Deep within my heart lies a melody A song of old San Antone …
— Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys
Lawd, I’m just a country boy in this great big freaky city.
— Sir Douglas Quintet
Doug Sahm, family man and a family dog if there ever was one, sits down to a yolky mess of eggs and bacon and a cup of his wife Violet’s throat-galling coffee, and he’s about a mover as he bends to his plate. “Man, you can’t get no aigs like these out in California. New York, neither — I ‘member at the Warwick once I was shellin’ out five bucks a shot for two little ol’ pullet aigs, and then I couldn’t even eat ’em, the sorry way they was cooked. Sheeit, Texas, man — the food’s unbelievable. I can take you right down the street here and get you the best barbecue, the best Mexican scarf, the best steaks in the whole fuckin’ world. San Antone, man — it’s funky.”
Sir Douglas ought to know — he was born around these parts right at 30 years ago. Now, after a five-year hiatus in California, he’s back home in a modest motel apartment seven miles from the Alamo with his wife and six kids, the essential components of his Quintet within shouting distance, part of a new album on the reel, and the possibility swimming in his head of becoming a fulltime country-and-western singer.
To test out the idea, he’s spent a goodly number of San Antonio’s warm, syrupsoft evenings this spring belting out shitkicker music for the shitkicking beerguzzlers who congregate at his aunt’s honkytonk cafe, The Cantina. Two years ago, Doug — former C&W child prodigy, high school rocker, white bluesman, honorary Chicano, big band leader, San Francisco-sounder — was thinking about coming home when he sang: “When the whole scene goes down, I’ll go back to the local bar in my home town.” Well, the whole scene went down, and now Doug’s wolfing his breakfast in his home town and intermittently crooning Ernie K. Doe’s shitkicker plaint, “Mother-in-Law,” to the baby, Shandon, who is one year old.
Doug’s wife and the other five yard younguns swarm in and out of the kitchen like a flock of bright, demented birds. His mother, Mrs. Viva Lee Sahm, has brought over a box of pictures and memorabilia from Doug’s childhood. Draining off the dregs of his third mug of coffee, Doug wipes yolk off his mouth, rakes the same hand through his shoulder-length hair, props a dusty cowboy boot on a wicker chair, and pokes around among the pictures. At the sight of a creased and yellowing Sarg Records promo sheet headed “Program Patter on Little Doug,” he pauses, and the planes of his homely, rachitic face turn in on themselves in the converging V’s of a sunburst grin. The sheet reads in part:
Douglas Wayne Sahm, professionally known as Little Doug, is twelve years old. He started singing at the age of five, when he entered a contest over KMAC in San Antonio, Texas. He was then placed on a kiddie program called “Stars Over San Antonio”…. He began his musical career at the age of six and a half playing a triple neck steel guitar, fiddle, lead guitar, mandolin and other instruments — all by ear…. He has been playing with top bands and making personal appearances with such celebrities as Webb Pierce, Faron Young, Goldy Hill, Hank Thompson and many others. For two years he was on coast to coast Mutual network originating from Bandera, Texas. Some of his appearances have been on the Louisiana Hayride from Shreveport, on “Big D” in Dallas, in auditoriums and theaters … Doug’s ambition when grown is to be a great leader of a big orchestra…. Watch for this little bundle of dynamite to advance on the Sarg Label as years go by.
“Far out,” Doug says with a wheezing laugh that makes his shades bounce up and down precipitiously on his long, waxen nose, “far out. See, man, the first thing I ever did, I started out with country-and-western music when I was five ’cause that was the influence then. The influence. That was the days of Hank Williams and all that good ol’-timey shit. I had a three-neck Fender steel, and my Daddy used to take me out to a joint called The Barn, a place my uncle was partners in with Charlie Walker, who was also a country singer.”
Mrs. Sahm fishes out a picture of Little Doug in rococo cowboy drag, seated at his steel with Pearl Beer bottles underfoot. “This was the night, son,” she says, “that you made $92.”
She swings around to explain to the room-at-large: “That was at the Cabaret Club in Bandera. Instead of passing the kitty, they’d throw money at him. It was all over the floor, all over his little guitar. (That was when he had his National.) He got $92 that night. He was seven years old.”
