Song Writing

Shandon Sahm Discusses Doug Sahm Tribute

by Greg Prato

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If you are unfamiliar with singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Shandon Sahm, perhaps his last name may sound familiar. After all, his father was cult rocker Doug Sahm, who is often credited as the trailblazer of what is now considered Tex-Mex music - due to his work with the likes of the Sir Douglas Quintet and the Texas Tornados.

But then again, if you are an admirer of alt-rock, you will recognize Shandon as the former drummer of the Meat Puppets and Gibby Haynes' solo band, or by his solo recordings (and having heavy metal roots, too, as heard by his work with '90s rockers Pariah).

Originally from Texas, Sahm relocated to Amsterdam around the same time he exited the Meat Puppets in 2018. A year later, he recorded an EP comprised of five of his father's classics, entitled Sahm Covers Sahm. Shandon spoke with Songfacts shortly after the EP's release in February 2019.
Sahm & Sons: Shandon (left) and Shawn (right)
Greg Prato (Songfacts): Let's discuss the new EP, Sahm Covers Sahm. How did the idea come about?

Shandon Sahm: Well, about 10 years ago, I had the idea - which I got from Zappa Plays Zappa - but used covers instead. It was an idea I had months before I joined up with the Meat Puppets.

Songfacts: Which tracks were your favorite to cover?

Shandon: I really just tried to capture that Sahm vibe. You know, dad had such a distinct, strong voice - I can't compete with that. So, I just give you the Sahm vibes and sing with passion.

"Meet Me in Stockholm" was a little harder vocally, because I'm not used to singing it live. I put that one down in the studio, the rest I've played live a bunch.

Songfacts: Will this be an ongoing series?

Shandon: Not really. I do have a few more different tracks I recorded 10 years ago, like dad's "Nitty Gritty." I even have had the West Side Horns on some tracks, minus Rocky Morales. I miss him dearly. But Al Gomez and Louie Bustos - dad's horn players - did a few tracks. I even got two gems of my dad's that the Meat Puppets covered [when Shandon was in the band] - "Me and My Destiny" with just me and Curt - he sang, played bass and guitar, and I did the drums. It sounds awesome. Then, another tune called "Be Real" has Cris [Kirkwood] and Curt [also Kirkwood].

I'm thinking for the next original tunes EP, I'll put those as bonus tracks, along with my five original tunes. Really, this came about even more when I met really awesome Dutch musicians, and a really sweet lady, Kathy Keller, who is my manager. I'm lucky to have the people that are very passionate about what they do. Anyway, Kathy said, "Hey, there's a little fan base in Holland for dad's music. Let's let the Dutch/Euro audiences know you're now living here and let's start with a tribute. Then later in the year, I'll release another EP and then add the two Meat Puppets/dad tracks." That's the plan.

Look, you have to deliver your own goods - I'm not a tribute act. It's out of love. Truly it's from the heart.

Although he never broke through commercially, San Antonio native Doug Sahm has become a well-respected cult rocker - admired by the likes of Bob Dylan, Boz Scaggs, Jimmie Vaughan, Steve Earle, and the Meat Puppets. Whether recording with the Sir Douglas Quintet, the Texas Tornados, or as a solo artist, Sahm is often credited as one of the architects of what would eventually be known as "Tex-Mex" (or Tejano) music - as heard on such classic tracks as "She's About a Mover," "Mendocino," and "It's Gonna Be Easy," among others. Sadly, Sahm passed at the age of 58 on November 18, 1999, from a heart attack.
Songfacts: Would you agree that your father was one of the most underrated singer/songwriters?

Shandon: OH YES. For sure. But I've accepted that it's the music biz. I always said if your sales were based on talent, he'd sell 100 million records! But he's not alone - almost all your fave song writers are underrated. Curt is, even though he's had big exposure in the last 20 years or more, and with good reason. Him and dad and Rick Nielson, and many more. It's like if you know who they are, you're all in. If not, you're like, "Who?" But that's OK, because in the end, Curt's and dad's songwriting speak for themselves.

Songfacts: Who were some of the better known fellow musicians who were fans of your father's music?

Shandon: Well, Ringo Starr covered "She's About a Mover." Chris Robinson from Black Crowes has been playing dad's tune "Dynamite Woman." Al from Ministry, Curt of course. Funny thing - I turned Chris Shiflett from Foo Fighters on [to Doug's music] in 2013. I gave him a CD. And his new solo CD had a picture with him in a cowboy hat. So, who knows? But Frank Black from the Pixies covered "Sunday Sunny Mill Valley Groove Day." Evan Dando covered dad's "I Wanna Be Your Mama Again." And one of dad's biggest fans? His old buddy Bob Dylan, who said in 1966 his new fave band was the Sir Douglas Quintet.

And last but not least, through dad's contact when recording with Neil Bogart - the guy who signed Kiss - Gene and Paul are fans. I remember Gene saying they used to play "She's About a Mover," and seeing dad try on the Axe Bass. It was funny as hell. That's how in 1979 I got to meet them. I freaked out. And a little side story: I asked Ace about his costume, and he was telling me it's stones with broken glass. It's still my fave costume. It was the Dynasty tour. Mom called and somehow got ahold of Gene's bodyguard, and said Doug and his sons would like to see the show. I met them all with and without makeup. A huge deal for a little kid in the '70s.

Songfacts: Which albums would you recommend people start with, who may not be familiar with your father's music?

