Hey, Baby, Que Pasó
With more than 50 years in the music business, 71-year-old Augie Meyers has stories. Lots of stories. An original member of the Sir Douglas Quintet, Meyers had a kidney transplant last year but has bounced back as energetic, irreverent and hilarious as ever.
"I just got back from a once-a-month lunch thing that Jack Barber, who was the original bass player with the Quintet, and I set up where a bunch of us old-timers get together," he says. "There were 17 of us there today. We tell the same stories over and over and laugh at the same things, but we have a great time. It's like Freddy Fender used to say: You've heard of New Kids on the Block? Well, we're the Old Timers in the Street."
The Houston Press happened to be listening to Two Hoots and a Holler's new song "I Cried and Cried the Day Doug Sahm Died" when Meyers returned our call, and mentioning the song triggered his memory banks.
"I met Doug when I was 12. His parents traded in my parents' little store," Meyers recalls. "We were both way into baseball cards. He and I would go in the storage area and there'd be 500 packs of that bubble gum, and we'd open them all and if we found one we wanted, we'd put one of our old ones in there and seal it back up. The health department probably wouldn't like that today.
"Even way back then, Doug had a brain that was like seven horses all running in different directions," Meyers adds. "We could get in some trouble."
The Quintet was Texas's answer to the British Invasion, and recorded the 1965 hit "She's About a Mover" in Houston with producer Huey P. Meaux. Reminiscing, Meyers went on to recall the recording of one of the group's classic albums, 1969's Mendocino.
"I was living in San Antonio and Doug had brought Wayne Talbert in to play keys after he moved to San Francisco," Meyers says. "Doug was going in several musical directions at once, playing some blues and even some jazz. Wayne was a great, well-schooled player, but he couldn't do the San Antonio organ stuff that was part of the Quintet's musical signature.
"So when he started recording Mendocino, Doug called me and asked if I could fly out and work on the album. And the whole thing just clicked. That's an album we were always very proud of. At gigs, Wayne would play some of the songs, then he'd wave for me to come up and do the old-school Quintet stuff."
After Sahm went to Atlantic Records and began a solo career under superproducer Jerry Wexler, Meyers continued to write and record in San Antonio. A wonderful piece of kismet brought him and Sahm back together in 1989.
"I had released 'Hey, Baby, Que Paso' as a single and it went to No. 72 with a bullet in Billboard in just a couple of weeks," Meyers remembers. "But Atlantic didn't want to release an album. This disc jockey in New Orleans asked the Atlantic A&R guy when the album with 'Que Paso' was coming out and the guy told him, 'People don't want to hear that Mexican polka stuff.'
"The disc jockey called and told me that, and I got so mad I called Jerry Wexler, who was retired, at home. He got hold of the president of Atlantic and told him about it and they fired the A&R guy, but they wouldn't change their mind about releasing my album until January.
"Right in the middle of all that, Doug called and said Warner Brothers wanted to put together a sort of Tex-Mex supergroup. Atlantic was in bed with Warners, so I didn't want to do it, but Doug called me back and said Warners said, 'Whatever y'all want, the door is wide open.' And he said he could get Freddy Fender and I said I could get Flaco Jimenez.
"So just within a week or two, we assemble in San Francisco and play a festival gig, and it just took off from there." I think we were billed as the Tex-Mex Revue on that gig, but Doug had that song 'Texas Tornado,' so it was a perfect fit for us and what we do."
Though nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005, neither the Quintet nor Sahm has been inducted. Meyers is philosophical.
"Man, who knows why we're not in there," he says. "You'd figure Doug would be in there just on his songwriting alone. But dwelling on that stuff is a dead end.
"It's funny, though, because Shawn [Sahm's son and current Tornados front man] and I took the Quintet thing to Europe in May. Several of our records have been reissued there. We even had one go gold in Sweden, so that and the huge crowds we drew everywhere we went indicate to me that the Quintet was a very significant band that had and still has an impact.
"But I guess the Hall of Fame people don't consider that."
A pot bust in Corpus Christi in 1966 was the primary cause of the Quintet's breaking up and Sahm's leaving Texas for San Francisco. Asked if it was true that the Quintet had smuggled pot into Europe in the legs of a piano, Meyers issued a correction.
"That's not right," he laughs. "When we put out 'Dynamite Woman,' it went to No. 1 in Germany, so we booked a tour. We'd hired Johnny Winter's guy to manage the tour, and he said we needed to take a big stash with us. So we bought ten mike stands and filled them with weed, corked both ends and painted the corks black. We had this wooden Army ammunition crate with rope handles and we put all the stands in that.
"We get to Hamburg and this customs guy immediately says, 'American pop band, you must have drugs.' So they start searching us like crazy, even took the heads off the drums. Finally they open that case and he asks, 'What are these?' and we tell him they're mike stands. He says, 'Why so many, and where are the microphones? Something's going on here.' We thought we were about to get busted for sure.
"And just then the door opens and the head customs guy comes in and asks what the problem is. And the guy says, 'American pop band, must have drugs.' And the head guy sees our cases and he says, 'Sir Douglas Quintet, "Dynamite Woman"? My wife and I have tickets to your show tonight.'
"He shakes hands with all of us and then chews this guy's ass out and makes him load our stuff onto their truck and haul it to the show. So here we are, following the German customs guys through Hamburg in a taxicab and they're hauling our pot for us. I kid you not."
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Houston, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.