Doug looks bemused and continues leafing through photographs: “Oh, man, here’s my Uncle Bill — he is the most legendary cat, he was a bouncer, look at his size, he’s huge. Way back in the old days, these joints were really bad in San Antone and this cat, whenever they had a place that was so bad that it was out of control, he was the cat they’d call in. They’d pay him ten bucks a night and in a week there’d be no trouble. First thing this cat would do, he’d go in the place and clap his hands and say, ‘OK, I want you, you think you’re a bad son-bitch? I want you, c’meah.’ He’d take two or three of ’em out in back, take off his gun, and whip ’em right on the spot. My Uncle Bill. A cat that had his shit together.”
Mrs. Sahm, now waxing very nostalgic, recalls that when Doug was five and starting to pick his guitar every day, they took him to Bob’s Music Studio for lessons. “We wanted him to have a little help, you know, with his playin’. Well, he hadn’t been takin’ lessons two weeks when Bob calls me and he says, ‘Miz Sahm,’ he says, ‘I can’t hold this child back. He can hear something once and then play it by ear. He’s gonna take off by ear. There’s nothing I can teach him. The boy can’t read anyway.'”
Violet comes back in: “Now tell ’em, Mom, how you used to drag that poor little boy to all the honky tonks.”
“Why, that’s not true,” protests Mrs. Sahm. “We never drug him. Anyway, it was mostly radio stations till he was seven or eight. He’d just about go into a trance when he saw the steel guitar players. You remember what happened one night, son? It was a great big old place out here on the south part of town; we went in there and the band announced that the greatest little steel guitar was here and would he please come up. Doug was just a little boy, eight years old, and he got up and played a couple of numbers and their regular steel player got mad and said, “If you don’t get that durn kid down from there, I’m walking out.”
“Yeah, I just blew him off the stage,” Doug nods. “But that really hurt me, man. I couldn’t understand it, I just couldn’t understand jealousy then. I cried, man.”
In those days, Doug was already writing and recording songs like “Rollin’, Rollin’,” “A Real American Joe,” “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep,” and others that he doesn’t especially care to talk much about now.
He started playing regularly in bands when he was nine. “That was when Webb Pierce and a lot of different cats wanted me to go on the Grand Ole Opry and all that, you know. I guess for that age I was pretty heavy on steel, ’cause all I ever did was practice all day. I was kinda like a child-prodigy-kinda cat on the steel, you might say. But Mom wouldn’t let me go on the Opry on account of school. She wanted me to hang on and get that ol’ education. That same route all the kids are goin’ through today.”
Doug finishes yet another mug of coffee and it’s clear he’s had enough childhood-revisited for the day, but Violet and his mother are just getting warmed up. “I remember,” says Mrs. Sahm, “Doug was so little he had to stand on a chair to reach the microphone at that talent contest at KMAC. He sang Teardrops in My Heart.'”
“Was that the one where you goofed, Doug?” Violet asks.
“I was improvising, to be with you-whoo,” he sings.
“Improvising, bullshit,” says Violet.
“Now wait just a minute,” Mrs. Sahm interjects. “That piano player got him off-key.”
“What were some of those other songs you did, Doug?” Violet teases. “Lessee, you and your Mama wrote ‘An Old-Timey Christmas’ and ‘My Prayer’ and …”
Doug half-fakes a wince to general laughter, and turns the talk to the time when he began to leave country music and ease over into the rhythm-and-blues field. That was in the mid-Fifties when it wasn’t uncommon to find performers of the caliber of T-Bone Walker, Bobby Blue Bland, Joe Turner, and Junior Parker on the same program. The great era of contemporary Texas blues was peaking in drafty, treacherous ballrooms, busthead roadhouses, piss-smelling strip joints, and dingy ghetto toilet clubs.
“See, we all started listenin’ to R&B around that time. Cats would bring records over and somebody might say, ‘Whattya mean, listenin’ to that spade music, man? Hillbilly’s where it’s at.’ So that’s when the era really started changin’, the early Fifties, and I was lucky enough to be at the very young age that I was in both eras.”
