“I’m a part of Willie Nelson‘s world and I love it, but at the same time, I’m part of the Grateful Dead‘s world. One night I might be playing twin fiddles at the Broken Spoke and the next night I’ll be down at Antone’s playing blues. In that way Texas is a paradise, because all that music is here.”
–Doug Sahm, 1975
Today’s post is a follow-up to my post of May 2, where I took a walk down memory lane with Doug Sahm’s classic tune, “Give Back The Key To My Heart.” In the course of doing research, I realized that the album from which “Key” comes, Texas Rock For Country Rollers, has long been out-of-print and can rarely be found for less than $30 used. For historical preservation purposes, it didn’t help that Doug released this LP on ABC-Paramount, a label that spent much of its energy in the mid-’70s quite literally destroying its back catalog and leading itself down the path of financial ruin. Hell, I couldn’t begin to tell you who owns the rights to this album, let alone whether the master tapes even exist.
This sad state of affairs has left me with no choice. In an effort to keep these great songs in the public domain, I’m doing a track-by-track review of Texas Rock, along with a few related bonus cuts. Don’t let anyone accuse The Adios Lounge of forsaking your Doug Sahm needs.
When it was released in 1976, it would’ve been misleading to suggest that Texas Rock For Country Rollers was the first Doug Sahm album to openly embrace his country music roots. I’d say it more or less picked up where Doug Sahm And Band left off in 1973. In fact, aside from Honkey Blues in 1968, there really wasn’t a Sahm or Sir Douglas Quintet LP devoid of country groove. However, what makes Texas Rock unique is that of the 10 songs on the album, 7 are either outright country numbers or some sort of country-rock/country-pop hybrid. While Doug was never afraid to Texas Rock, he’d never Country Rolled so decisively.
Band-wise, the album was attributed to the Texas Tornados, but they shouldn’t be confused with Sahm’s Tex-Mex supergroup of the 1990s. This was merely the name given to Doug’s new backing band, most of whom were longtime Texas compadres. Augie Meyers, of course, rides shotgun with his familiar collection of keyboards, the steady yin to Doug’s cosmic yang. Atwood Allen plays acoustic guitar and provides the best harmony singing Sahm ever had. More acoustic guitar is added by Uncle Mickey Moody, who went back to the early days of the SDQ and producer Huey Meaux‘s Crazy Cajun Recordings. Harry Hess was the one recent addition to Doug’s band and here he adds tasteful steel and slide guitar. Finally, the rhythm section is anchored by Jack Barber on bass and George Rains on drums, the guys who Shawn Sahm (Doug’s son) once called “his secret weapon.”
I will admit that my one complaint about Texas Rock is that the mix kinda sucks. Meyers, Barber, and Rains are buried too low, the vocals are too high, and everything else is kind of a wishy-washy mid-range. If ever an album was in dire need of a remix and remaster, this bad mamma jamma is it. Regardless, the quality of the material holds everything together, Sahm’s voice has rarely sounded better, and despite the audio flaws it remains my favorite Doug Sahm album. So, without further ado, here’s Sir Doug & The Texas Tornados, track-by-track, warts and all.
Doug Sahm — guitar, piano, fiddle, vocals
Augie Meyers — piano, vox organ, hammond organ
Jack Barber — bass
George Rains — drums
Atwood Allen — rhythm guitar, harmony vocals
Harry Hess — steel guitar, slide guitar, harp
Uncle Mickey Moody — acoustic guitar
BEHIND THE SCENES
Producer — Huey P. Meaux
Arranger — Doug Sahm
Engineer/A&R Director — Uncle Mickey Moody
Recorded at: SugarHill Studios, Houston, TX (formerly Gold Star Studios)
Download album as zip file (56 MB)
1. Doug Sahm – I Love The Way You Love (The Way I Love You)
A pleasant, almost CCR-ish country-rock tune written by bandmate and longtime runnin’ buddy, Atwood Allen (pictured left), this is mostly carried by Hess’ steel and Sahm’s phased-out guitar, which sounds like it’s being run through a Leslie speaker, an effect featured throughout the album. Of course, it’s always a treat hearing the close harmony singing of Doug and Atwood, who share the vocal simpatico normally reserved for brother acts like the Everlys and Louvins. Doug invariably sings it straight, holding down the mid-range, while Atwood glides on top with his wonderful high tenor. Even when Doug sings tenor with himself, as he does here, Atwood manages to climb higher. Jerry Wexler once compared them to the 1950s country duo, Johnnie & Jack. This is a perfect comparison considering that one of the best examples of Doug and Atwood’s vocal blend is their cover of Johnnie & Jack’s “Poison Love,” the 1951 smash hit that appears on Doug Sahm And Band, the album for which Wex served as producer.
