he would tease Ernie Durawa, his Mexican-American drummer with The Tornados, he’d call him a “muppie.” “Well, what’s a muppie, Doug?” He says, “It’s a Mexican-American urban yuppie.” Because he played with computers and stuff. Doug wasn’t buying into that.

Doug was all about music – and this was the other thing: He loved sharing and turning you on to stuff. He was as much a music nut as a listener and a fan as he was an entertainer. So he turned me on to so much, but if he wasn’t talking music, he was talking baseball or he was talking wrestling.

And those were his other two great interests because they’re both similar entertainment. And Doug loved to go watch baseball. He wasn’t that good of a player. I played with him on the Soap Creek Bombers. And when he went out to the mound to pitch – slow pitch, wearing catcher’s equipment, because he was Doug Sahm – he didn’t want his pretty face ruined. That’s when I was kind of, “Okay.”
Joe Nick Patoski and Doug Sahm heckle the players during the 1999 SXSW softball game.

Joe Nick Patoski and Doug Sahm heckle the players during the 1999 SXSW softball game.

But the last three years of his life we got to call the championship game at South by Southwest. They have a softball tournament that closes it out.

And I remember the first time we did it (in 1997). We sat down next to each other. He had a microphone, I was handed a microphone, and Doug just said, “Okay, I’m Dizzy, you be Pee Wee. Okay?”

And I knew exactly that he was talking about Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese, the CBS broadcast team for the CBS “Game of the Week” back in the late ’50s-early ’60s.

And that was some of the most fun I’ve had with Doug. Just getting to insult the players and the fans, calling a softball game.

But he’s the real deal, man, that’s the thing I admire so much. And my reason for doing this film was that the opportunity to do a book slipped by several times and I’m glad it did, because I don’t think it would have been as compelling as this hour and 20-minute movie. I’ve told this story how I think it needs to be told and I’m real proud of what we’ve got.

And I hope people come out to Cinefamily on (July) 30th and see what I’m talking about.
‘Sir Doug’ Premiere Rocks 2015 SXSW Film Festival

SKP: The film premiered at SXSW a few months ago and went over pretty big.
Director Joe Nick Patoski at March 2015 premiere of ‘Sir Doug & The Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove’ film about Doug Sahm at SXSW in Austin.

Director Joe Nick Patoski at March 2015 premiere of ‘Sir Doug & The Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove’ film about Doug Sahm at SXSW in Austin.

JNP: Yeah, it went over great, and I got to say, I’ve written books. I’ve done okay on books. I’ve written about Willie and Stevie Ray and Selena and the Dallas Cowboys – all these icons in Texas. And I’ve been to signings and events, but man! The first night at the Paramount Theater, SXSW, it is a full packed house. It is already laughing and stepping over the lines in the first minute.

But at the end to get a standing ovation when you walk out (for) something that’s really a collective effort – it’s just a feeling, but I knew during that moment, “This is never going to come your way again. You’d better savor this as much as you can.” Because it’s just indescribable.

And that’s what’s been fun about the movies, is to see how it’s resonated. And it’s important. The Doug-heads are coming out of the woodwork, and it is a global cult. I’m glad the call has been issued, and they’re showing up.

But the more amazing thing to me is the people that come up to me – “I don’t know this guy, I’ve never heard of this guy before,” or “I had no clue.” Or what Patty Griffin, the singer, said: “I met him once, but I didn’t know any of this.” And she said, “I’m going home, I’m going to go practice for a while.”
Texas icons Doug Sahm, Big Red & Lone Star

Texas icons Doug Sahm, Big Red & Lone Star

(“Sir Doug & The Genuine Cosmic Texas Groove”) tells a compelling story. You don’t have to know who Doug Sahm or this “Doug Sham” or the Sir Douglas Quintet or whatever (were to appreciate) who this person was. It’s great if you have, because if you do know who he is, I brought him back to life, 15 years after he’s gone. He is back.

But if you never heard of him before, you’re my target audience. I want you to see it because this isn’t just about the great unsung Texas musician you’ve never heard of. This is about being an artist. And it’s about, how does an artist make their art and not sell themselves out? And here’s a guy that threaded the needle and managed to do all that.

I like to think I’m not too much of a fan-boy, that we’ve got some critical aspects in there that some people might have said, “Oh! Why did you put that in there?” But we try to tell a very truthful, honest story, and to show success…and what is not success. And a lot of that is, Doug Sahm did not define success with dollar figures, and that’s the best thing I can say about him.
The ‘Sir Doug’ Production Team
The ‘Sir Doug & The Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove’

The ‘Sir Doug & The Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove’ producers

SKP: Bingo. Now, you mentioned your collaborators. You didn’t do this by yourself.

