Monday, July 30, 2012

Michoacan part 2 - KIM FOWLEY INTERVIEW!

When I posted about the mysterious Sir Douglas Quintet single "Michoachan" earlier in Doug Sahm month, I didn't realize there was going to be so much back story.  I decided I would go to the source and discuss it with its co-writer, legendary songwriter/singer/producer/A&R man/svengali/pied piper/raconteur/garbage man Kim Fowley. The original blog post can be found here.

Kim Fowley (in the Western shirt) with among others
Del Shannon, Bruce Johnston and Gene Vincent. From his website.

Interviewing Kim Fowley means staying out of Kim Fowley's way, so I just tried not to interrupt him, since every time I did he went skidding on some new fascinating tangent. 

KIM FOWLEY:  Michoacan was written by Atwood Allen and [myself].  Atwood Allen was the Electric Ice Man from San Antonio, and his grass that he cultivated and blended and rolled into joints was apparently legendary. I don’t smoke dope so I have no idea if it’s true, but according to gravevine legend Bob Dylan smoked some of Atwood’s blend and thought it was Doug Sahm’s blend and then liked Doug Sahm’s music more than he normally would, because he thought his abilities as a tobacconist cum blender of psychedelics gave him a different status. And then when he found it it was Atwood Allen’s, possibly he didn’t like Doug Sahm as much. Now, this is just a story that floats around ballrooms in Austin. It is possibly untrue. It’s possibly true. I’m not in an Austin ballroom and I wasn’t there when the rumors started. Have you ever heard that rumour before?
from left: Ernie Durawa, Doug Sahm, Atwood Allen (click here for photo source)
DR. FILTH: I read somewhere that “michoacan” is a codeword for really good marijuana.

FOWLEY: Well, I know that it grows there. In Michoacan itself. Apparently that’s the Carolinas of marijuanadom. I’ve never been there. I remember, I walked into Tom Ayres’ home and this Atwood Allen said, “Hey, buddy – you want a joint?” And I told him I didn’t smoke.  So he said, “Hey Tom, I thought you said this guy wrote lyrics. I want to write a song about Michoacan, and I’ve got the music but this motherfucker doesn’t know shit about dope.”

So I said, “Hey motherfucker, I had a lesbian mother and an opium addict father to contend with so I understand your shit.  I was there when Robert Mitchum got busted for marijuana. My father was trying to score opium in the same house. Don’t fuck with me, motherfucker, I can write the shit!  I wrote shit for the Byrds and I grew up in a criminal household!” Something to that effect.

Tom Ayres bio here
DrF: So he decided that you guys could work together.

KF: Yeah, just to shut me up, probably. So he started smoking dope and I said, “Play your shit” and about ten minutes later it was done. And he said, “My god, this guy’s like a redneck!” And I said, “Look, I produced Gene Vincent. And he was on morphine! And I understood that guy, so I can understand your tiny little drug habit.” So about 10 minutes later the thing was done and Doug Sahm showed up later in the evening when I wasn’t there and Atwood sang it, and he called him “hoss” and “bro” and “dude” and he learned the fucking thing, and there was a movie called Cisco Pike being made - the original title was The Dealer, which would have been a better title than Cisco Pike. Did you ever see the movie?

DrF: Yes.

KF: It’s a really good movie isn’t it? Kris Kristofferson’s first starring role. It was supposed to be the second coming of Easy Rider. And this song was going to be the new “Born to Be Wild”. But it didn’t at all become “Born to Be Wild”. I saw the movie and it sounded like mariachi horns. 

KF: The song was covered four times. I covered it as a producer with Scorpion, on MNW records in Sweden, later purchased by Universal. 

Swedish psych/prog band does a German polka version of Tex-Mex
song with lyrics by a California freak. The mind reels.
KF: And then Atwood Allen had a thing called Atwood Allen the Electric Iceman, Bossier City was the b-side. [I have so far been unable to uncover a copy of this 45 - anybody got one?] And then there was Rocky and the Border Kings, doing "Michoacan". The b-side was "Gulf of Mexico", which I thought was an amazing song. Rocky was Jimmy Stallings, who was also J.J. Light, who also was a member of the Quintet for a minute. Did you know that?