Bonus track: Doug Sahm & Band – Poison Love
2. Doug Sahm – Cowboy Peyton Place
“Well, I just came in this bar for a beer
Didn’t know that country band was playin’ here
Cause I’m in love with the steel player’s wife
And I know its not right and I want her tonight
And that’s how it is in Cowboy Peyton Place.”
A stone-cold country shuffle, with lyrics about infidelity that would make Fred Rose proud. Once again, we’re treated to more of Hess’ sweet steel guitar — though, given the lyrics, you couldn’t blame him if he spent most of the song glaring at Doug. Another highlight is the twin fiddle sound Doug co-opted from Bob Wills, which I’m pretty sure Sahm first showcased, appropriately enough, on “Faded Love” from Doug Sahm And Band (see below).
A couple of references are worth mentioning. The first is Peyton Place itself. Does anyone younger than 50 remember either the book, movie, or primetime soap opera? If not, the wikipedia link above will tend to your pop culture needs. Let’s just say that, like most soaps, infidelity was a recurring theme.
The second reference that might puzzle outsiders is the first line of the second verse: “I met her in Soap Creek just by chance.” Soap Creek Saloon (pictured above) was a west Austin honky-tonk that Doug and many other Austin groovers called home for much of the 1970s. In 2001, Margaret Moser wrote a great piece on Soap Creek for the Austin Chronicle and it’s pretty much required reading for all Dougheads. Just get to it after you’re done here. You know the rules.
3. Doug Sahm – Give Back The Key To My Heart
Though this was the song that inspired this post, I really didn’t spend a lot breaking down the whatfors last time around. Too bad, because it’s one of the masterpieces in the Doug Sahm catalog. A mix of Dylan moxie and Sam Cooke swing, “Key” features more superior harmonies from Doug and Atwood and has to be one of the only songs from the era to highlight the perils of cocaine addiction. Remember, this was 1976, the same year that The Last Waltz crew supplied its all-star cast of musicians with enough backstage blow to support the Peruvian GDP for 4 years. Hell, the rock in Neil Young‘s nose became so famous it got its own sitcom. So, in that context, Sahm’s dire warning about coke is, dare I say, shockingly responsible?!?!
“Well, you got a friend named cocaine
And to me he is to blame
He has drained life from your face
He has taken my place.”
If you’ve got coke-face and you’re stealing TVs to support your habit, you might need to rethink your priorities. Just sayin’.
4. Doug Sahm – Wolverton Mountain
Wolverton Mountain was a massive crossover hit for Claude King in 1962, one of Doug’s two homages to early ’60s AM radio on Texas Rock (the Gene Thomas Medley being the other). Wolverton is a throwback in another sense, as well, being the one song on the album that harkens back to the classic Sir Douglas Quintet sound of the mid-’60s. Augie’s Vox organ might be buried in the mix, but it jumps out in all its familiar, swirling, roller-rink glory during the instrumental break. In the end, though, Doug owns this song with one of the album’s most searing vocals. When he goes into the red in the first verse with, “Whoaaaa baby for a fight!” that’s soul right there, baby.
5. Doug Sahm – Texas Ranger Man
I realize in the CD/iPod era, “album sides” mean very little, but “Texas Ranger Man” ends Side One as the country-rock bookend to “I Love The Way You Love.” This one has kind of a late Byrds feel to it, with Sahm again running his guitar through a Leslie speaker for the song’s killer main riff. I’ve always felt that Doug was an underrated guitarist. He was no virtuoso, but he had a great rhythmic feel, and certainly knew his way around the fretboard.
“Texas Ranger Man” seems like a companion piece to the Sir Douglas Quintet tune, “Dallas Alice,” which appeared on their outstanding Together After Five album. Like that song — and “Wolverton Mountain,” for that matter — the protagonist in both narratives has to face down a father’s disapproval and possibly his firearms. Where Alice’s “father didn’t approve of his long hair and far-out groove,” the Texas Ranger Man heard that Doug “had a reputation in the town of lovin’ all the girls from miles around.” It’s a country-rock Shakespearean tragedy! What’s not to love?