JNP: Noooooo!

SKP: Give us a quick recap of what sparked the film and how you got your collaborators involved. Louis Black and a couple of other people.

JNP: Well, I got lucky and found someone that was a Doug-head in Austin in the mid-’70s, who’s gone on in life to make a pretty good income. And he urged me to do something. He gave me the seed money to do a little sizzle reel.

‘Sir Doug’ movie poster, KickstarterAnd at that point, when the sizzle looked like five minutes, “Yeah, we can put a film together,” I engaged Arts + Labor production company in Austin. I’ve been a talking head in several of their documentaries. And it’s almost a film incubator. It’s a business, but they draw from a bunch of young people.

So I threw down with them, and producer Don Johnson and Jason Welling who works at Arts + Labor was invaluable with his production and direction advice, and two really incredible editors. In digital, this is where everything happens – in the editing.

Then Cody Ground and Patrick Higgins stayed up many nights and saw the sun rise many days, many mornings where I was at home in bed sleeping. They did the hard lifting and the heavy work.

And as we’re putting it together, I got on my advisory committee Bill Bentley from Los Angeles, who’s been in the record business since he left Austin in the mid-’70s.

And I got Louis Black on the advisory board from SXSW and the Austin Chronicle. I don’t know any more of a film person in Austin. He has been a mentor to Richard Rodriguez, Mike Judge, people like that. And he was a great mentor to me. Showed me how the film business works, and he’s been valuable, as an adviser, basically, to get us with Submarine Pictures, who repped “Searching for Sugar Man” and “Muscle Shoals.”

Because everybody thinks this can be taken theatrically, so right now, we’re in a Kickstarter campaign to raise $75,000 to pay for music licensing. If we can pay for licensing – over 40 songs are in this film – then we can show this film wide.

“And the ulterior motive is to get Doug Sahm in the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame.”

And all the info for this Kickstarter and the link to go sign the petition to get Doug in the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame, whether you back this film or not, it’s all right here.

Sir Douglas & His Texas Mavericks poster

(Searching) “Sir Doug film Kickstarter” will also get you to where you need to go.

But we’re doing a big benefit and fundraiser in Austin at the Broken Spoke (July 29, 2015) the night before the L.A. screening (July 30, 2015), and we think we’re going to meet this goal, and not only get to show this film all around the world, which is my goal, but it would be really great to get Doug in the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame, because he’s the real deal, and the Hall of Fame could actually use some legitimate people in there.

SKP: Yeah, I would definitely agree. I think some of the people you mentioned are already in and they wouldn’t necessarily be there without having had a Doug Sahm connection.

JNP: Well, the connections are far and wide. I really wanted to do a Pete Frame family tree to show how wide and broad – he was friends with Paul Stanley of Kiss. And put that together with (being) the guy that introduced Austin to the psychedelic accordion player Esteban Jordan. What did they have to do with each other? It’s nutty!

And what was his band, the Texas Mavericks, when they were all wearing wrestling masks – what does that have to do with The Texas Tornados? Well, a lot and a lot not. But he was a goofball.

That’s the other thing, is to watch him as a person. Moving a mile a minute. And you’re right, today he would have been diagnosed A.D.D. or A.D.H.D., and they would probably have tried to put him on some kind of drugs.
Sahm an ‘Early Adopter of Weed’
Adolph Hofner Band, from left: Eddie Bowers, J.R. Chatwell, Charlie Harris, Adolph Hofner, Emil Hofner, Leon Merrit and Charlie Poss.

Adolph Hofner Band, from left: Eddie Bowers, J.R. Chatwell, Charlie Harris, Adolph Hofner, Emil Hofner, Leon Merrit and Charlie Poss.

Well, you need to understand that he was an early adopter of weed. This is very important. He was smoking weed in the ’50s.

He was turned on by J.R. Chatwell of Adolph Hofner’s band. He used to buy it in Loredo and then in San Antonio. And then as a teenager he played with Spot Barnett, this rhythm & blues guy, who slung dope – he had a trap door beneath the bandstand where he kept his weed.

So when the ’60s hit, and everybody was getting into marijuana, Doug’s an old soul. And we got Jann Wenner talking about – he would show up at Rolling Stone with a briefcase – Jann described it as a magic briefcase. And he’d open it up. And as he said, it wasn’t just weed, it was like files – all these different kinds of weed. We hadn’t seen that.