DrF: No.  I mean, I knew that J.J. Light was in the Quintet, but I had no idea that he was Rocky. I love that J.J. Light LP.

KF: He was from Farmington New Mexico. He had a Mexican mom and an Anglican dad and he worked in a laundry there. The Hollywood Argyles found him and brought him back to LA in 1960 or 1961. He became Gene Thomas – he was a funny Gene Thomas. Gene Thomas had “Sometime”, which was another Chicano-kind-of-San-Antonio record, but no one knew what Gene Thomas looked like here, so we passed him off as Gene Thomas.

J.J. Light - lost Chicano psych classic!
Gene Thomas - NOT J.J. Light!
Doug Sahm sings Gene Thomas
KF:  So the fifth version of the song was Kris Kristofferson – he did a live album in Cuba or some weird place. It’s a blue album cover, and it’s the only live Kristofferson album. And so he did it, but he changed the lyrics – naughty naughty shame on you – and so I thought, “well, he’s a great songwriter”. But his words were worse than mine. He didn’t take credit but he still changed them.Is that five versions? Read them back.

I was unable to verify the Cuban live album, but here's
the studio version from  Shake Hands with the Devil
Dr.F: Kristofferson, Rocky and the Border Kings, Atwood Allen, Scorpion, Sir Douglas Quintet.

KF:  And not one of them charted. I think the Kristofferson album charted. Nothing else charted. It’s probably a hit song, and someday someone will do a new version of it, some new Tijuana brass thing . .

Dr.F: Tijuana dubstep.

KF:  Yeah! Why not? They’ll hear it, and people will smoke dope and say, “Shit! Where did this come from?” I mean, there’s something great about it.  It’s like my song “The Trip”. God, that thing has been covered and used and banned just about everywhere.

Joe "King" Carraso and the Crowns

KF: At one point Sahm was going to produce Joe "King" Carrasco and the Crowns, and I met him in the bathroom of the baseball game they always have on Sundays at South by Southwest. They end the conference and everybody goes and plays baseball.  Doug Sahm was the coach.  And so I said, “Here’s Michoacan and some other shit for Joe "King" Carrasco.” And he reluctantly took it, but he probably threw it in the trash, because Doug never understood how I was able, as this West Coast moron, to write authentic shit that he could sing. Because he was a great songwriter and he didn’t cover too many people.

DrF: He did not cover too many contemporaries, no.

KF: No, he wanted to find some toothless black guy from 400 years ago and give him a shot.

This interview expanded to include several other topics, and we will see more of it in the very near future. Kim Fowley would like to let you know that he has just recorded a new release with Snow Mercy called Live in Overdrive. "We did it in an hour. It's one of the dumbest records you've ever heard. It's STUPID. Which is the key word in rock and roll.  It's really stupid, and if you guys are smoking dope, jacking off, or robbing cars, this is the record to do it to. Everything good about Paul and Paula and Dale and Grace, you will find on this piece of trash, on steroids. Be sure and check it out.  It's on iTunes."

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Doug Sahm Month: Ramblers - Funky Side of Your Mind/Hello Amsterdam/Sir Doug's Recording Trip/One Too Many Mornings

Here's (sort of) three more from the Rough Cuts LP.  As requested, the tale of the Sir Douglas Quintet's trip to Amersterdam, and for historical purposes, "Sir Doug's Recording Trip".  But perhaps most interestingly, we're also bringing you "Funky Side of Your Mind".  Expect this post to ramble like a five minute mid-tempo Sir Douglas Quintet song.

As I've said in earlier posts this month, once Doug got to writing songs, some of his favorite topics were Lone Star Beer, Texas, and his own personal history, which sure did wig him out when he thought about what went down. No one could romanticize his own life in as charming, goofy, and wonderful way. "Sir Doug's Recording Trip" is his personal history, from being on record from the time he was five years old, to hooking up with the Quintet, to meeting Huey Meaux in Houston, to
having some chart success, to the moment of recording "Sir Doug's Recording Trip".

Sir Doug and Huey Meaux on a recording trip
taken from http://theragblog.blogspot.com*
"Hello Amsterdam" picks up the story where "SDRT" leaves off, with the Quintet really getting ready to go to Europe from their base in San Francisco. He sounds dissatisfied with the late 60s California scene and it sounds like maybe he's thinking about living on the "Urpean Cont'nent". He would of course settle for going back to Texas.

Is anybody going to Amsterdam, or maybe Barcelona?
Apparently the sessions that eventually made up the Rough Cuts album were, um, rather loose.  Many of the cuts fade up and fade down - arrangements created on the fly, minimal repeat takes, the usual crazy-artist-in-the-thralls-of-his-own-muse-at-the-expense-of-professionalism wondrousness.

One cut that features both a fade up AND a fade down is "Leaving Kansas City", a remarkably evocative (particularly for a lifelong Texas boy) ramble about getting out of the middle of America for stranger pastures. When I first discovered this song I had just "left Kansas City" (actually Columbia, MO) after 30 years, "bouncing around in space until I found my place". Sir Doug and I share a birthday, and considering his own love for zodiacal connectivity, I'm going to go a little hippie on y'all and admit that I've always wondered if it wasn't that shared birthdate, among other things, that connected me to his music so strongly.

You can hear Doug call out changes and instructions throughout the song as it lilts along over particularly strong and compassionate ("Crossroads" worthy!) DS vocal. But they obviously don't have an ending for it. I think that Augie Meyer must play the second guitar on this recording, since there's no piano or organ to be heard. On Rough Cuts the song fades after its little whistling coda, and that's that, a perfectly wonderful farewell-to-Mercury-records-last-song-on-the-album kind of a thing. But there's a full version of the take, or fuller, that is as far as I know only available on the Edsel She's About a Mover: The Best of the Sir Douglas Quintet Crazy Cajun Recordings CD (I think there's a one-and-two CD version) that continues past the fade, and into an otherwise unreleased pounder called "Funky Side of Your Mind".

Sometimes CDs are good for something
As "Leaving Kansas City"'s chord changes go on and on and the band tries to find its way home, it sounds to me like drummer Johnny Perez has a sudden inspiration, as he switches from a country backbeat to a straight up pounding rock doubletime. He calls for the song "Funky Side of Your Mind", to which Doug responds, "Nah, man."  But Perez insists. "It'll work!" And into it they go, rocking out acoustic, and Doug fully commits, bringing his big "She's About a Mover" bellow out and transforming the wistfulness of "Leaving Kansas City" into a sudden rush of fiesty defiance, which to me sounds like the sort of thing he was looking for when he decided to "leave Kansas City" in the first place.

All-in-all a great lost look at the interband dynamics of the Quintet and one of the best SDQ recordings of the 70s.

And, what the heck, to wrap up and because I mentioned the whole shared birthday thing (and because it's kind of the same song anyway) here's one I never fail to play on November 6, wherever I am - from Together After Five, the "One Too Many Mornings/Got to Sing a Happy Song" medley. While it's always nice to think of all the time I've wasted (and it's not wasted) with Doug Sahm, it's the verse that starts at the 4:00 mark that always gets me.

One Too Many Mornings/Sing a Happy Song

One too many songs in this post?
*anyone interested in the multi-faceted and troubling story of Huey P. Meaux is directed to the Ragspot for a complete bio. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Sir Douglas Quintet: Michoacan

Since Greg G sent Doug south of the border in an earlier post today, I thought this was an appropriate time to take another excursion down there, this time in the form of a single-only song from the Kris Kristofferson film Cisco Pike, "Michoacan".

I guess that working with the Crazy Cajun Huey P. Meaux wasn't quite enough crazy for Sahm, because "Michoacan" was co-written by the king of crazy, Kim Fowley.

Sir Doug actually appeared in Cisco Pike, which features a PRIMO cast of 70s performers, from Karen Black to Harry Dean Stanton to Antonio Fargas, and is almost sure to be playing at a Fool's Paradise double feature near you in the near future.  As a teaser, here's Doug's scene (about three minutes in), talking about how much he hates complicated California psychedelic music and prefers to keep it simple.  He also, unsurprisingly, needs some weed.

The song itself is such a crazy, happy goofed up bounce, and the scene in the studio is so positively loco, that for a while the word "Michoacan", divorced from any geographical context or even an upper case letter, became a code adjective among me and my friends for a messed up but kind of awesome situation, as in: "That party last night was pretty michoacan." This has of course taken on darker meanings since Michoacan became one of the central spots of south-of-the-border drug cartel violence. Surprised this number has not made it into "Breaking Bad". 

Speaking of pretty michoacan, check out this photo of Doug Sahm, Steven T. (aka Venus of Venus and the Razor Blades), Question Mark, and Kim Fowley.  If that's not the essence of michoacan, I dunno what is.

Next stop Nuevo Laredo?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Wayne Douglas aka Doug Sahm

Wayne Douglas - Be Real 

Released under a half-hearted pseudonym (he inverted his first & middle names), Be Real is an interesting gem from the Doug Sahm archives.   Sahm recorded it in Nashville with some Music City studio aces and it came out on Mercury, which was handling Doug at the time.  Unfortunately the record went nowhere but it's solid Texas honky-tonk shuffle that's sure to please any hard country fan.

Sir Douglas Quintet: Who'll Be the Next in Line?

On this, the 50th anniversary of the Rolling Stones first gig, it seems fitting to present this version of the Kinks' "Who'll Be the Next in Line" from Austin City Limits in 1981. Doug starts out on guitar but after about a minute puts it away and "does his best Jagger".

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Doug Sahm - She Purt The Hurt On Me

Doug Sahm  -  She Put The Hurt On Me

Juke Box Music has to be one of my favorite Doug Sahm LPs.  Released on Antone's Records in 1988 out of Austin, it gives Sahm the opportunity to send a big wet kiss to the classic R&B and doo-wop sounds that he loved.

She Put The Hurt On Me comes from the pen of Otis Redding and if you'd like to hear his version, here you go.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Sir Douglas Quintet: Blue Norther

The flipside of the Tribe single "The Tracker" is an eerie minor key rocker called "Blue Norther". The term "blue norther" itself is Texan for a cold front that drops the temperature suddenly and brings a storm, usually followed by a period of blue skies and cold weather. With its menacing rhythm guitar, spooky backups and ominous Augie Meyer organ, this song evokes that sudden chill very effectively, signalling a uniquely Texan rock and roll band with deeper regional and musical roots than your average teenage combo.

While it's easiest to find "Blue Norther" on Tribe, the song was actually the flipside of the very first Sir Douglas Quintet single, released on Pacemaker in '64 (the topside was the Cajun stomper "Sugar Bee"). It's the same version as the Tribe version but has an earlier fade.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Doug Sahm Month: Tracker, Tiger, Jagger, Sahm

Sir Douglas's 2nd 45 on Tribe was fronted by this great "Searchin'" styled stalker stomp, here reproduced live on Shindig in July of 1965.  Let's take a moment to note that Sir Douglas and the Quintet all have their headcoats on.

When I first came across this song, it was on the Tribe "Best of the Sir Douglas Quintet" album (which I think we'll all agree is a fine way to title your very first LP). I didn't bother to check the song titles when I'd spin it, and I thought that the lyric was "I'm a Tiger". I guess I thought Sahm was hunting this object d'affection down to gobble her up. Certain lines really had to be twisted to get the verses to follow my delusional chorus. When I finally realized that he was saying "I'm a Tracker", the whole thing made much more sense. Thing was, my wife thought it was "I'm a Tiger", too.

Shortly thereafter, a couple of friends, newly married, came to town, and we were driving around the area with a Doug Sahm comp. tape blasting away. This song came on, and was playing for a while, when the bride in the back said, "Why does he keep saying 'I'm Mick Jagger?!?'"

This made even less sense than "I'm a Tiger" but was way funnier.

My thumbs will be her jail!