Saturday, November 28, 2009

Bill Narum

Been thinking about the first encounter with Bill Narum when he was running Taylorvision from a beautiful old mansion in beautiful downtown Taylor back in the early 1970s , and the second encounter a few years later, when he was minding the Longhorn, the rattlesnake, and the turkey vulture on the breakthrough ZZ Top World Wide Texas Tour.

I never could figure out how he convinced a small town cable system to give them the house and let them air videotaped performances the night after a show. Austin City Limits didn't exist and video was reel to reel tape.

The animals trained for the ZZ tour by listening to KILT, Houston's Top 40 station, played full blast for two weeks. None seemed perturbed sharing the stage with Dusty, Frank, and Billy although the vulture fidgeted and attempted to fly off more than once.

He had a cool studio on Fifth Street, above the Swede and the other ol boys who cut hair at the Sulphur Wells Barber Shop - one of downtown Austin's pioneering modern urban dwellers.

He spent time with the Tarahumara in Chihuahua, Mexico, a life changing experience we talked about numerous times.

I wrote the liners for the Hank and Shaidri Alrich album that Bill was
designing. He stayed vital to the end (see below). He went while at work in his studio

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Remembering Doug Saldana

Remembering Doug by Oscar Garza


Incredibly, it's been 10 years since Doug Sahm died. This is a piece I wrote for the 2008 Pop Music conference, held annually at the Experience Music Project in Seattle:

In Les Blank's 1976 documentary, "Chulas Fronteras," Rumel Fuentes--a singer/songwriter from South Texas--performs the song "Chicano" with Los Pinguinos del Norte. "Chicano" was the quintessential anthem in the 1970s for Mexican-Americans who resisted that hyphenated label in favor of an identity that reflected their political and cultural awakening. The song boldly asserted that this new generation would not be subservient or passive; they would stake their claim to America and call on their cultural pride to carry them through.

The odd thing though is that "Chicano" was not written by Fuentes, nor by Los Pinguinos, nor by any other Chicano artist. It was written by Doug Sahm, aka child steel guitar prodigy Little Doug, aka Sir Douglas of the Sir Douglas Qunitet, aka C&W singer Wayne Douglas, and--most importantly here--aka Tex-Mex vato loco Doug Saldaña.

How could a white boy--a self-described "honky"--have the audacity to write "Chicano"? Well, you have to know a little bit about Doug Sahm and the place he came from. He was born in San Antonio (also my hometown) in 1941. The city was then about evenly split between Anglos and Mexican-Americans, with a smattering of Blacks. Sahm grew up on the East Side, where most of the Blacks lived, and in his teens would sneak into nightclubs to watch and learn from the likes of T-Bone Walker. But San Antonio was historically, and remains at its essence, a brown town. Doug loved it. He was a sponge who took it all in, and he was a chameleon who thought it perfectly natural to change colors when it suited him musically.

The evolution of the Sir Douglas Quintet is well known. In the wake of the British Invasion of 1964, renegade Texas music producer Huey Meaux convinced Sahm that his band should take on a British persona. With their tailored, Carnaby Street-style suits and Beatles haircuts, they certainly looked the part. But their breakout hit, 1965's "She's About a Mover," was pure Tex-Mex. It was essentially a polka, with Augie Meyer's Vox organ subbing for an accordion. But Texas wasn't a friendly place for hippie-types, and after a drug bust--for which they were eventually cleared--the band headed for California.

Sahm continued to pursue his eclectic musical taste--country, blues, jazz--in a series of albums that also produced the Quintet's other big hit, "Mendocino." While in California, Doug spent some time around the farmworkers' movement in Monterey County, and I can only surmise that this may have partly inspired him to write "Chicano."

But after an exile of five years, Sahm was ready to go home. By spring of 1971 he had returned to San Antonio, where Chet Flippo came to profile him for Rolling Stone. As Sahm drove around the Mexican part of town--he told the writer: "Man, the West side is so beautiful, so soulful. There's 400,000 people on the West side, man, the original soul Mexican thing of the world. See, the West side is pure Chicano...I'm into Mexican music very heavily. I'm gettin' me a bajo sexto, a Mexican 12-string." But the story concluded with Sahm telling Flippo that he was thinking about recording a country album in Nashville: "Maybe then people would see that I'm really just a hillbilly with long hair."

Sahm, however, would remain in Texas to record another album with the Quintet. Fully embracing his Chicano persona, Sahm titled the album "The Return of Doug Saldaña"--a nickname reportedly bestowed upon him by some Chicano friends. As Ed Ward wrote in the liner notes to the 2002 release of the album on CD: "At this point, he had completely identified with the Chicanos he lived with...And to those who didn't know him or understand him, this was embarrassing, but it was entirely in character."

