Sir Douglas Quintet – The Mono Singles ’68-’72

January 01, 1970

(Sundazed
Records)

 

www.sundazed.com

 

Although
long respected by critics, hipsters, and historians for their important place
in rock ‘n’ roll history, only belatedly has the Sir Douglas Quintet begun to
receive its props for expanding the 1960s-era garage-rock vocabulary beyond
retro-Elvis crooning and faux Fab Four harmonies. While the band was originally
put together by Houston producer Huey P. Meaux as a Cajun facsimile of an amalgam
of British Invasion bands, left in the hands of the capable Doug Sahm and
friends, the Sir Douglas Quintet became something else entirely.

 

The
original Sir Douglas Quintet recorded a handful of songs with Meaux, scoring a
Top Twenty hit in 1965 with the Tex-Mex flavored classic “She’s About A
Mover.” Fleeting fame would follow, met by a string of good, but not
particularly successful singles released by various Meaux-owned labels,
culminating in The Best of the Sir
Douglas Quintet
album, a collection of the aforementioned flotsam and
jetsam. When the band was arrested for marijuana possession after returning
home to Texas from a 1966 European tour, Sahm got out of jail, broke up the
band, and took off to San Francisco, followed shortly by the Quintet’s saxophonist
Frank Morin.

 

In
California, Sahm saw the light and formed a new version of the Sir Douglas
Quintet with friend Morin and a bunch of guys who subsequently came and went. Playing
regularly around Frisco, the band signed with a Mercury Records subsidiary, and
recorded a true debut album in 1968’s Sir
Douglas Quintet + 2 = Honkey Blues
. It’s at this point that our tale takes
off and the era documented by Sundazed’s The
Mono Singles ’68-’72
begins, the album collecting all 22 songs – 11 singles
total, with B-sides – released by Mercury and its subsidiary labels during the
stated period.

 

While
these songs have been compiled before – most notably as part of the 2006 box
set The Complete Mercury Recordings,
this single-disc set places them firmly in the spotlight all by their lonesome
selves. Whether you prefer the mono or the stereo versions of these songs is a
matter of personal taste, really – I find myself on the fence, liking the mono
versions of some songs better, the fleshier stereo mixes of others – the
groundbreaking nature and entertainment value of the songs is beyond argument. As
a rabid Doug Sahm and Sir Douglas Quintet fan, I’m happier than an armadillo in
the sun to have multiple versions of all of these classic tunes.

 

The Mono Singles ’68-’72 begins with an atypical
pair of 1968 singles, “Are Inlaws Really Outlaws” and “Sell A
Song.” The former is a muted, Stax Records/Southern soul jam with bleating
horns and conversational vocals, while the latter is similar to what Delaney
& Bonnie would be doing later in the 1960s, Sahm’s R&B torch vocals
supported by Wayne Talbert’s gospel-tinged piano and scraps of guitar until the
song devolves into an improvised instrumental work-out with jazzy horns. Both songs
are interesting in a curious, prurient, historical context but neither is
indicative of the sound that the Sir Douglas Quintet would later innovate.

 

By late
’68, Sahm would have a reconstituted Quintet in place with his old friend Augie
Meyers on keyboards, where he belonged, and then the band really started
cooking. “Mendocino” was the result of the new band line-up, the
song’s Tex-Mex flavor enhanced by Meyers’ buoyant keys, Sahm’s understated
vocals, and a melodic hook large enough to hang your hat on. The song cracked
the U.S. Top 30, blew up even bigger in Europe, and put the Quintet back on the
international stage. The B-side was the wistful “I Wanna Be Your Mama
Again,” a mid-tempo slice of Texas soul with Sahm’s lonesome vocals, some
inspired piano-play by Meyers, and just a touch of psychedelic swirl creeping
in around the bluesy edges of the song.

 

“Mendocino,”
the hit single, would subsequently spawn Mendocino the album, which in turn would yield a couple more minor hits. The first was
the yearning “It Didn’t Even Bring Me Down,” a great example of the
emotionalism Sahm could bring to a song with both words and vocals, the music a
mix of horn-driven R&B led by Morin’s tasteful tenor saxophone and
Texas-flavored blues-rock. The flip side was the jaunty “Lawd, I’m Just A
Country Boy In This Great Big Freaky City,” another homesick ode about life
in bad old San Francisco that is as alt-country in sound and texture as
anything to follow by the Byrds and/or Gram Parsons.

 

Sahm
missed Texas something awful during his stay in the Bay area, and it made for
some great songs. The other single from Mendocino was the wonderfully wry blues-gospel-rock hybrid “At The Crossroads,”
a slow-paced ballad with chiming organ and as mournful a vocal performance as
you’ll ever hear. Sahm’s verse “you can teach me life’s lesson, you can
bring a lot of gold, but you just can’t live in Texas, if you don’t have a lot
of soul,” is pitch-perfect in its yearning, the sentiment punctuated by an
elegant score of descending piano notes. Turn the single over and you have the
equally delightful “Texas Me,” a fiddle-driven country tale of Sahm’s
move to Frisco, a mid-tempo rocker with plenty of twang and an undeniable yen
for life back in Austin.

 

Somewhere
during all of this, Mercury released the non-album single “Dynamite
Woman,” a swinging little number with gobs of Cajun fiddle, Meyers’ steady
Farfisa work, Sahm’s vocals almost lost in the mix beneath the spry
instrumentation. “Too Many Docile Minds” picks up, musically, where
“Dynamite Woman” left off, adding a bit more melody to the
arrangement but otherwise sounding very similar. Why they were left off the
album is anybody’s guess, ’cause both are fine performances.

 

Reunited
with producer Meaux, the Sir Douglas Quintet would release Together After Five in 1970. The album’s lead-off single was the
mid-tempo Tex-Mex rave-up “Nuevo Laredo,” an ode to the Texas border
town that features a recurring keyboard riff, joyous blasts of
Mexican-influenced horns, and more than a little mariachi flavor. “I Don’t
Want To Go Home” is a contemporary 1960s-styled country ballad that would
have been at home in either Texas or Tennessee. It’s right about here that Sahm
veers off course, The Mono Singles
’68-’72
offering a pair of Nashville-born singles that Mercury released
under the “Wayne Douglas” name in an attempt to crack the country
charts.

 

Although
both “Be Real” and the Music City remake of “I Don’t Want To Go
Home” are fine examples of old-school country featuring some of the city’s
best session players – folks like pedal-steel maestro Pete Drake and honky-tonk
pianist Hargus “Pig” Robbins – both were a little too raw and, well,
dated to appeal to then-contemporary country radio’s sophisticated
“countrypolitan” audience that placed a premium on slick production
and slicker appearance. Sahm returned to the Sir Douglas Quintet for 1970’s 1+1+1=4 album, from which were released
a couple of singles, “What About Tomorrow” a relatively-unremarkable
country-rocker and “(I Found Love) A Nice Song” a bluesy ballad with
jangly piano-pounding and a dynamic vocal performance by Sahm, with just a
little nuanced guitar thrown in for good measure.

 

To be
honest, Sahm’s return from Nashville to San Francisco seemed to only prolong
the inevitable homeward journey, and the subsequent handful of single releases
seemed to be a catch-as-catch-can mixed bag of styles. “Catch The Man On
The Rise” is a bluesy rocker that walks a path that Joe Cocker would
sprint down couple of years hence, while the psychedelic tropes of “Pretty
Flower” seems an unnatural fit for the Lone Star State transplant. Sahm
finally gave in and went back home to Texas in time for 1971’s The Return of Doug Saldana, a welcome
return to form after the middlin’ country-rock of 1+1+1=4.  Tex-Mex ruled the
soundtrack to the autobiographical “Me And My Destiny,” a great
folk-rock song with deep roots in the multi-cultural Texas music tradition that
Sahm cherished and, indeed, helped popularize.

 

The B-side
of “Me And My Destiny” was a heartfelt cover of Freddy Fender’s 1959
regional hit “Wasted Days, Wasted Nights” which, perchance, would
launch Fender’s country music stardom during the ensuing decade. Delivered
straight, as a 1950s-styled soul burner, Sahm’s version is very cool with
emotional vocals, a swinging horn line, and piano flourishes all around. With The Return of Doug Saldana achieving
mixed commercial results, the Sir Douglas Quintet would call it a day.

 

Sahm
appeared as a drug dealer in the 1972 film Cisco
Pike
starring Kris Kristofferson, offering up the pro-drug song “Michoacan”
for the movie’s soundtrack. Released by Mercury as the last Quintet single, the
jaunty Mexican-flavored number is a mid-tempo polka featuring Meyers’ familiar
Farfisa and Sahm’s playful vocals. The B-side, “Westside Blues
Again,” is a bluesy, smoldering R&B tune that features a great,
growling Sahm vocal and scorching fretwork complimented by Rocky Morales’
1950s-styled tenor sax riffs.

 

Doug Sahm
would launch his solo career with 1973’s acclaimed Doug Sahm and Band, recorded with what remained of the Sir Douglas
Quintet, including Meyers and future Texas Tornados bandmate Flaco Jimenez. It
was a testament to the esteem that his fellow artists held Sahm that he was
able to enlist talents like Bob Dylan, Dr. John, and David Bromberg to appear
on his solo debut. Sahm would continue to create and record essential and
creative music throughout the 1980s and 1990s, both as a solo artist and with
the more commercially-successful Texas Tornados. Although Sahm would later resurrect
the Sir Douglas Quintet name on occasion, he’d never break as much ground as he
did with these 22 songs recorded over four years.   

 

DOWNLOAD: “Mendocino,” “At The
Crossroads,” “Texas Me,” “Nuevo Laredo” REV.
KEITH A. GORDON

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