So he introduced a lot of people to weed. Jann Wenner thinks he should be called the patron saint of marijuana because he was such an early adopter.

But weed got him through that A.D.H.D. or whatever it was, his speediness. And of course you didn’t want to be in the circle when the joint was passed around because he might hold on to it and pass it to you, but he’d never let go. And usually he’d bogart and it was usually, “Well, Doug, hey, come on, pass it around!” “No, man, I need it. I’m going back on stage. I need it so y’all can get off when I get out and play.”

And it’s really true. But I remember the early ’70s. Weed started showing up, and most weed in Austin was what I’d call San Antonio street brick, not high quality. And Doug was always the guy that had the stuff that would make you forget what you were going to ask.

SKP: He had connections deep in the heart of Mexico, probably?

Ozark Mountain Daredevils A&M promo pic

JNP: Now, look, in the 1980s – well, actually starting in the late ’70s, for about 10 years, he would go every October to Springfield, Missouri. He had a guy who played with him on the Soap Creek softball team who was a grower, and that was a very early-adopting area in the United States.

I’m told a lot of Vietnam vets came back in Springfield, the Ozarks. The product they created there was what Joe Bob Briggs, the drive-in film critic, called “Arkansas polio weed.”

And Doug would go up to Springfield for a month just hanging out and playing. And I talked to (Michael) Supe Granda of The Ozark Mountain Daredevils.

He said, “Yeah, Doug would call, and he said, let’s put a band together,” when Supe was living in Springfield.

“When are you going to be here, Doug?”

Cars, guitars and Texas music: Doug Sahm was a traveller even as a young’un. Courtesy Sahm Family Archives.

Cars, guitars and Texas music: Doug Sahm was a traveller even as a young’un. Courtesy Sahm Family Archives.

So they’d put together a band and he said, “We loved playing with Doug, even though he stole all our girlfriends. He was just so much fun to be around.”

The Ozark Mountain Daredevils – this is something I didn’t know about. He had a lot of connections in a lot of places, that’s all I can say.
Sahm’s Final Road Trip; Musical Legacy

And he was the consummate traveler. Everybody in the band talks about (how) he was a great tour guide, liked showing people where they were.

He made the most out of traveling, and even when he didn’t have to travel or tour, he liked taking off. He either drove a Lincoln or a Cadillac, he had big rides. But he just liked taking off and going on road trips.

And in fact his very last road trip was to Taos, N. M., where he died in a motel room in his sleep. (He’d) been complaining about numbness in his extremities. And he had cardiac arrest and died in his sleep.

SKP: Wow. Well, at least he was doing what he wanted to do.

JNP: He died at the age of 58. Too young for me, but…he died pretty much at the peak. He did not die a cranky old man. He was making a new record. And he had just produced a new record. So he was going full bore.

SKP: He wasn’t done yet, he just ran out of time.
Texas Tornados Shawn Sahm, Augie Meyers and Flaco Jimenez

Texas Tornados Shawn Sahm, Augie Meyers and Flaco Jimenez

JNP: That’s just it, and it’s sad that he did, but the legacy continues. The Tornados are out there touring. (His son) Shawn Sahm leads the band. There are a lot of acolytes and disciples out there. I mean, around here, off the top of my head, my old charge Joe King Carrasco is definitely doing that. Shinyribs, Kevin Russel is a chip off the old block. You can’t hear Jeff Tweedy without thinking of Doug Sahm.

And I love the fact that Raul Malo is closing The Mavericks’ show and included Doug Sahm on their latest album, “Nitty Gritty.” And I love it when he does it on the album, or even does it live, when they play “Nitty Gritty,” and it comes time for the organ break, Raul yells out, “Augie!”

Because Augie’s part of this story, too, and it’s pretty mind-blowing. Augie is as much in this story as Doug is, in the way that we tell it. And it’s really about two brothers who came out of San Antonio from very different worlds and how they play and spend their life in music together.
Music Licensing Funding Gap; Film Festival Circuit Hit

Doug Sahm and Band “Is Anybody Going to San Antone’ singleSKP: I wanted to jump back for a second to the licensing thing. I haven’t seen the film yet, but as the film exists now, it has all the music in it, right?

JNP: Yes, but we are limited. All we can do is show it at festivals. There’s a festival, right? And that’s why we’re raising the $75,000, because Submarine (Pictures) thinks we can get this in theaters, but we’ve got to take care of our budget first. If we can raise $75,000, then we can show it anywhere.