Sahm soon moved to Austin, where the "Cosmic Cowboy" era was blooming. Willie Nelson had just moved there from Nashville, and in the Summer of 1972, the legendary producer Jerry Wexler came looking for Sahm. As Wexler told Flippo: "He's like the Rosetta Stone of Southern music."

It wasn't long before Sahm and an amazing assemblage of musicians were in New York City, recording at the famed Atlantic studios, with Sahm, Wexler and Arif Mardin producing. The band included Sahm's Sir Douglas mates, including organist Augie Meyer, bassist Jack Barber and drummer George Rains. There also was the great Tex-Mex accordionist Flaco Jimenez. And the other guest artists included Bob Dylan, Dr. John, David Bromberg, and David "Fathead" Newman.

The album, released early in 1973 and titled "Doug Sahm and Band," was a typically eclectic Sahm affair, with the tracks including the country classic "Is Anybody Going to San Antone?"; Dylan's "Wallflower"; T-Bone Walker's "Papa Ain't Salty"; Willie Nelson's "Me and Paul," and several Sahm originals.

Several leftovers from those sessions made it onto Sahm's second--and final--album for Atlantic. Titled "Texas Tornado," and also released in 1973, the album included "Chicano." A classic Tex-Mex polka, the song featured the Sir Douglas musicians, plus--incongruously--Dr. John on piano and David Bromberg on steel guitar. Ed Ward wrote that, with this song, Sahm would "completely step over the line...he saw [it] as an anthem for the Chicano movement and nearly everyone else saw it as the worst gaffe he'd ever committed in public. This rankled him for years." Ward said that Sahm later told him: "People still get down on me for that song, but you know what? The guy who works on my car, little Chicano dude down in San Antonio, he told me, 'Doug, that's my favorite song of yours. It makes me proud and I sing it to myself a lot.' See, people just don't understand!"

Sahm's vindication would come with Rumel Fuentes' rendition of "Chicano." But Fuentes would improve on the original. Sahm's version was just one verse and the chorus, each of them repeated once. Fuentes made some subtle but powerful lyric changes, and he added two verses and also translated the chorus into Spanish, all with clever bilingual wordplay.

In Fuentes' first new verse he sings: "Chicano, soy Chicano, I can fly just as high as I want to / Some people call me violent 'cause I'm no longer the silent, pobrecito Mexicano." And then he turned the chorus from "All across the U.S.A. / I just woke up and say Chicano, soy Chicano..." to this: "Todo el mundo lo sabrá / y este vato les dirá / Chicano, soy Chicano..." ("All the world will know it / and this guy will tell them / I'm Chicano." By the way--making those lines rhyme in the future tense is a pretty good trick.) Finally, Fuentes finishes with a new verse in Spanish: "Chicano, soy Chicano, soy café, tengo orgullo, y yo sé que yo lo voy hacer / Algunos me dicen hippie, otros me dicen caifan, pero yo sólo sé que soy puro Mex-i-can." ("...I'm brown and proud and I know I'm going to make it / Some people call me hippie or bum, but I know I'm pure Mexican."

Given those improvements, as far as I'm concerned, Fuentes has just as much claim to the song as Sahm. But I can't ask Rumel how he feels about it because he's gone to that great big cantina in el cielo. And I can't ask Doug how he feels because he's gone to that great big honky tonk in the sky, where there's an endless supply of Pearl beer and mota from Michoacan. But, in the end, Rumel would not have been inspired to improve upon the original unless there had been an original. And Doug Sahm, my friends, was an original.

Que viva Rumel Fuentes, y que viva Doug Saldaña!

Download 08 Chicano (Sahm)

Download 09 Chicano (Fuentes)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Goin' to... El Paso, Thurs, Dec 3

A head's up to all my friends in Far West Texas:

Author Joe Nick Patoski to discuss Stevie Ray Vaughan: The Last of the Great Texas Bluesman
December 3, 2009
5:30-8 p.m.

Joe Nick Patoski Stevie Ray

$4 museum members, $8 nonmembers – Seating is limited.
This is the fourth and final lecture the El Paso Museum of History is hosting on Texas Music History.