Bonus track: Sir Douglas Quintet – Dallas Alice
6. Doug Sahm – Float Away
Side Two begins with the one song on the album meant to crank up to 11 and cannonball naked into the swimming pool. This is a straight-up, classic rock summer jam, somewhat akin to The James Gang’s “Walk Away”. “Walk Away” … “Float Away” … coincidence? Anyway, I could talk more about the huge guitar sound or Sahm’s great double-tracked vocals, but right now I’m scheduled to CANNONBALLLLLL!!!!!
7. Doug Sahm – I’m Missing You
A wistful country-pop tune that’s a nice contrast to “Float Away,” Atwood’s high lonesome tenor again stands out. However, I think the star of this show is drummer George Rains. While he’s buried in the mix and not going all Gene Krupa on the kit, he holds down a solid pocket, adding a number of economic accents and fills to the give the simple pop song a rhythmic tension it wouldn’t otherwise have.
On a related note, Elvis Costello has gone on record as being a huge Doug Sahm fan. I’ve always felt “I’m Missing You” would be a perfect cover for him and might have even inspired some of his work on, say, King Of America. Can someone call up EC and get confirmation on that? Thanks.
8. Doug Sahm – Gene Thomas Medley: Sometimes/Cryin’ Inside
Here’s what I wrote about this tune for Star Maker Machine a few weeks ago and I see no reason to change now:
“Doug Sahm … as Sir Doug & The Texas Tornados … released this tune as a single in 1976, the same year that Boston released the song that inspired the post that inspired this theme. Doug’s single is a medley of two Gene Thomas songs from the early ’60s and features a spoken bridge rife with nostalgia: “Yeah, I remember those times. Back in the old nightclubs in 1961 in San Antone.” In other words, Doug’s medley not only flies in the face of the cocaine-fueled self-indulgence of its own time (1976), it’s an intentional throwback to that pre-FM time when singles and AM radio ruled the earth (1961). Furthermore, Doug cherry-picks the best parts of two separate songs to maximize the concision of his 2:42. All meat, no potatoes, and absolutely gorgeous harmonies from Sahm and his longtime compadre, Atwood Allen. God bless Sir Doug.”
9. Doug Sahm – Country Groove
“I was raised on country music
Blues and rock ‘n’ roll
Country groove, country groove
Gets right to your soul.”
The album’s other honky tonk gem, this is Doug’s homage to his Texas music heroes. In the roll call are such heavy-hitters as George Jones, Lefty Frizzell, Bob Wills’ fiddles, Waylon Jennings, and Willie Nelson. However, as with the Soap Creek reference in “Cowboy Peyton Place,” this one has a few references that might slip by the uninitiated.
Link Davis and J.R. Chatwell (“The kind Link and J.R. used to play”) were both highly gifted western swing fiddlers (and singers) who were forefathers to the open-minded, genre-skipping, musical gumbo favored by Doug Sahm. In the early ’70s, Sahm actually put J.R. on the band payroll so he could join them on their tour of New York City. It was largely a gesture of goodwill, though, as J.R.’s musical skills had eroded due to a stroke. But, that gives you an idea of the esteem in which he was held by Sir Doug.
KOKE-FM (“I don’t know what happens when I turn on KOKE-FM”) was an Austin radio station that pioneered the progressive country radio format in the mid-’70s to differentiate its classic country playlists from those stations heavy into the Nashville Sound. Speaking of classic, with the earlier mention of Bob Wills and “Country Groove’s” namecheck, I think it’s time for the final bonus track.
Bonus track: Doug Sahm & Band – Faded Love
10. Doug Sahm – You Can’t Hide a Redneck (Under That Hippy Hair)
Texas Rock‘s “sore thumb” is a blues jam, which means it’s a bit out of place on an album full of country songs. But, this is Doug Sahm we’re talking about. Doing the unexpected was his calling card. “Redneck” bookends Side Two nicely with “Float Away” and gives the LP a legit claim for having “rock” in the title. Though not a great song, I do like how Doug’s T-Bone Walker guitar wail complements Hess’ slide parts. In fact, I love when Doug calls out, “Blow your horn, Harry,” and Hess launches into a slide solo. Funny stuff. Speaking of which, this song has to have one of the funniest couplets in the Book of Sahm:
“Don’t care how many joints you roll
Oh man, you got a white man’s soul.”
And that, my friends, is Texas Rock For Country Rollers in an intense, flavorful, slow-cooked nutshell. Now I think I need 20 consecutive hours of sleep. But, please enjoy the tunes and spread the gospel of Sahm as much as you can. Long live Sir Doug!