Shandon: Anything from the mid-'50s to 1981. All his records were great, last one being Border Wave. But you can't go wrong with Texas Rock for Country Rollers or 1 Plus 1 Plus 1 Equals 4, or Groover's Paradise with the rhythm section of Stu Cook and Cosmo from CCR. His solo LP, Hell of a Spell, is awesome. Together After Five or Mendocino - which has the hit tune of the same name. Or The Best of the Sir Douglas Quintet is great. He's got at least 20 or more records if you like Americana. Check out the Texas Tornados' first self-titled LP, it is in English and Spanish. They have about six records as the Tornados.

Songfacts: There was also a documentary released about him recently.

Shandon: Genuine Cosmic Groove has been out since 2015. It's been played everywhere - Spain, Netherlands, USA, and SXSW, too. It's now available on Amazon Prime if you'd like to watch it. You can see they weren't outlaws, but were treated as such to live the life they wanted to. I highly recommend it. Joe Nick Patoski directed it.

Songfacts: Do you know the lyrical inspiration behind any of your dad's songs?

Shandon: With dad, it was everyday life kind of things. "Be Real" is about my mom. I even know the TV he sings about in "Give Back The Key To My Heart" - it was a Panasonic that lasted forever. "Lord I'm Just a Country Boy" is very self-explanatory - a country kid getting freaked out by city life. So many songs are mostly about what's happened in his short but very full life.

As far as Meat Puppets, I do know a few things, like the song "Fat Boy" off Golden Lies is about a bumper sticker that had an anti-Rush Limbaugh saying - that's where that tune came from. And the song "Vile" off Lollipop was a rather crude video he got, so the lyric was a reaction to the video. The tune "Way That It Are" was a saying - like instead of the way that it is, we'd say "the way that it are."

Dad's tune, "Wanna Be Your Mama Again," that Evan Dando covered, is about getting back with or missing mom. "Rat Farm" is about rats chewing through the wiring in your phone. "Lantern" is a great campfire song. No doubt about it, Curt and dad are genius songwriters.

Shandon on stage with the Meat Puppets
Songfacts: And for those who don't know, you were a member of the Meat Puppets for quite some time.

Shandon: I played with the Puppets a total of about 13 years, first on Golden Lies, then I played drums on Gibby Haynes' solo self-titled record, Gibby Haynes and His Problem. All three of those records - Golden Lies, Lollipop and Rat Farm - are becoming Meat Puppet classics, and I'm very honored and proud to be a part of such a great legendary band.

But to me, it was always [original drummer] Derrick Bostrom's gig truly. He didn't want to play for 20 years - he was burned out. I understand that me and Derrick are the longest serving Meat Puppets drummers, and I'm proud of that. I never missed one show. Whatever you want, let's go... from day one. So, having said that, I'm glad those three guys are back - they built that band from scratch. I still love all the records. The three of them have paid dues, and to me, that's the sign of a true rock star.

I knew he'd call Derrick when I told him I don't want to tour the USA, and man, life's very full and adventurous. I'm very happy and I'm creating again. Most people don't know I played on just about all the demos for Rise to Your Knees and Sewn Together, like the tune "Rabbit and Carrot" [the song "Enemy Love Song"] or "I'm Not You." Maybe a box set will see the light one day, and you guys can hear it.

I recorded the drums on the new LP, Dusty Notes, in January 2018. And like I said, it's Curt's baby - he can do whatever the hell he wants. I'd have liked to have heard the kick drum sound with my wood beater and my '63 Slingerland snare drum - I do remember we tracked it to a click. Curt had guitar to a click, so actually it was put together then. When I moved and he asked Derrick to come back, they took my drums off and put DB on. It's Curt's baby, so I didn't care, but I would have done Side A and DB Side B, and have two different feels on each side. That's just me though. The drum sound was freaking killer, I do remember that.

But long live the Puppets. I'm forever grateful to Curt, and Derrick is a good guy, so I'm excited for them. It's funny though - times change but touring doesn't. Unless you're flying in a private jet, it's still the same bleach-smelling clubs and drunks. But I really like Too High to Die, No Joke, Mirage, Up on the Sun, Meat Puppets I, Meat Puppets II, Forbidden Places... it's all great. And I think Rat Farm, Lollipop, and Golden Lies fit nicely in the catalog.

Songfacts: Future plans?

Shandon: Now that I've got a team, I'm gonna be touring, playing acoustic guitar for now. This is what I do. When Gibby or a great band calls me and offers me what I want, then I'll do it. Until then, I just go back and forth from drummer to solo artist. I've been talking to Gibby, so maybe we'll make more music in the future. That was a cool band - we wrote songs quickly. Gonna maybe play Texas if I get on the small stage at ACL Fest, cross yer fingers. I'm excited for what the future holds.

March 26, 2019
For more Shandon, his Bandcamp page or his Instagram.

Further reading:
Curt Kirkwood interview
Scattered Memories of the Butthole Surfers
Chad Channing Interview
Fact or Fiction: Grunge
Mark Arm interview
Joe "King" Carrasco interview

photos: Shandon's collection, Greg Prato

More Song Writing

Comments: 2

  • Sandie Kaye Stevens from Los AngelesShandon is an amazing talent, and so happy to learn more about him. Wish him the best in his new adventures!
  • John P. Gordon from Taylor, TexasWhat can ya say? It’s the real thing.
see more comments

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