Two of his big influences back then were San Antonio’s first rock and rollers, Johnny Owen and Ricky Aguirre, who played at the Tiffany Lounge downtown, a wide-open joint that packed in the locals seven nights a week.
“The Tiffany was really far out in those days,” Doug muses. “Nothin’ but characters, man. hustlers, the whole bit with their $300 sharkskin suits. I used to hang around outside and watch ’em go in with three or four chicks on each arm, and I said to myself, man, that’s beautiful! Far out. Then the door would open and I could hear all that music comin’ through: ‘Babyeee,’ and triplets and piano and I said to myself, man, that’s the life, that’s for me. That’s it, man.”
Doug got his first band together — The Knights — in ’55, and started getting some evening and weekend gigs. They had no bass and had to tune a guitar down for that. “He was so pretty then,” Violet puts in. “His hair had to be fixed Frankie Avalon-style, and he’d make me move over if I got too close and wrinkled his suit.” Doug caused a minor stir at school in 1956 when he was doing a show and started a few Elvis-style gyrations. The principal promptly brought down the curtain and all the students rebelled and left school. They went over to Doug’s house and his mother went over to whip the principal.
“That’s really when I did my drop-out, about ’55,” Doug recalls. “I was playin’ sports in junior high, and I realized that the whole thing of goin’ to school and gettin’ your head busted playin’ football and all that shit wasn’t it. I was playin’ all them great Fats Domino tunes at night, and I decided that’s what I wanted to do more than stayin’ in after school and all those school trips, you know. That’s what really started changin’ my life.”
In 1958, he moved up to playing at the Tiffany six nights a week for about $50 in a good week. The next year he started playing guitar in a band led by Jimmy Johnson. “Jimmy really showed me a lot. I was the only white cat in his band. It was two black cats, two Spanish cats, and myself. Bobby Taylor, who records for Motown now, was the singer.”
Doug cut his first local record then, something called “Crazy Daisy,” and it got to be No. 20 in San Antonio, which was heady stuff for a high school kid.
“I got my own band after that, and I really owed a lot to Jimmy Johnson. He was a big influence, really showed me the ropes — chord structures and all. That’s a big difference. I came up with people like that instead of today, where a cat comes up diggin’ Led Zeppelin or somebody. I mean these cats were really musicians. They weren’t just supergroomed, puff-sleeved rock and roll cats who make a million dollars or something. It was realism. R-E-A-L. Roots.”
He had his first big local hit in 1960, around the time he graduated from Sam Houston High School. Like most of his early records, it was a West Side hit, bought mostly by the Chicano majority of San Antonio.
“Why, Why, Why” it was called. After it broke locally, Doug took off for a while in his ’56 Oldsmobile. He went to California, Chicago, and New York. When he came back to San Antonio in ’61, he got a nine-piece horn band together and had another No. 1 record locally, “Crazy, Crazy Feelin’.” “That was a groovy band. In ’61 and ’62 it was as good as any horn band you’ve ever heard and we were makin’ like six bucks a night apiece.”
Doug went back to California in 1962 and did a hotel gig in Bakersfield, then came back to San Antonio and had another hit with “Two Hearts in Love.”
“Then, in ’63 and ’64, it was a real transition time for me. Things started changin’, the first part of the head trip. I started thinkin’ seriously about makin’ it nationally instead of just locally.”
Married and a father by now, Doug and his family got a place out in the country, and he started a gig at the Blue Note Lounge downtown. He was to be there four nights a week for 16 months. “The Blue Note, man. Every character, every gambler in the world was there. That was the last of the real era here. After I split, they tell me now, it all changed — around ’65. That’s when all the long-haired people split and went to California.”
Doug and his band had started to let their hair grow, which caused a few heads to turn around at the Blue Note. “People’d say ‘What are you doin,’ what is this shit?’ We’d just say it was the comin’ thing. It was a natural thing, we just fell into it. Sixty-four — that was a groovy year. We took it slow out in the country, talked a lot and wrote a lot. Toward the end of the year, we started gettin’ the whole Sir Douglas Quintet idea. Johnny Perez was playin’ drums then, and I had this original bass player, Jack Barber, that I have back now. Jack is the super bass player. That was the nucleus of the group. Augie Meyer was still playin’ keyboards with a group called Denny Esmond and the Goldens, a local group playin’ white music.”
Doug had been acquainted with an extraterrestrial phenomenon named Huey Meaux for some time. A Dixie wheeler-dealer who broke the original shellac mold, Meaux, in his tripartite guise as record producer-personal manager-tour promoter, was then cashing in on such performers as Dale and Grace, Barbara Lynn, Joe Barry, Roy Head, Rod Bernard, and Jivin’ Gene.
“Along about ’64,” Doug goes on, “Huey told me, ‘Man, when you get your shit together come on down. I’ll see about recordin’ you.’ He was a barber then in Winnie, Texas. He had his records sittin’ all around his barber chair, you know — it was too much. He had all these great hit singles and no albums.”
In ’65, the Quintet finally made it to Houston to record for Meaux.
“We thought our band had a lotta soul,” Doug says. “The original band — me and Johnny and Jack. See, Jack’s always had that original groove you’ll hear on my next album. He plays bass like nobody else, that Chicano rock and roll — mm jop, mm jop. Like a polka. Like nobody else in the world can play like this one cat, and right now he’s cuttin’ hair downtown because he never wanted to leave and get in all the rock and roll bullshit because he wanted to stay here because it’s real.
“So — we cut ‘Mover’ in January, ’65, and then it really came together for us. From the conception to the Top Ten record was no more than four months. Once we got the ball rollin’, man, it was there. We cut it in the same studio in Houston where we’re cuttin’ the new album. After six years, we went right back to Doyle Jones’ studio.”
Augie Meyer came to the Quintet because he had an organ and because Huey Meaux had England on his mind. Meaux told Doug, “Man, we got to get that English thing, that organ trip, we gotta have an English organ in it.” Augie at that time had the only Vox organ in the South.
“Leon Baetty was the other original guy in the band, he’s the cat that does a doughnut gig now. This was before Frank Morin [horn, arrangements]. Frank was still workin’ as a salesman at the San Antonio Music Company, just out of the service. We got him when we went on the road because the baker cat wouldn’t go.”
“She’s About A Mover” broke in Texas in April of ’65 and was a national break-out the next month.
“That was before the Byrds. Us and the Beau Brummels were the first American long-haired groups. That’s when it really meant something. Now, you turn on TV, and see some perfectly groomed Hollywood slicked-up hippie with love beads around his neck, and I just wanta grab him and shake him and say, ‘Motherfucker, cut your hair!’ ’cause it just don’t mean shit no more. Now it’s just to make you socially acceptable. Whereas in ’65, comin’ through Love Field in Dallas, we used to really have to go through it. Fightin’, you know. Little Johnny — John Perez — he’s an ex-Golden Gloves cat, and he used to block a few heads, man. Cats couldn’t believe it. They’d be callin’ us chicks and shit, and all of a sudden they’d be pickin’ themselves up off the floor.”
That initial recording session in Houston produced another hit, “The Rains Came,” as well as an album which was entitled, in true Huey Meaux fashion, The Best of Sir Douglas Quintet (Tribe 47001). That LP is hard to find now, but it’s worth the search. Besides “Mover” and “The Rains Came,” it has Jimmie Rodgers’ “In the Jailhouse Now,” a variation of Clayton McMichen’s “In the Pines,” “Quarter to Three,” and seven other examples of the early Quintet. It also is priceless for Huey Meaux’s gushing liner notes: “I, as the Sir Douglas Quintet’s manager and producer, am very proud that you, the audience out in the world, have accepted them and taken their records into your homes as a part of your lives. They became a very important part of my life as they were the first American group to have a hit with the very famous English sound.” And so on.
“We really took off in ’65,” Doug recalls fondly. “It was just a beautiful year. We were all buying cars and buying clothes and buying all kinds of shit like it was going out of style.”
That same boom year, Doug and the Quintet, in their new clothes, went to New York for an appearance on the Hullabaloo TV program. While there, they first met Dylan in a get-together set up by a friend. It was the first of several meetings between Doug and Dylan.
“We even played touch football one day — me and Dylan and the guys in the Band,” Doug says, adding that he’d welcome the chance to see Dylan in Woodstock again. The last visit there was more than a year ago.
“We’ve had this idea in our heads for a while of putting together a rock and roll band made up of our kids. My boy Shawn could play drums and we’d get Dylan’s kid, Jesse James, and Levon’s boy, too. Wouldn’t that be a motherfucker group?”
Back in the salad days of ’65, the Quintet toured with James Brown in the summer and went to Europe in the fall, but ran into trouble late in the year.
“We wanted to be like the Rolling Stones and carry tons of shit in our suitcases and be heavy, you know, and turn everybody on. We tried to be that kinda cats here but Texas wouldn’t have it. They threw up a block and said ‘Get ’em.’ “
Texas law-and-order caught up with the Quintet at the Corpus Christi airport. After the bust, they had to cut their hair before any lawyer would even talk to them. They were eventually cleared, but it took four months and lost them engagements and tours. After it was over, they packed up, except for Jack and Augie, and headed for California.
“We went to Prunedale, which is a magic, magic place. We got a big house there and then got into the whole Frisco thing, when the Golden Gate Park thing was happenin’. It was really beautiful. The Avalon was at its peak. Just beautiful, nobody was paranoid. Now, it’s gotten to where it’s just who has the most dope, you know — who can score the most coke and who has the most Rolls Royces. It’d be easy for me to get back into that scene. I’m goin’ back to California tomorrow for a while, and within half an hour I could be lightin’ up a big tamale and sniffin’ and be right back in it.”
Once in California, the regular Quintet thing slid by, and Doug started his Honkey Blues phase, attracting such musicians as Wayne Talbert and George Raines. He now calls ’67 his “drop-out” year: “I just got so far out, I had to slow down for a while. It was a great band, though. We played a lot of clubs. That was when you could still play clubs in California and make bread. We were playin’ R&B stuff — Otis Redding, we had every Otis Redding song, just like the record. That’s when I got away from the supposed Quintet sound. Augie was still here in San Antonio. Then, I just went back in the country for months, ’cause I just … well, my wife and kids just kinda brought me back around, you know. I got back into things at the end of ’67. Then George went with Mother Earth and Wayne freaked out.”
In April of ’68, the Honkey Blues crew came back together and signed with Mercury for the Sir Douglas Quintet +2 = (Honkey Blues). which many regard as Doug’s finest recorded work to date. “There’s just somethin’ about that album. It was Frisco in the early days, when — Continued on Next PageSir Douglas — Continued from Preceding Page everything was cool, and it was fun, and we were all relaxed and took lots of time to do it. The engineer, though, Jay Snyder, blew his mind. He was over talkin’ to the cyclotron at. Berkeley, that freaked. So they took him out to Napa and they would let him out on weekend passes to record, and then on Sunday we had to take him back. It was really heavy. That’s how we had to finish that album. For three months that went on. Jay Snyder. Really a heavy cat. Then the album came out, and we were really on top of the Frisco scene.”
Augie Meyer headed out to San Francisco in late ’68 and the Quintet — now composed of Doug, Augie, John Perez, Frank Morin, and Harvey Kagan — cut the Mendocino album in ’69 and they were up there higher than ever. They were on the road most of the year, went back to Europe, and also recorded Together After Five which, Doug admits, suffered from hasty production.
1+1+1=4, though, recorded last year, was well-received, and incorporated all three sides of Sir Doug’s music: country music (“Be Real”), the classic Quintet attack (“Yesterday Got in the Way” and “What About Tomorrow?”) and the Honkey Blues big band sound (“Sixty Minutes of Your Love”).
“That’s about all I did in 1970,” Doug concludes. “Didn’t tour. Last year went by so fast I don’t know what happened to it. Lessee, I produced Louie and the Lovers and made the movie [The Dealer, in which he acted and from which will come a single, “Michoacan”]. I knew a big change was comin’, but I didn’t know what. Then after Christmas, my family and me decided after five years we wanted to come back home. We’d had enough. California, I really dig it. The bands are a groove out there, but there’re certain things California can’t give me, like Jack, the bass player. I’m gonna keep the place in Prunedale. That kept me alive for a long time, let me get away from the bullshit and relate to the country. Sometimes it got too heavy — like I OD’d on Hollywood bullshit. I just couldn’t stand it. It got me sick for awhile. All them beautifully cut sideburns, cats hangin’ out on Sunset Strip, all that shit. I just wanted to throw up, man.”
* * *
On a sunny, languid afternoon later in the week, Doug is triggerish and speedy as a spider in cowboy clothes, which, in fact, he resembles. He says he wants to get out of the house, into the streets.
“Now there’s somethin’ that’s too much about San Antone, man,” he says, jabbing a freckled finger out the car window at a corner icehouse, “there’s one of them ice joints everywhere you look. First thing we gotta do is stop and get a giant ol’ Big Red, you know what I mean, that soft drink? Makes you think, man. You can get hooked on ’em, man, they got caffeine inside. We drink a case of ’em a day at home.” ‘
Big Red in hand, Doug points the way to the squalling, polyglot West Side.
“Sheeit, I’ll show you some things that’ll blow your mind, jack. We can get loaded if you want to. I don’t do that so much anymore. I used to get so high I couldn’t function. I used to wouldn’t walk outside my house in Frisco unless I had about ten joints in my pocket. Do I still drink Lone Star beer? Haw, yeah, man. Ain’t it weird — once you get that thing with your mind, ain’t nothin’ can hang you up. Once you get past the thing of always havin’ to say, ‘Where’s the shit, man.”
“See that place with the awning we just passed? Great enchiladas there. We’ll come back later. You know, seein’ San Antone and San Francisco back to back is a real experience. People here are still very humble. You don’t see a giant super croaked-up rock and roll star on every corner. It’s made a whole new person out of me. It’s my Gemini moon. I’m Scorpio with Capricorn risin’, Gemini moon.
“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 and the East Side is black. I grew up on the East Side and that was a significant thing in my life. We used to sneak out of school and go drink wine and listen to Blue Bland and B. B. King and Little Willie John on the jukebox, and all those same cats would play at the Eastwood Country Club right across the field from where I grew up, and I could hear ’em at night. I’ll never forget one time when I was about 14 and playin’ blues, and T-Bone Walker had heard me somewhere and, I don’t wanta sound heavy, but at that time I was playin’ pretty heavy blues. I believe my blues band then was as good as anything anybody hears today. T-Bone told some people to come dig me, we’ll dig this little white cat that plays blues, man. That wigged me out.
“Another time, me and Spot Barnett — he’s a legendary cat, king of the East Side, had ten old ladies and 27 kids — me and Spot was playin’ with Lowell Fulsom, and Lowell looked over at Spot and said, ‘Hey, man, you sure this white boy can play my record? Man, people wanta hear my record.’ And Spot told him, ‘Hey, man, just shut up and do your song and don’t worry about it, man, he can take care of it.’ “
A purple ’50 Chevy glides past and Doug is ecstatic: “Hey, man, a Pachuco car, Too much. That’s real. San Antone’s so soulful, but what turns a lot of the young long-haired cats off is the heat. It’s still rough. You can get popped here in a minute. But it also teaches you to be cool. In California, you can run around with 20 pounds of shit in your suitcase and smoke 20 or 30 a day and take everything in the book. Down here, you’ve got one thing and you’re cool with it. It’s a different thing, it means more. In Texas, you’ve got this survival thing where you’re always lookin’ outta the corner of your eye, at an angle, and you know what’s goin’ on all the time. People in California don’t even think about it. Far out. You aren’t holdin’, are you?
“Well, that’s awright. Listen, I got all my original guys back in the studio now for the album I’m cuttin’ and it’ll just blow your mind — real Mexican rock and roll. I’ve got Jack Barber and Johnny Perez and Augie and the baker who plays maracas, Leon Baetty — he played on ‘Mover.’ Frank’s out there producin’ records in Frisco. Of the original four, two of us — Augie and me — still dig it here. Johnny and Frank are kinda Californiaized. Augie’ll be back. I guess Aug’s goin’ through that Hollywood trip. It takes a while ’cause I was out there two and a half years before Augie came out so he hasn’t piped down the cycle yet. It takes you about five years to get out of that cycle, man. But everybody’s personality came out, everybody’s doin’ their own albums. Augie’s doin’ an album, the band’s doin’ one and we’ll all help each other out. I think it’s groovy.
“Me myself, oh, I don’t know, man. I’m not much on barnstorming. I’m plannin’ some gigs — Austin, Houston. I wanta do Louisiana — Lafayette. I love Lafayette, go down there and eat some good gumbo. I just wanta do some stuff I could never do if I was out on that giant agency trip. For every Three Dog Night that makes it, there’s a hundred thousand good cats that ain’t made it, ’cause they can’t stand all that bullshit. Cats like Freddie Fender, from Harlingen. He’s the original Chicano cat, had a voice like nobody else. He’s done two stretches in the joint. He was in Angola for a long time, just over some bullshit. He’d turn the world on if he could. But they’ll never get to hear him unless I go out and dig him up somewheres. I’ve had two or three record company cats say go get him and Freddie don’t even know it. He’s probably down in Nuevo Laredo or somewhere, singin’ for ten bucks a night. All these original cats. …
“Hey, looky there — dig how the neighborhood’s changin’, man — Hidalgo Street, San Carlos, Guadalupe. It’s just like Mexico down here, man — another world. Hear that music comin’ outta that joint there, Pancho’s? I’m into Mexican music very heavily. I’m gettin’ me a bajo sexto, a Mexican 12-string, it goes jop pop jop. Right now, though, I gotta find a tube board that’ll handle that low sound. All the studios now are usin’ transistor solidstate boards, and they won’t take the bottom, the bass. They just can’t handle that bomp bomp, that rough, raunchy-soundin’ bass. And that’s somethin’ else too, man, San Antone’s got nearly a million people and you can’t even find an eight-track, much less a sixteen-track studio here. Maybe I’ll build one here.
“Now look there to the right — that’s the Conquistador Lounge, where they had a big shoot-out the other night — poor cats playin’ there lost their gig, it happens all the time. Man, I’ve played some places that were turned out twice a night. Bullets’d start flyin’ and you’d just have to hit the deck. I’ve seen cats shot off the bandstand. Oh, hell yes. San Antone’s a gunslingin’ town, it’s a fact.”
There are bullet holes in the door of the Conquistador and red stains on the steps.
“Look around you,” says Doug, pointing. “You don’t see no white people down here. It’s all Chicano, no gringos. It’s endless — the West Side just goes on for miles and miles. See that tin-roof joint over there? You’d get your ass shot off in there. And look at the cars. Look around. Nothin’ but old Chee-vies.You don’t see no Cadillacs. And look at the colors — red and purple. West Side cars. I’m writin’ a song, I’m gonna call it ‘Ode to a West Side Chee-vy.’
“The West Side. Man, there’s places down here the cops won’t come. Dig — cats sittin’ on the corner with no clothes on, shootin’ smack. Right down this street in the Fifties and Sixties, there were some gangs that were motherfuckers. Cats with machine guns in their cars. Shoo, Beautiful.”
During the drive, Doug muses about his affinity for country music.
“I’m thinkin’ serious about goin’ to Nashville and doin’ a country album. Lots of old folks get just hypnotized to see a long-haired cat sing like Hank Williams. What I mean is folks who never saw long hair except on TV. I do Hank Williams and Jimmie Rodgers stuff that they know, like ‘T For Texas.’ I’ve often believed that if I seriously wanted to get into country music … well, you know — ‘Texas Me’ and ‘Be Real’ were pure country, coulda been country hits … I believe I could be right up there behind Merle Haggard. I wouldn’t be at all ashamed to be No. 2 to that cat for awhile, ’cause he’s great. It’s ’cause he’s fresh and real, and I can see it every time I play — it’s just some kind of magical thing to older people, I don’t know what to call it. I get up there and do ‘T For Texas’ or ‘El Paso’… I don’t know.
“And I play fiddle and do Cajun shit, just flips ’em right out. I’ve always had that in the back of my mind — someday just say fuck, it and drop out and say later man. I just wanta do country, and be that way for awhile. Maybe then people would see that I’m really just a hillbilly with long hair.”
Doug squints through the glare of the windshield and points at a red-and-purple-painted tamale stand. “Pull up right there, man,” he directs, “and I’ll run in and get us another Big Red.”