I kicked in some cash yesterday for a crowd-funded documentary about Doug Sahm directed by Texas music maven Joe Nick Patoski, and the same day’s mail brought me a copy of a new CD on the hypercool label The Numero Group, Royal Jesters: English Oldies, so musically-geographically I’ve spent the last 24 hours in and around San Antonio. One thing about acquiring and absorbing music on a pretty constant basis is that I’m always amazed by how much I don’t know, all the music that somehow has managed to slip past me, things that I have to guess I would never discover through all the sophisticated algorithms of streaming services like Apple and Spotify. What use are they to me? Are they going to connect the dots between Sahm and the guy who sang lead for the Royal Jesters, named Dimas Garza, who also for a while had a doo-wop group called Dino & The Dell-Tones? Will they point me in the direction of Garza’s other efforts in The Lyrics, or introduce me to Rudy & The Reno Bops or Charlie & The Jives, groups I never heard of until yesterday and whose music I would be stunned to find on any streaming service? There is more access to more music in more places than there ever has been, and yet somehow there are all these holes in my knowledge, and believe me, I’ve been paying intense attention for a very long time. How did I never stumble on the Royal Jesters before, or know they did versions of The Five Keys’ “Wisdom of A Fool” (which isn’t even on the new compilation), Evie Sands’ (by way of Trade Martin) “Take Me For A Little While,” and The Royalettes’ (via Teddy Randazzo) “I Want To Meet Her”? English Oldies is filled with surprises: it’s got a Tex-Mex sexy grind, elements of soul and doo wop. Their “What’cha Gonna Do About It” isn’t anything like the Doris Troy original, or The Small Faces’ cover; it’s like, what?, Pachuco-Garage-R&B? Is that a thing?
The very informative Royal Jesters booklet has a photo of an ad for a “Big Easter Show & Dance,” from what year I don’t know (’63?), but it sure looks like it was fun. The RJ’s are down at the bottom of the bill. Up on top are Joe Barry and someone I hadn’t heard of named Big Sambo, so of course I had to find out more, so with a few clicks I learned that, A) Mr. Sambo’s group was The House Wreckers, B) He worked with the legendary Huey F. Meaux, and C) the B-side of his Eric single “At The Party” was Meaux’s “The Rains Came,” which I know from The Sir Douglas Quintet. I can’t explain why finding stuff like that out is such a kick for me, but there you have it. On the row right under the pics of Clay and Big Sambo is one of Kenner Records recording artist Doug Sahm (billed with his group The Starmarks and identified by what I guess was his San Antonio hit “Two Hearts In Love”). Also on the show, the aforementioned Charlie & the Jives and Rudy & The Reno Boys. Another internet search, and that’s how you can easily blow a day.
One place I checked out calls Garza “one of the unsung heroes of sixties Chicano Soul,” which is a really specific thing to be, and from what I can discern, it appears to be true. He was all over the place as a singer and writer, jumping from label to label and group to group (there are tracks on the English Oldies album by something named Dimas III), but never had any crossover success, so it’s up to enterprising folks like the good people over at The Numero Group to give his career some context, provide a starting point. And to people like Joe Nick to try and kickstart (literally) interest and recognition of Doug Sahm who, unlike Garza, did have broad, or at least broader, impact. I wrote recently about the insane amount of memorable music from 1965, that explosive cultural moment when hit records were flying at the listener from all directions, when “The Tracks of My Tears,” “Wooly Bully” and “Mr. Tambourine Man” all made perfect pop sense. In the spring of that year, “She’s About A Mover” by The Sir Douglas Quintet was released, fake-British name attached (no one was fooled for a second), and I’d say it didn’t sound like anything else on the radio, but one thing about ’65 was that almost nothing sounded like anything else. I suppose it was kind of like Sam The Sham & The Pharaoh’s smash, and they both made their debut on the Billboard singles chart the same week, but I don’t remember anyone talking about The Great Farfisa Invasion of April ’65.
Part of the Sahm Kickstarter campaign involves a petition to get him into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and in that regard I wish them well but I’m not holding my breath. That organization’s blind spots are not so much “spots” as massive blackouts. How can you explain to people who might barely remember “She’s About A Mover” and possibly “Mendocino” (some Rock Fan friends of mine tuned that out as soon as they heard Sahm’s opening sung line, “Teeny-bopper, my teenage lover,” not because they thought anything inappropriate was going on, but because “teeny-bopper” = “bubble-gum”) that Sahm’s freewheeling eclectic approach to roots music of all stripes was soulful and significant, that his records — from his earliest singles to his albums with the “supergroup” Texas Tornados — were wildly fun? You can start anywhere, with the Quintet’s Tribe records, or ’71’s The Return of Doug Saldana, or the Atlantic albums, and be won over. One of my favorites is his 1989 solo album Juke Box Music, an affectionate exploration of the music that shaped him. He could have played some of these songs (“I’m A Fool To Care,” “Talk To Me,” “Buzz Buzz Buzz”) at that San Antonio show where he shared the bill with the Royal Jesters. Whatever happens Hall of Fame-wise, thanks for all the beautiful vibrations.