Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Hey Baby, Que Paso?

Doug Sahm and The Texas Tornados are my favorite new-old bands.  Hit the jump to read why . . .

There are few things I love more than discovering new music; especially new-old music.  I still remember the first time my dad played The Basement Tapes on the car stereo: 

Me: “This is amazing.”

Dad: “No, this is The Band.”

Me: “Why haven’t I heard them before?"  
                     "What else am I missing out on?”

Dad: “What do you know about Lou Reed . . .”

From that day forward, I made it a point to track down and catalogue the good-old sound I’d been neglecting.  This practice lead to me discovering incredible artists like Dr. John, David Bowie, the Clash, Warren Zevon, The Velvet Underground, and countless others.  The soundtrack of my life would be drastically different had I not learned to appreciate proven, battle scarred, new-old entertainers.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not too set in my ways to appreciate good-new music.  In fact, I spend inordinate amounts of my life seeking out good-new sound. (Muse, The Black Keys, The National, and Band of Horses are recent favorites).  The problem is, even in the rare circumstances when I find a new-new band that strikes a chord, I have difficulty shaking the thought that I’m lending it undue credibility in hopes it’ll register as classic.  It takes time and patience to give a new artist/record the chance to stand on its own feet . . . and I’m currently lacking in both departments. 

Old music, on the other hand, comes with instant credibility.  It has, by definition, withstood the test of time.  There are numerous reasons good-old bands (and styles) fall into obscurity.  Hell, even the Blues had one foot in the grave in the late 70s.  It’s been said that if it wasn’t for the Blues Brothers’ smash success and subsequent movie, the whole genre might have gone to the mattresses.  Would you believe that out of all the artists who performed in the BB movie (James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Cab Calloway, Johnny Lee Hooker), the only one with steady work before the film hit theaters was Ray Charles.  

On a mission from God.

I digress.

The reason I decided to post some mental drabble after all these weeks was my introduction to an incredible old artist named Doug Sahm. 

The Original Texas Tornado

I had been in the midst of a Farm Aid inspired Wilco/folk rock kick when I decided to revisit the album Anodyne by Uncle Tupelo (the band Tweedy split from prior to forming Wilco).  The second track on the record is a Sahm/UncleTupelo collaboration titled Give Back the Key to My Heart.”  The song starts like any standard folk rock number.  Simple chords, catchy melody, charming chorus . . .   It’s not until the beginning of the second verse that Sahm unleashes his weathered, raspy, country howl; but, when he does, you can’t help but relate to the state of mind he’s raconteuring (I think I made this word up).  In this simple, honest stanza, Sahm croons about what it was like to lose someone who chose “a friend named cocaine” over him.  The track wraps with the line “while you’re giving back my things, give me back the key to my heart.” Simple but devastating.

Fueled by the prospect of discovering a new-old band to devour, I tore through the Anodyne liner notes hoping to find who was behind the voice invading my predictably mid-tempo, pre-Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Wilco session.  When all signs pointed to Sahm, I set out on a mission to gather all the information on the man that I could.

Step One:  Consult Wikipedia for background info.

Turns out Sahm passed away in 1999.  But prior to that he won a handful of Grammies and, along with his band – The Texas Tornadoes, became the torchbearer for a then-revitalized style of music called TexMex/Tejano.  (you can read more here)  

This meta-info was all interesting; but, the real payload was what followed.  If you're familiar with previous posts, you should be able to picture my reaction when I discovered this:

"In October 1972, Dylan was in the studio with Doug Sahm, Dylan having been friendly with Sahm since the mid-sixties and having expressed enthusiasm for the Sir Douglas Quintet on more than one occasion . . . He appeared in a couple of minor movie roles with Kris Kristofferson . . . Sahm was also a sought-after session musician, appearing on releases of other artists including, The Grateful Dead. He sang backing vocals on Willie Nelson's 1977 gospel album, The Troublemaker."

Recorded with the Dead . . . Starred with Kristofferson . . . A favorite of DYLAN!  Check, Check, and Check.  Time to acquire some music. 

Step Two:  Contact my go to music connections (my father, his friends, and other kindred music connoisseurs I’ve collected over the years) and consult those with expertise in Sahm’s genre.  In this case, I reached out to Outlaw Country aficionados, hoping they could recommend albums to buy/tracks to download. 

Step Three: Scour you-tube for some footage of performances to evaluate.

Is that not the greatest thing you’ve ever seen? 
It’s recorded live at the Playboy Mansion for Chr***’s sake.

Bad. Ass.

How in the world did something this fun avoid my radar?

In all candor, I have a real distaste for Country music.  The only sub-styling I enjoy (and enjoy tremendously) is Outlaw Country - Nelson, Hag, Cash, Jennings, Kristofferson  (*as a general rule, you never pass up an opportunity to list the Highwaymen) and sometimes Jr. 

“I don't think Hank done it this way.”

There’s something about the old whiskey drinking, guitar picking patriarchs I find endearing.  In my opinion, these guys sound their best when they’re putting it down before a live audience.  Seeing as Sahm fits loosely into this genre, I settled on the Sir Douglas Quintet: Live from Austin as an introductory album.  I also picked up The Texas Tornados Greatest Hits because: (1) I can’t resist a good Supergroup; and (2) I wanted to own as many records as possible with a song titled “Who Were You Thinking of When We Were Making Love Last Night” on them.

Both recordings blew me away.  Especially The Sir Douglas Quintet: Live From Austin, which has easily earned a place on my top live albums list.  As I’m still not totally familiar with the Tornados/Tejano genre, I’ll skip a full review and say I’m convinced Sahm and family will be a solid addition to my regular listening rotation; one I’ll be appreciating for years to come.  In case this post has piqued your interest in Sahm or The Texas Tornados, here’s a short playlist of new-old music to add to your collection:

1.      Mendocino
2.      Give Back the Key to My Heart
3.      She’s About A Mover
4.      Is Anybody Goin’ To San Anton’/Texas Tornado
5.      Who Were You Thinkin’ Of
6.      At The Crossroads
7.      Hey Baby, Que Paso?



  1. as someone who grew up on outlaw country and later lived in austin for five years, i have to say- well done! i had never heard of this dude and now i've had him playing all morning! thanks rick, stellar find.


  2. Thanks Angie. I recently discovered a Sahm led band named "The Last Real Texas Blues Band." Highly recommended.