Joe Nick Patoski has been writing about Texas and Texans for more than 35 years. In addition to biographies on Stevie Ray Vaughan, Selena, and Willie Nelson, he has written the text to the books Texas Mountains, Texas Coast, Big Bend National Park, and Conjunto. A former staff writer for Texas Monthly magazine, his cover story in the August edition of Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine details his killer hike along the ridge of the Franklin Mountains a year ago.
Patoski’s lecture will explain how and why Vaughan became the legend he is today, leading a brief journey through the blues scenes in Dallas and Fort Worth in the 1960s and in Austin in the 1970s that informed Vaughan and an entire generation of players. Most went to school in the bad parts of town to witness bluesmen like Freddy King and Lightnin’ Hopkins in their element, learning by example. But the opening of Antone’s Home of the Blues nightclub in the mid 1970s changed everything. Clifford Antone elevated blues into a fine art in Austin and his venue became the incubator for SRV and Double Trouble, Jimmie Vaughan and the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Lou Ann Barton, Angela Strehli, Marcia Ball, and many others.

5:30-6pm, Snacks - Meet & Greet
6-7pm, Lecture
7-7:30pm, After lecture discussion
7:30 – 8 p.m. Blues discussion at the Double Tree
Purchase a membership on December 3rd and get in free
RSVP to 351-3588

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Onward and Upward, Luther Dickinson & The Sons of Mudboy

When James Luther Dickinson departed this world in August, there was no funeral. Instead, three days after he died, his older son Luther gathered with members of Mudboy & the Neutrons, Jim's favorite band of them all, along with Steve Selvidge, Sid's son, and Shannon McNally, at Zebra Ranch in northern Mississippi, the Dickinsons' home ground, and made an album that Memphis International Records has now issued.

Jim produced the project in absentia, and wrote the liner notes, which say all that needs to be said about Jim, his life, his music, and his deep sense of place.
Listening brought a smile to my face and a few tears. Most of all, it made me appreciate the fact Jim was my friend. I miss him badly, but Onward and Upward let me know he's still around, still in the air.

Lean in close to the speaker and you can hear the fife of Otha Turner, the cacophony of the Memphis Jug Head, and the shouts of joy and cries of sorrow of the men, women, and children who worked the Delta dirt for centuries.

As good as the music is, Jim's liner notes are even better:

"I refuse to celebrate death. My life has been a miracle of more than I ever expected or deserved. I have gone farther and done more than I had any right to expect. I leave behind a beautiful family and many beloved friends. Take reassurance in the glory of the moment and the forever promise of tomorrow. Surely there is light beyond the darkness as there is dawn after the night. I will not be gone as long as the music lingers. I have gladly given my life to Memphis Music and it has given me back a hundredfold. It has been my fortune to know truly great men and hear the music of the sphere. May we all meet again at the end of the trail.

"May God bless and keep you.
World Boogie is coming.

James Luther Dickinson"

Do yourself a favor and order it now right here:

Completing the circle, Luther's significant other, Necha, gave birth to a sweet baby girl named Lucia. Mary Lindsay Dickinson wrote to tell me the news:
"It seems like Necha's been pregnant forever, yet I remember like yesterday when she and Luther told us the good news, over dinner in Oxford. I can't help feeling sorry Jim can't be with us, but I have faith he's smiling down on us from Heaven and feeling proud."

And doing so in perfect rhythm and melody.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Bobz World, Los Fresnos

Driving across the Rio Grande Valley, listening to Hugo de la Cruz doing the Friday Night Scoreboard in Spanish to the tune of football marching music and team corridos makes one appreciate the unique sense of place the Valley conveys. You're like nowhere else.

The latest evidence was found out on Texas Highway 100, on the other side of the booming roadside town of Los Fresnos from Little Graceland, 18 miles east of Port Isabel and South Padre Island, just west of the Vickie Roy Home Health Care billboard with Vickie Roy posing with her husband Chad Roy in an Elvis jumpsuit.

In the vernacular of oversized concrete sharks and creatures that decorate the fronts of T-Shirt shops up and down the Texas coast, Bobz is a series of mixed-themed giant sized monuments. That's because Bobz' corporate parent, Seven Seas, is the warehouse for those shops - you think those elaborate lamp shades and curtains of hundreds of tiny shells are one-of-kind? There's plenty more where that came from. In that spirit, Kevin the artist has constructed an impressive collection of concrete creatures either nautical, such as the the giant sea snail or the leaping squad of happy dolphins, or prehistoric, as the brontosaurus out front suggests, although a pirate theme was emerging judging from the rebar skeleton.

Inside were more souvenir shop items than a Bowlen's on Route 66. There was a snack bar with ice cream, beach wear, shell art, personalized pens, fart powder, computer mouse joy buzzers, cheese, kitsch, cutesy, Biblical themed merch - everything a roadside attraction should have. A Christian music radio station played on the sound system. The cashier didn't understand my question until I asked in Spanish. Free. But don't climb on the statues.

UPDATE: I googled Bobz and found that there was more to Bobz World than met the eye, and what I was seeing was the home office of Seven Seas. For $15 I could've experienced the full tilt Bobz, with a fake volcano. Instead, I saw it on this you tube vid: