Hector Saldaña is living my fantasy: journalist by day, rock star by night.
OK, maybe rock star is a bit much, but Hector (center), a longtime reporter at the San Antonio Express-News, and his brother David (lower left) started The Krayolas as a garage band in the early 1970s. They had a cult following in town, but they hung it up in the late '80s. Then, in late 2007, they reunited to record "Little Fox," a song that Augie Meyers had written for Doug Sahm and the Sir Douglas Quintet in 1967. That led to an album, "La Conquistadora," produced by Meyers, and now to their new release, "Long Leaf Pine (No Smack Gum)." (Available on iTunes.)
I know it's early in the year, but I know "Long Leaf Pine" will be in my Top 10 list for 2009. It's a great collection of sounds, everything from their trademark power pop to roadhouse blues to Tex-Mex to San Anto soul. There's even a post-modern corrido: "Twelve Heads In a Bag." You'd have to go back to early Los Lobos albums to find that kind of stylistic diversity. And just like on those Lobos albums, it doesn't sound schizoid. It all works as a piece.
Except for one song co-written with his brother, and another written by Meyers, Hector wrote all the songs, plays rhythm guitar, and handles most of the lead vocals. He can sound like a mop top out of the British Invasion on some songs, and then have a slight Dylanesque inflection on others. Musically, there's not a bad song in the bunch. (When was the last time you could say that about an album with 15 cuts?) The band is filled out by guitarist Van Baines and bassist Abraham Humphrey. (David plays drums.) And the album is punched up by the legendary West Side Horns: Louie Bustos on saxophone and Al Gomez on trumpet. They go back to the '60s R&B scene in San Antonio, and were stalwarts with various incarnations of Doug Sahm bands. And the spirit of the Sir Doug Quintet is provided by Augie Meyers.
With apologies to Nick Lowe, this is Pure Pop (By Brown People) For Now People.
Doug Sahm was the original Cosmic Cowboy. Born in San Antonio in 1941, he was a child prodigy on the steel guitar who performed on the Louisiana Hayride and as a boy once took the stage alongside Hank Williams. He grew up across a field from the Eastwood Country Club, which was the San Antonio stop on the blues and R&B circuit, and where he heard many greats for the first time. And he played with Blacks and Chicanos in what were probably the first integrated bands in San Antonio. And then he hit it big when he led the Sir Douglas Quintet and knocked out those two great hits, "She's About a Mover" and "Mendocino." After a sojourn in the Bay Area, Sahm returned to Texas in the early '70s when the Austin music scene was percolating. He became a fixture, playing whatever he wanted to: country, blues, R&B, Tex-Mex--sometimes all in the same night, practically all in the same song.
When he died in 1999, he left behind a legion of fans, friends and admirers. And it might just have taken these 10 years for his music colleagues to get over the shock and produce "Keep Your Soul: A Tribute to Doug Sahm." The lineup is a virtual Who's Who of Texas and California roots rockers. The disc leads off with East L.A. legend Little Willie G. lending a Chicano touch to "She's About a Mover," backed by Ry Cooder. That's followed by Los Lobos doing "And It Didn't Even Bring Me Down," fueled by Cesar Rosas' soulful vocal and Steve Berlin's sax and keyboard work. The grooves just go on and on: Alejandro Escovedo ("Too Little, Too Late"); Sahm's former Texas Tornado cohorts Flaco Jimenez and Augie Meyers, along with the Westside Horns on " 'Ta Bueno Compadre"; Jimmie Vaughn, aided by some great horn work, on "Why Why Why"; and Joe "King" Carrasco adding his Nuevo Wavo flavor to "Adios Mexico." The constant presence throughout the disc, musically and spiritually, is Doug's son, Shawn, who caps things off with an eerily spot-on performance of "Mendocino," on which he recorded all the parts. (The iTunes version has a bonus track: Billy Bob Thornton's band, The Boxmasters, doing "Yesterday Got In the Way.") All in all, it's a fantastic tribute, and a bittersweet reminder of what we've lost. My only minor quibble: I would've loved to hear Sahm's audacious anthem, "Chicano," performed by, say, Little Joe y La Familia? Oh well, maybe for the next chapter.
I never met Doug, though I feel like I knew him since I'd heard about him seemingly all my life. He was just a few years older than my brothers when he played at their high school dances with his first bands. And I know any number of people who knew him and passed along fantastic stories. Like my former L.A. Times colleague, pop music critic Bob Hilburn, who said he once visited a Sahm recording session and recalled that it was like a scene from a Cheech & Chong movie. Bob said Doug was cutting a vocal, but he couldn't actually see him because the booth was filled with marijuana smoke. That was Doug, always living in his Groover's Paradise.
Went to a vinyl sale last Sunday and made a few great 45 finds, including this gem from 1960. The Royaltones were from Dearborn, Michigan and on this instrumental they were obviously trying to capitalize on the success of "Tequila" by the Champs, which was released a couple of years earlier. "Tacos" is musically, in fact, an upside down version of "Tequila."
Also, note the name on the red portion of the label: George Goldner originally made his living as a garment dealer in New York City. His Latina wife turned him on to Latin music and Goldner went on to operate a number of dance halls and then started Tico records, home to Tito Puente and other salsa stars. He also went on to help start the practice known as "payola." Nevertheless, Goldner was an influential figure on the R&B scene. He released "Gee" by the Crows, which is considered by some to be the first rock 'n' roll record. And he discovered Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers and produced their hit, "Why Do Fools Fall In Love?" On another label, he recorded the Chantels, whose big smash was "Maybe." And then he later started Red Bird Records with Lieber & Stoller, where their first hit was "Chapel of Love" by the Dixie Cups.
Anyway, back to "Tacos": I've also discovered that it's available on a CD compilation called "Frolic Diner," which includes such titles as "Chili Beans" by Felix and his Guitar, and "Enchilada" by the Scamps. All those songs remind me of one of my favorite garage bands: Los #2 Dinners. They're from San Antonio, of course.
From the time I was about 6 until I started college, my dad owned several bars in San Antonio. Occasionally he'd have live music and on a few occasions some accordionist named Flaco Jimenez would play. I wasn't impressed. Tex-Mex wasn't cool as far as I was concerned. It wasn't until my cultural awakening in college, when I saw Les Blank's great documentary "Chulas Fronteras," and heard Ry Cooder's live "Showtime" album, that I came to appreciate Flaco and the music.
The album pictured above is a classic, and one of my other favorite Flaco recordings is "Partners," on which he collaborates with--among others--Los Lobos, Linda Ronstadt, Dwight Yoakam and Cooder. And then there were those great albums with the Texas Tornados, and his fine work on the first album by Los Super Seven.
And here's my favorite story about Flaco: A musician I know who has toured with him says they were once on a long bus ride across Texas, and Flaco--who's been known to put away a few cold ones--asked the driver to stop just about every hour so he could pick up another six-pack. Finally, someone asked Flaco why he didn't save time and just buy a case of beer, and he responded: "Because I don't want people to think I drink too much."
Gotta thank Josh Kun for turning me on to this disc by my San Antonio homeboy Diego Bernal, who's a civil rights attorney by day and a mad beats genius by night. Diego mined a lot of vintage vinyl (including his dad's record collection) and has produced a stunning collection of jazzy and Latin-esque grooves. It's equal parts Thievery Corporation and Mexican Institute of Sound, made for late-night cruising through either S.A.'s Westside or L.A.'s Eastside in search of the perfect taco truck. And here's the best part: you can download it for FREE!
The 2nd World Baseball Classic is underway, and while we're unlikely to see Fidel take the field with his beloved team, it is fun to watch this international tournament. And even if not all the world's best players are participating, there is plenty of intrigue. Like the latest Japanese pitching phenom, Yu Darvish, whose father is Iranian! And it's great watching several U.S.-born Mexican-Americans play for Mexico. (WBC rules allow athletes to play for the country that either of their parents were born in.) The Mexican roster includes two sets of brothers: Adrian and Edgar Gonzalez, who were born in San Diego; and Scott and Jerry Hairston, whose African-American father--a former major leaguer--met and married their mother in Mexico. The Mexican team also includes L.A. homeboy Augie Ojeda. And then there's Alex Rodriguez, who played for the U.S. in 2006, but decided this time to play for the Dominican Republic. But his plans went awry because of a hip injury that will require surgery. The Dominican, also playing without stars such as Manny Ramirez, lost its first game to the Netherlands, whose roster has some of the best names in the tournament: Martijn Meeuwis! Vince Rooi! Pim Walsma!