SKP: Who owns the music?

JNP: Warner-Chappel owns a big chunk of it. There’s a lot of different publishers out there, and not all of it is necessarily Doug’s composition. I think our initial price that we were given was over $250,000, but we’ve knocked them down to a buddy discount of $75,000. It sure seems a lot to me, but I have to deal with what we’re doing.

SKP: Music licensing is probably the most expensive part of post-production.

JNP: I wish you would have told me that when I started.

It’s funny how it’s developed, and look, after SXSW, I had no expectations, I mean, we didn’t know.

Groover’s Gathering poster, Broken Spoke, July 29, 2015But I’m going to be in Missoula, Montana on the 19th of July as part of the Big Sky film festival, it has a summer series. We’ve been accepted at the Santa Fe independent film festival in October, and we’ve just been accepted into Edit, which is the music documentary festival held in Barcelona, Spain, in November. And I’m sure hoping I can weasel my way over there and get to show up as the director.

It’s fun talking about it now, because the dirty work’s over with. And I get to go watch the film — I’m still not bored with watching it — and then I get to answer questions at the end, I mean, this is, like, not heavy lifting at all, this is easier than a book signing.

SKP: Yeah, which brings us to the Cinefamily gig in L.A. You’ve got the big Broken Spoke benefit in Austin on Wednesday night, the 29th of July, and then you’re going to somehow get out here and be recovered enough from that to attend the L.A. premiere and do a Q&A there, right?

JNP: My flight better not be late, that’s all I can say. Yeah, I’m cutting it pretty short, but I’m not going to stay all night for the Broken Spoke gig. It’s a good deal, because (the lineup features) Augie and Sean/Shawn and Ray Benson and Bruce Robison and Jack Ingram, Kimmie Rhodes – they’re coming out of the woodwork for this one, it looks like a lot of fun.
Doug Sahm Hill sign, leading to the highest elevation in Austin

Doug Sahm Hill sign, leading to the highest elevation in Austin

Doug was a regular at the Broken Spoke. I mean, this is what I love. Doug can hang around in a blues club or a honky-tonk and get along with the owners and everybody, because he could talk the language. He would jump borders, that’s what it is more than anything. He could jump boundaries. He didn’t let anything get in his way. And that’s what I love about him to this day.

The music intrigues me and does not bore me and I can continually delve into the Doug Sahm catalog. Of course, over 50 albums and God knows how many singles have been recorded, but he ain’t boring, and that’s for sure.

And (if) I’m bored with Doug’s San Francisco period. I’ll go into his Canadian period, or his Tex-Mex period and I can wallow in that. But I love all the Dougs that I’ve discovered.
Wrap: Preview of Patoski’s ‘Texas Music Hour of Power’
Joe Nick Patoski hosts the ‘Texas Music Hour of Power’ on Marfa Public Radio.

Joe Nick Patoski hosts the ‘Texas Music Hour of Power’ Saturdays on Marfa Public Radio.

SKP: At some point, I also want to talk with you about your radio show, “The Texas Music Hour of Power” (on NPR affiliate Marfa Public Radio in the tiny but very hip West Texas town of Marfa, Saturdays from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Central). You have so much fun with that, and the music is so great. My wife and I sit here on the West Coast and listen to it online and just have a great afternoon.

JNP: You make me very happy saying that, because it’s cheap thrills and fun, again, for all the wrong reasons, but I dig it. It’s my outlet, and I like playing with it.

SKP: It’s your bridge club, you know?

JNP: Absolutely. Well, I’ve got to go talk to these advertisers, but this was fun. Thank you, and “Sir Doug and the Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove” – that’s all you need to know.
Visit the “Sir Doug and the Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove” Facebook page and Kickstarter campaign page.

Click HERE to sign the petition to induct Sahm in the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame.

Doug Sahm Timeline – Austin Chronicle

Doug Sahm Discography – Killian Mathis

Visit Joe Nick Patoski’s website.

Special thanks to Marcus Rigsby for the transcription.

Grammy-nominee and Santa Clarita journalist Stephen K. Peeples is an entertainment reporter for Santa Clarita television station SCVTV and its website at, and for Santa Clarita radio station KHTS AM 1220 and its website at He hosted and co-produced SCVTV’s WAVE-nominated “House Blend” music and interview program for five seasons, 2010-2015, creating 69 shows spotlighting local artists performing their original material. He is also an award-winning international radio producer and newspaper online editor, and a website project manager and content editor. He blogs at his personal site,

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