Even by his own standards, which have grown increasingly bizarre over the past ten years, the show Doug Supernaw was putting on in an April pretrial hearing in Brazos County Court at Law No. 2 was pretty strange.
The one-time country star, whose early 1990s run of hits included the No. 1 smash “I Don't Call Him Daddy” and the Top 5 songs “Reno” and “Not Enough Hours in the Night,” saw his career slip off the rails in dramatic fashion in the late '90s. Beginning in 1998 and intensifying after 2002, his arrests and trials have grown more numerous while his concerts, save for drunken karaoke performances, have dwindled and his albums have ceased.
His rap sheet since 1998 includes arrests for nonpayment of child support, driving while intoxicated, public intoxication, assault of a police officer and several incidences of possession of marijuana. He has been acquitted of some of those charges and juries have hung on some of the others, but he has compounded more than a few of those remaining by allegedly jumping bail and skipping hearings.
According to a report in The (Bryan-College Station) Eagle, Supernaw was on the docket before Judge Jim Locke for allegedly evading arrest after a wee-hours incident in Bryan in 2004 that also resulted in a public intoxication charge of which Supernaw was acquitted.
Supernaw's version of that night's events is as follows: He was walking down the street singing the Gourds' country-fried cover version of the Snoop Dogg hit “Gin and Juice,” a song that contains several profanities, whereupon he was apprehended by a man in pajamas who claimed to be a policeman but could have been anyone. That was why he ran from the man, you see.
Arresting officer Brent Boswell, who was in fact off-duty at the time of the incident, had a different take. According to The Eagle, he says he showed his badge to Supernaw, who was “obviously intoxicated” and loudly screaming curse words and gesticulating obscenely. Supernaw then ran from him and wheeled around in what Boswell characterized as a fighting posture. Boswell had no choice then but to level his pistol at the singer.
Of course Boswell would say that, Supernaw contends. He is one of them. According to The Eagle's report, Supernaw believes that Boswell is a cog in an immense international plot to silence him, “a political economic conspiracy” the existence of which Supernaw claims to have proved “time and time and time again.” According to Supernaw, the details of this scheme were many and various, and, after telling the court that he had ridden to this hearing from The Woodlands on a bicycle, he went on to detail these shadowy dealings.
In The Eagle's telling, Supernaw hinted that it began with his birth as the secret love child of John F. Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe, and that things started to intensify in 2002, when he was, as he put it, “held hostage in Paris” for two weeks in a top secret “mentally retarded home for terrorists.” Since then, he served as a “test monkey” in an experiment studying the effects of marijuana on baseball players, and was later attacked by two police officers from the town of Montgomery, who wanted to break his arm and thus bring about an end to the 46-year-old's professional pitching career.
Judge Locke heard all this testimony and sent the jury pool home. Supernaw, he ruled, was not fit to be tried. He ordered that Supernaw undergo psychiatric evaluations. This was dropped after Supernaw pled no contest to a lesser charge of disorderly conduct.
A few days later, a similar hearing was slated for Supernaw in Houston. For weeks, Supernaw has more or less politely dodged meeting with the Houston Press for this article, but he has been sending us the occasional e-mail, some of which are lucid, others less so. The one tipping us off about the hearing was in the latter camp. It was his response to Steve Jackson, his attorney in the Harris County case, which Supernaw copied to us. Jackson sent along a reminder that Supernaw would have to be at court at nine in the morning on April 13 Friday the 13th to discuss his competency. As his e-mail made clear, Supernaw had other ideas.
“I need more advanced notice as that my only transportation at present is a bicycle,” he wrote. “I was planning on leaving Magnolia on Sunday to make it there for my trial on Tuesday morning. As I do not like to pedal in long britches, hopefully it will be OK if I were shorts in court. Also, at present I have a flat on my bicycle and about 14 cents in my pocket, and of course I am not competent to stand trial, as I have read in the papers that I am an alchaholik, bi polar, not fit to be a father, MF.”
And true to his word, he didn't show up in court the next day, long britches or no. As a matter of fact, that very day found him up in Montgomery County getting arrested for public intoxication. Again.
“As I travel down that blue bonnet highway /I'm thankful I was born a lucky man /And I know that I will live and die my own way / Somewhere between the Red and Rio Grande”
Doug Supernaw, “Red and Rio Grande”
I'm sitting in the Harris County downtown jail, shouting at Supernaw through a hole in plexiglass. After my aforementioned weeks of e-mails and traipsing around Central Texas trying to find him, I wrote my story. Two days later, I got a tip that Supernaw had just been arrested in Houston of all places and was only a few blocks from my office.
Having nothing else to do, Supernaw agreed to see me. The last time I saw anything other than a photograph of him, he was filling my TV screen, singing “Long Tall Texan” with the Beach Boys. It was an apt choice, for he is well over six feet, and back then, in his cowboy duds, he looked as Texas as smoked brisket on grease paper. He was clean shaven and had the features of a guy Hollywood would cast as the white-hatted sheriff who finally ran the bad guys out of Llano.
Today, he looks more like a beardless, blonder version of Rasputin, or maybe a hippie acid casualty in a bad '70s B-movie. As befits a guy who rides his bike all over Texas, there's very little excess baggage on his lanky frame. His movements are a bit jerky and nervous, and the look in his eyes is somehow simultaneously mischievous and frightened. He's got a three-day stubble, and his hair is much longer, blonder, and stringier than seems possible. Under the grim fluorescent lights of central lock-up's visiting area, his skin looks slightly jaundiced. He sees me as a friend, he tells me, a member of the “first family of Texas music” who will help him get the true story out.
Let's back up a bit. Back in February I wrote a column about Supernaw. I couldn't track him down, and the piece was built from other reports. A few days after the column ran, I got my first e-mail from Supernaw. He opened by taking me to task for spreading falsehoods about him, and closed with the following: “Thanx to your column, I just found out that I had bi polar bear or somethin. Guess I'd better go have that checked. Have a wonderful day, regardless of whom you chose to put down today.”
“I am sorry that you have interpreted that article as a put-down, as it is not intended as such,” I wrote back. “The articles I read in the other papers can create the impression that all is not well, though, you have to admit. I have a sincere appreciation of your music and also your huge influence on the younger crowd of Texas country artists.” I closed by inviting him to contact me at any time.
A much mellower Supernaw replied the next day. He said he would love to set the record straight and hinted that we might be the paper that would get the true story. “By the way,” he closed, “you forgot to report that I had sickle cell amnesia.”
About a month later, he sent a very strange e-mail to me and several lawyers and other people. The gist of this tangled diatribe, which he originally penned in October of 2006, was that Supernaw believes that he is a pawn in what he calls “the largest conspiracy in horse racing history.”
According to his e-mail, Victorious, one of his horses, was swindled away from his ex-wife Debbie for $75,000 while Supernaw was in the Potter County Jail. Victorious was then renamed Afleet Alex, whereupon it won the Preakness and the Belmont and finished third in the Kentucky Derby. In addition: “On Sept 10, attempting to see my children for the first time since my release [from Potter County Jail], Debbie [his second wife] called the police and fabricated a story in the fear that I would see that MY horse was not in the barn,” he wrote, before adding that a lot of people had helped his ex “with this scheme” and that he was busy compiling names.
Other messages followed. There was the 4 a.m. St. Patrick's Day missive also sent to the Texas Rangers in which he told President Bush to “kEEP YOUR fucking GOONS OFF MY ASS.” Seven hours later, another Supernaw e-mail stated that: “I just had one of Montgomery County's finest (undercover I guess) jump me and break my left arm while walking back to the place that I am temporarily staying. In my profession, my left arm is extremely important..."
Still later, Supernaw forwarded me correspondence from the office of Earl Gray, his lawyer in the Brazos County case. In it, Gray's secretary gently reminded Supernaw that he had to be in court on April 3. Supernaw called the charges “COMPLETE B.S.” and threatened to sue for unlawful detention and loss of income. Supernaw added that he had always supported “police persons,” but that he was subject to investigation from a “very CORRUPT domestic SPYING program” that had devastated his life.
“I have called Governor Rick Perry to discuss a few lies that he told to the TEXAS RACING COMMISSION (on record) and to ask the Gentleman to STEP DOWN and return all of my HORSES that he signed away because I was an alledged CRIMINAL,” he continued. “I am going now to put on some shorts and a t shirt, get a water gun and walkie talkie, and walk the streets terrorizing innocent people. Thank you for your time. Dios Botik. Douglas Anderson Supernaw.”
I sent him another interview request on April 3 and received a thank-you for writing about him. Supernaw added that he was “currently in Brenham bicycling through the bluebonnets,” in search of a ranch “big enough for all of my returning horses and children.”
On April 9, we seemed to be getting pretty close to getting the interview done. Supernaw said he would be getting in touch with me soon, but then the next day, he said he had almost come to my office to see me but got sidetracked by an old friend.
Not long after that, he must have started the Friday the 13th bender that got him locked up in Montgomery County. I didn't know that, though, and I had come across reports on his message board that he had lately been frequenting a bar called the Blue Moon Saloon in Bellville, Austin County's seat, about 60 miles northwest of Houston. “If you want some real entertainment go to the Blue Moon Saloon in Bellville this Friday night and watch Doug sing karaoke,” wrote one poster. “It's a real Barnum and Bailey circus act. Especially after he's spent most of the day getting wasted with Bubba.”
I headed on up to Bellville and checked into the Motel Wayne on the town square, telling the clerk I was looking for Supernaw after I got my key. “Check the Austin County Jail,” he said. “I'm serious. He got in some trouble here a couple of weeks ago.”
Apparently, Supernaw had spent the day partying and was lit up. The desk clerk said he stepped out of a house party and wandered off into the night, then got lost and started knocking on people's windows and doors in the wee hours. “That was when they called the law on him,” the clerk said. “He's lucky he didn't get shot.”
I went back to my room. A few minutes later, the phone rang and a tipster told me I might find Supernaw at a nearby sports bar/pool hall called Memory Lane. Supernaw's hit from the glory days “Not Enough Hours in the Night” was billowing from the juke when I walked in. The clientele was of all races, and young, very young. I ordered a beer and waited for my moment, which came not five minutes later. A kid in a camo baseball cap was talking to another young guy, this one wearing a cowboy hat on his head and a pretty blond in his lap. The camo hat kid was talking about some drunken shenanigans he had gotten into the night before. “Yeah, everybody down there was pretty shithoused,” he said. “Was Supernaw there?” the Cowboy asked. “Naw, I hadn't seen him in a few weeks,” Camo replied. “Me neither,” Cowboy replied.
And so I introduced myself. The Cowboy and his lady clammed up. Camo kid, whose real name was Jimmy Martin, was more forthcoming. He had been involved in the caper that had most recently gotten Supernaw locked up. “Yeah, we'd been partying with him that day, but he was getting pretty out of control, so we were trying to lose him,” he said.
Somehow, it seems unlikely that guys like Alan Jackson and Garth Brooks would get ditched by kids like that, but Martin didn't see it as a big deal. “He sang a karaoke duet with my dad one night,” Martin said. “He said he'd like to record with him some day. That would be pretty cool, I guess.”
After striking out at Memory Lane, I headed over to the Blue Moon on the other side of Bellville. At about ten o'clock, the place was almost empty. The proprietor, a jolly blond fiftysomething with an accent of her native Ohio, laughed bitterly when I mentioned that I was doing a story on Supernaw.
“Well, you won't find him here,” she said. “We barred him from this place last year.” Apparently, management at the Blue Moon didn't find his performances as entertaining as some of the people on his message boards. “He's up there cussing, stripping off all his clothes, screaming,” she said. “We don't tolerate that stuff here.”
The Blue Moon once was Supernaw's home. Literally. The singer lived for a time in a trailer out back. “He didn't even have any electricity,” said one of the patrons. “Naw, I think he did have a generator back there,” said the club's DJ.
Later in the evening, the bar got slam-packed. Nearby Sealy has a midnight closing time, while the bars in Bellville rage until two. I walked over to the owner and told her what a nice place she had.
“Well, it's only been nice since we kicked Doug out,” she says. “This place was pretty terrible when him and his friends were coming in here.”
“Like a kid on a carousel / I go around in circles / Not knowing whether to be scared / Of all the ups and downs”
Doug Supernaw, “Carousel”
One of the only signs that Doug Supernaw ever had a country music career is his Web site. The postings on his message boards run toward the odd, to say the least. Some people seem genuinely concerned for him, others are disgusted, while a third contingent appears delighted to kick the man while he's down.
Though he has not spoken to Supernaw in about five years, Justin White had more than a front-row seat for the singer's glory days. White was still a student at Robert E. Lee High School when he met the honky-tonker at a golf tournament in 1988. By that time, the 27-year-old Supernaw already had served as a staff writer with a Nashville music publishing house. At the time, White was impressed, with good reason. “That was the way you became a star back then,” says White, citing the examples of staff writers-turned-hitmakers such as Garth Brooks, Clint Black and John Michael Montgomery.
Supernaw was being groomed for that same level of success when he met White, who had whiled away his high school years writing songs and dreaming of a country music career. At the golf tourney, White told Supernaw he was a musician, and Supernaw asked him to send him a tape of his stuff. “He called me back and said, ‘I think your stuff is great, and I wanna write with you,'” White recalls. “I thought, ‘Well, hell, this is great.'”
By 1990, Supernaw was spending more time in Texas, and he and White cowrote together whenever possible. Supernaw also started assembling Texas Steel, an early version of the road band that would back him through his glory days. Meanwhile, White enrolled at the University of Texas, and in early 1991, Supernaw would again intervene in fairy-tale fashion. Texas Steel had a spate of road gigs coming up, and Supernaw asked White to become his sound man and songwriting partner between gigs. “I said, ‘Man, you're gonna pay me money to do this?'” White remembers. “So I called my dad and told him I wasn't gonna waste my time or his money anymore, so I dropped out of school, moved back to Houston and went to work for Doug.”
Soon enough, Supernaw was opening for Willie Nelson, playing the parking lot stages at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Chili Cook-Off, and headlining the Party on the Plaza concert series. He was drawing interest from several major Nashville labels, but Supernaw resisted when they insisted that he needed to move back to Music City. “He decided that the way for him to do it was to come back here, put together the best band he could, hit the road and play three-four-five nights a week at every roadhouse, outhouse and dance hall we could find, which is what we did,” White remembers. “We did it in my Blazer, two vans and a trailer.”
And it really paid off. Coors Light signed on as a sponsor, and Supernaw was able to retire the little caravan of trucks in favor of a proper tour bus purchased with the brewery's money. The band hit the road and hit it hard, and eventually became one of the top draws in places like Tyler's Oil Palace, and if they know good country music anywhere, they know it in Tyler.
It was all enough to persuade many observers that Supernaw was bound for superstardom. One such was Houston Chronicle music critic Rick Mitchell, who touted him as a next big thing in June of 1992. Mitchell wasn't blowing smoke. After a bidding war, Nashville label BNA, an offshoot of industry behemoth BMG, emerged as the winner in the Supernaw stakes. This was Nashville's “hat act” era, when male stars had to look good in cowboy duds, and Supernaw definitely fit that bill. BNA vice president of artists and repertoire Richard Landis was enthused about the tall, lantern-jawed, cleft-chinned baritone, to put it mildly. “I think he's got unlimited potential,” he told Mitchell in a Chronicle article. “He's got a look that I think will appeal to women and men. I see him as blue-collar country.”
“By the face you could never tell / That inside I'm hurtin' / I'm always on the move / But never gainin' groundÉ”
Douglas Anderson Supernaw's upbringing was anything but blue-collar, though at least one of his parents definitely qualifies. His father Irwin, an Oklahoma native, was a research scientist for Texaco, an excellent golfer and an opera buff. His mother Rosanne Tyner's background was more hardscrabble she was the daughter of a southern Illinois coal miner and a country music fanatic from birth, a love she instilled in her son. (As he put it in one song, “Daddy Made the Dollars, Mama Made the Sense.”)
Perhaps because of his mother, Supernaw always liked his country straight with no chaser. While most kids his age were into the rowdy sounds of country-rock fusionists like Charlie Daniels and Hank Williams Jr., he thrilled to the plaintive, cry-in-your-beer strains of pure honky-tonkers like Gene Watson, Vern Gosdin and George Jones.
Supernaw was born in Bryan and raised in the Inwood Forest section of northwest Houston. He attended Eisenhower High School and excelled in sports, particularly baseball and golf. In fact, his skills on the links were formidable enough to win him a golf scholarship to the University of St. Thomas in 1978.
Soon enough, he realized that his troublesome short game was barely up to the rigors of competitive college golf, much less the PGA tour he dreamed of joining. And in the classroom, the business major tuned out the droning professor in his economics class instead, he found himself furiously filling his notebooks with song lyrics instead of lecture notes.
In 1979, the teenager picked up a copy of Rolling Stone and a classified ad caught his eye. A “beach music” band on the South Atlantic coast needed a singer. Supernaw answered the ad and got the gig, trading in his faulty putter for a microphone as the front man for the Occasions. After two years plying the Georgia and Carolina coasts singing soul covers, Supernaw returned to Texas and gave school another chance, enrolling and flunking out of Texas Tech in short order. He hired on in the central Texas oil patch near Caldwell, and spent his nights there writing songs.
He married his first wife Trudy and adopted her two children in 1985, and returned to music and Houston in 1986, embarking on a music business crash course as the promoter and booker at the Arena Theater in Sharpstown. Later that year, the Arena shuttered for the first of several times, so Supernaw decided to make one last swipe at the brass ring. He would take his songs to Nashville, and it turned out they were worth something. He was able to land a coveted, if low-paying, job as a staff songwriter at one of the big publishing houses in Music City.
Justin White says that at that time there was no sign of trouble. “He knew exactly what he wanted and how to get it,” he says. “He was watching a lot of people that he was in the same boat with while he was living up in Nashville the Joe Diffies and people like that. He saw them go from being staff writers to recording stars.”
By the beginning of 1993, he had completed his major label debut album Red and Rio Grande, there was a lucrative corporate sponsorship in place and his band now renamed the Possum Eatin' Cowboys was road-tested and tight. And thanks to Coors Light's largesse, he even had that tour bus.
“We called it ‘45 Feet of Texas,'” White says. “We were bringing 45 feet of Texas to every little town or state we went to. People ate it up.”
Especially within the state of Texas. Supernaw is an important link in the relatively new offshoot of country now known as Texas music, a conduit from guys like Robert Earl Keen and Jerry Jeff Walker and honky-tonkers like Gene Watson to today's stars like Kevin Fowler, Pat Green, Cory Morrow and Jack Ingram.
“During our shows, we would always play what was perceived to be Texas music,” White recalls. “I would sing ‘Merry Christmas from the Family' or ‘Redneck Mother' or ‘London Homesick Blues,' or we would do that old Charlie Daniels song ‘Texas.' And even our album Red and Rio Grande had a first line that went ‘Lone Star wavin' in the wind / a longhorn standin' proud behind a rusty barbed wire fence.'”
Supernaw helped continue the trend that Waylon and Willie had started back in the early '70s, and helped show a new generation of Texas artists that they didn't really need Nashville. Today, dozens of Texas artists are content to stay in Texas, or at least wait until they can approach Nashville with the sort of leverage a strong preexisting career can bring.
“I don't want to say we laid a blueprint for everybody, but I will say this: We heard more than once from people in Nashville that we were too Texas for Nashville, which we were proud of,” White says. “None of us ever wanted to move to Nashville. We loved it here, and we never wanted to go anywhere else.”
Not that there weren't some setbacks. In April of 1993, Supernaw wiped out surfing off the Mexican coast and cracked two vertebrae. A couple of months later, just after his neck brace was removed, he totaled a rental car in a Houston head-on collision. Not long after that, he was hospitalized after a bout of food poisoning in Virginia, and then some villainous denizen of Columbus, Ohio, invaded the tour bus and carried off all of the band's gear.
“About the only thing that hasn't happened to him is he hasn't been thrown in the penitentiary yet,” joked his then manager, former KIKK disc jockey Joe Ladd, in a Chronicle article. “You know, a country singer's got to spend a little time in jail.”
Set against all that tumult, Red and Rio Grande, the Richard Landis-produced debut album, rose and rose. Granted, “Honky Tonkin' Fool,” the album's first single, stiffed. Things turned around after that. Three months later BNA selected “Reno” as the second single and it shot all the way to No. 4 on the Billboard country charts, carrying the album with it to the top 30. (The album would eventually sell more than half a million copies and be certified gold.) The third single, “I Don't Call Him Daddy,” did even better, closing out 1993 and ringing in 1994 at the pinnacle of the country charts, thanks in no small part to a tear-jerking video in which a divorced man watches the birthday of his little boy (played by Supernaw's son Phillip) from afar.
“Here I am again starting over / Heartache to heartache / Lover to lover / Jukebox to jukebox / Lonely eyes to little games / Tryin' to start a fire in the rain”
Doug Supernaw, “Fire in the Rain”
Yvette Tisdale met Supernaw just before most of the world did. In the early 1990s, as a rising star on the Texas honky-tonk circuit, Supernaw had just returned to his native state after an extended stay in Nashville. Now he was making a concerted effort to sing his own songs his own way. And once again, he was pressing forward to the head of the pack, headlining bigger beer joints like Mo's in Katy, which was where Tisdale first laid eyes on him.
“I was not gonna pursue a married man,” she says now. “I don't go that route. I just told him I thought he was really good and I hoped that he made it.”
Her time would come later, at a decidedly lower point in Supernaw's career. It was also a bleak period in Tisdale's life. She had no husband and no children, and she was about to lose her little spread in Magnolia and all of her horses and some of her dogs. In fact, she says that things were looking so grim she had decided to take her own life.
One night in 2005, she says, she was driving by Henry's Hideout, a rough-and-tumble roadhouse in the pine oak woods near Magnolia that is so full of trophy heads it is literally the “horniest bar in Texas.” The sign out front in the gravel parking lot said “Appearing tonight, Doug Supernaw.”
It wasn't one of Supernaw's better onstage performances. “Unfortunately, his so-called friends had gotten ahold of him,” Tisdale remembers. “He was at a benefit that day and they had gotten him drunk, and he was not good. He was angry, and he even told people he was drunk before he started singing and he was sorry about the show.”
After he got off the stage, though, sparks flew. Tisdale says that Supernaw listened when she talked, really listened, and he could tell that something was wrong with her. He could tell she was sinking, and he was able to pull her from the brink.
Soon enough they started seeing more and more of each other. Supernaw would eventually move in, and love, or something very much like it, blossomed, even if Supernaw is still leery about allowing himself to be labeled a boyfriend. “To me, I would say yes, he's my boyfriend,” Tisdale says. “But then you ask him and he would say he wasn't.”
Nevertheless, the first Christmas Tisdale and Supernaw spent together had its share of Hallmark moments. Supernaw had been in jail the past two Christmases; Tisdale made sure they decorated the tree and got his kids presents.
These days, though, it's hardly ever that easy. When they are out on the town, his no-account drinking buddies show up loafers and cadgers for whom proximity to Supernaw is still a big deal, or at least possibly worth a pitcher of beer or a shot of whiskey on the house. Others think that there are people in the music industry who still listen to Supernaw, that the singer might just have clout enough to get them a record deal, and so they ply him with whiskey and whatever else they might have.
“Whenever he goes somewhere I'm usually right behind him, and if I see those bad people I tell them to get away,” she says. “I'm like June Carter but I don't have a gun at their heads, but I do have my foot up their butt, telling them to quit buying him drinks.”
Perhaps even more maddening are the women. Sure, the days when Supernaw could stride into a honky-tonk and take his pick are past, but there are still plenty of women who remember his hits, or at least know that he was somebody, once.
And then there's Supernaw's boozing. “The drinking, it depends on the mood he's in,” Tisdale says. “It depends on what button you push. Sometimes he walks away from it, and other times, you just don't know what he'll do. I've seen him drink a ton and leave laughing. I've seen him drink a ton and still be sober. I've seen him have three or four drinks and start getting drunk.”
Recently, Supernaw has started claiming Native American heritage. Tisdale doesn't know if that's true, but she does know that whiskey is no good for him. “That's one Indian that can't handle his firewater,” she laughs. “He wants to claim to be an Indian, then he needs to stay away from the juice. Beer? He's fine, he can drink beer all day long, he's fine. But whiskey, he can either be good or he can be ugly.”
And then there's the other thing, the thing nobody understands. The big one. Supernaw's refusal to do anything that he is told to do, no matter who is doing the telling.
“He doesn't want to listen. I have rules. I don't think they are very difficult. I'm just askin', ‘Please don't turn the horses out in the front yard with the dogs.' That's just a simple rule, but that will make him mad. And I'm like, ‘Why should that make you mad? 'Cause I told you what to do?'”
But one time, drunk on beer, Supernaw did accidentally let the horses out. “All four horses went runnin' down the road,” Tisdale remembers. “All my neighbors are calling me asking me why all my horses are running down the road and he wouldn't even help.”
Tisdale believes that Supernaw's problems can only partially be explained by substance abuse. “It's not the alcohol, it's something that's already there, the chemical imbalance that's already inside of him,” she says. “It depends on whatever that thing might be, and then when you start adding all these other chemicals, it either helps or hurts him.”
“Lord I used to ride so high / They wrote songs about me / But now the old man's home alone / They rode on without me.”
Doug Supernaw, “Fadin' Renegade”
The year 1993 was as much a banner one for White as it was for Supernaw. At a show in Fort Smith, Arkansas, about two months into his stint as sound man, White received his dream battlefield promotion to rhythm guitarist. “So here I was, a 20-year-old college dropout, and all of a sudden I'm playing guitar for one of the hottest regional touring acts,” he says. White says that Supernaw was still as sane as anybody in the music business. “He was just a great guy 100 percent normal,” White says. “There was no telling what was to come back then. He was just a regular guy he hardly drank at all, and we had a great, great time.”
But “hardly drank at all” has a different meaning in the music business than in ordinary life. The band had added another sponsor to its roster Crown Royal whiskey. “We were all pretty wild, we all liked to drink and Crown was Doug's drink of choice,” White remembers.
“Doug had bad stage fright when he first started out,” Tisdale says. “He really is a very shy guy. He was a sober kid, and then all of a sudden he had these people coming up to him saying, ‘Smoke some of this' or ‘Have a couple of these to help with the butterflies before you go onstage.' That's what really started the drinking, was the shots before the show.”
White doesn't deny that there was a fair bit of pot-smoking going on back in the band's glory days. He won't confirm or deny that Supernaw smoked it back then only that he himself did, and he adds that he hasn't touched any in over six years. White is not anti-pot today, but says that he is glad that he gave it up. Supernaw, on the other hand, is still singing its praises. Two years ago he touted it on the message boards on his Web site, writing: “For the record, when I smoke, I am more spiritual, read the Bible faster with more meaning and concentrate on the things that I should, as opposed to what everyone else thinks I should think about.”
Leery as he is of giving an old friend unsolicited advice, White thinks he needs to take a break from it. “That stuff has been getting him locked up every now and then,” he says. “If I was talking to him and he asked me my opinion, I would tell him he needs to stop, and he'd probably look at me and tell me I didn't know what I was talking about.”
For her part, Tisdale thinks pot helps Supernaw stay focused. “If anything, weed does seem to slow his mind from the racing thoughts that he has,” she says.
At any rate, pot and booze weren't yet issues in 1993. Supernaw's domestic life, however, was starting to unravel. Like many a star before him, his family life wilted in the first bloom of his fame. He and Trudy had added two more children to the two that he'd adopted, but the marriage fell apart shortly after “I Don't Call Him Daddy” hit the charts. Perhaps not coincidentally, before that divorce was final, Supernaw had a son with a radio promotions director from North Texas.
Things were starting to come undone a bit on the professional end as well. Supernaw came to hate the games that Nashville expected him to play, the rings he had to kiss, the cliques he had to join, the compromises he had to make, the egos he had to stroke. All of this was starting to get him a reputation in Nashville's boardrooms as something of an ingrate and a bad apple.
And yet the pinnacle of his career was yet to come. Back in 1993, before he had even played anything more than a side stage in the Astrodome parking lot at the Rodeo, he told the whole world that one day he would fly onto the main stage. In February of 1994, he made good on those words, descending hundreds of feet on guy wires from the roof of the Dome to the stage before more than 60,000 screaming hometown fans.
“Lord I used to think I'd ride / God's prairie all of my, my days / But now you can't ride anywhere / For the barb wire and the highways.”
“No one knew how to play the game better,” White remembers of Supernaw's early chart-busting days. Radio was behind Doug because, for a while at least, Doug was everybody's buddy. He slapped backs, cracked jokes, had a firm handshake and a steady gaze. “We had radio in our back pockets because of the way Doug knew how to relate to people. But somewhere along the line, he lost it and he started alienating people.”
Music City, White explains, is a small community, and people talk. Something happened, that's for sure. None of the singles from 1994's Deep Thoughts from a Shallow Mind caught on with radio and the album tanked. A defiant Supernaw sounded off to the Chronicle's Mitchell at the end of 1994. BNA had ordered him to grow out his wavy blond locks, and he had responded by shaving them down to the skull. He said his label wanted him to record “novelty songs,” and instead he turned in slab after slab of steel guitar-drenched “stone-cold country.”
Nashville brass like their stars to be relentlessly cheery and aw-shucks upbeat, neither of which at all described the Supernaw of late 1994. And it got worse. Supernaw went on to tell Mitchell that he was a bad fit for country radio and that kids, including his own, were turning away from the music. He said he longed to be like Lyle Lovett, free to make whatever album he wanted no matter what the programmers at country radio wanted.
“You try to put out music that people will love to put in their pickup truck in Brenham, Texas, and if they won't play it on the radio in New York or L.A. or Miami, you can't have a hit,” he told Mitchell, who later asked him if he wasn't worried that BNA's brass might not take umbrage at some of his comments.
“I'm a publicist's dream child and worst nightmare,” Supernaw replied. “I'll talk to anybody, and I'll say anything. Oh, well.”
Not surprisingly, Supernaw was dropped by BNA after Deep Thoughts from a Shallow Mind. But he hadn't run out of chances yet. The next year he signed with Giant, another major-label subsidiary, albeit a sputtering one that would shutter in a couple of years. And Landis refused to give up on Supernaw. The Nashville veteran followed Supernaw over from BNA and produced You Still Got Me, the singer's Giant debut.
It looked like Landis and Supernaw had pulled off a stunning fourth-quarter comeback. Supernaw had gone into damage control mode with some of the people he had pissed off, and it seemed to be working. “Not Enough Hours in the Night,” the first single, shot to No. 3 on the charts.
But, as White remembers it, this was the time when Supernaw's mental health started to waver. The changes, White says, were incremental. “It wasn't like he went to sleep one night and he was Doug and he woke up somebody else,” he says. “Every now and then there would be something that would make us go, ‘Oh, that was weird,' but we would blow it off because the next day everything would be back to normal.”
At any rate, Supernaw had some delicate work to do, and was becoming less and less capable of doing it. “Doug's not the first guy this has happened to Tracy Lawrence had his run-ins, Mark Chesnutt had his,” White says. “Once you've been at the business at the top level for that amount of time, you're bound to piss somebody off. When you do, it's how you rebound from it. Unfortunately, right when that started happening with us was the same time that Doug started experiencing some of the mental issues that have been haunting him ever since.”
White says that Supernaw's drinking continued, and he believes that it magnified Supernaw's mental state, so much so that there were times when the singer seemed like a different person. Meanwhile, the rumors were growing ever more extravagant. People began to whisper, then more or less openly declare, that Supernaw was a druggie. White is absolutely adamant that Supernaw was not, at least not then. “I hear all the time that Doug was a cokehead, Doug was on heroin, he was using this or that. Doug was nothin' like that,” he says. “He liked to drink his whiskey. He loved to drink his whiskey. But then people would call me and say, ‘I heard Doug is the biggest cokehead that there is.' And I would ask them where they heard that, and they would always say something like ‘My half-brother has a cousin who knows a guy who has a sister who dated so-and-so.'”
The next two singles from You Still Got Me totally bombed. Giant Records imploded and Supernaw was a free agent again. And that's when he started to get in some trouble with the law.
“And I'm a stranger in this time / My buckskin days are all behind / This fadin' renegade's made his last stand / This fadin' renegade's done all he can.”
“The old saying that ‘Any publicity is good publicity' is not necessarily true, especially in the country music business,” White says. “Especially on the national level, the people you deal with are often Christian types.”
Still, country music fans will tolerate some bad behavior, as long as it can be written off as good ol' boy shenanigans, such as one fairly recent mini-scandal that ensnared two of the genre's biggest current superstars. At a fair in upstate New York, Kenny Chesney drunkenly absconded with a police horse named Chico and a scuffle ensued, with Tim McGraw jumping in.
“When Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw got arrested for hopping on that horse, that was one thing,” White says. “That was a playful incident; they apologized for it, they paid a fine, everybody got over it. But you don't want it to keep on building up until you are David Allen Coe or Johnny Paycheck and in the penitentiary for five years.”
Right off the bat, Supernaw's arrests were beyond the country music pale. In Lubbock in September of 1997, he was arrested for owing $135,000 in back child support to his first wife, Trudy. While Supernaw is hardly the only good ol' boy to fall behind on his child support payments, for a star to do so is one of Nashville's mortal sins.
In February of the following year, the Chronicle reported that Supernaw was arrested after a drunken fracas near the KILT booth in the parking lot of the Astrodome during the Rodeo. He was charged with public intoxication, served a day in jail and the charges were eventually dropped, but the stain remained. A scant six weeks later, Supernaw was arrested again, also for public intoxication. According to a short Chronicle piece, a deputy discovered Supernaw slumbering in his sports car at 3 a.m. on the side of Highway 290 near the Mueschke Road exit. The deputy stated that the car smelled strongly of alcohol and that Supernaw flunked a field sobriety test.
“Country music fans have strong beliefs and most of them are pro-law enforcement,” White says. “When the headlines started popping up for things like child support and public intoxication, it all adds up and you see where it's going, especially when the individual is showing no remorse or even an inkling of trying to rectify it.”
But despite his woes, Supernaw still had a career then, and the Possum Eatin' Cowboys were still standing by their leader. The breaking point finally came in the summer of 1998 at some festival gigs in Colorado. “He was showing up late and there were a couple of TV interviews scheduled one night and he didn't bother to show up at all,” White says. “So here I am trying to sound-check and I've got two reporters, one from Denver and one from Boulder, screaming me down about him not being there. And the next night he showed up late again.”
Supernaw was en route back to Houston on a friend's private plane. Thousands of feet below, his band was in a motor home making a hard decision. “We all decided that we had a good, strong eight-year run, and it looked like it had come to an end, and it was time for us to do something different and take care of our families,” White says. “We all decided that once it became a job and wasn't fun that we would end it, and we all agreed that that time had come.”
“And the mirrors in the middle reflect / Years of going nowhere / Of trying to catch the horse out in front / When you know there's not a prayer”
Supernaw has gotten into trouble so often in the Bellville-Brenham-Bryan area, you could call that part of Texas the “Supernaw Triangle.” Rumor has it that at least one police captain in the Houston suburbs has taken to briefing his underlings to make sure they “turned on their Supernaw Detectors” when the singer is said to be around.
After the rash of arrests that closed the '90s, all was quiet on the Supernaw front until 2001. (Tisdale says that a Supernaw family member told her that they were slipping prescribed meds in his food at that time.) That came to an end when he lashed out at the Harris County judge who presided over his child support trial. According to White, Supernaw coldly informed her that he felt the proceedings were dragging on a little too long, and he would like for her to speed things up a bit so he could make it to the Astros game for the first pitch. He was convicted of contempt of court and sentenced to ten days in jail, which were tacked onto the six months he was given for the original charge. (According to The Eagle, he would later inform a different judge that the court in Bryan “would just have to work around” his gig schedule.)
Supernaw's troubles were considerable then, yet still manageable. That would change on his 42nd birthday. According to an account in The Eagle, that fateful night found him tying one on in the Texas Tavern in Brenham. That evening would end with a parking lot fracas that culminated in Supernaw facing misdemeanor counts of resisting arrest and public intoxication as well as a felony charge of assault on a peace officer. The last charge had the potential of sending him to prison for 99 years to life, but eventually the case was dismissed after three juries failed to convict.
While out on bail, Supernaw headed south to Mexico, ostensibly to perform a few shows. Originally, the plan was to stay a week, but Supernaw extended his sojourn for quite some time. Soon enough he started getting in some trouble down there, and he was eventually deported by the Mexican government, White says. They shipped him back to Texas, and he was greeted at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport by squads of police from several agencies. According to The Eagle, Supernaw would later grouse in courts that he “would expect no less for Osama Bin Laden.”
At some point around this time, Supernaw went to France on a vacation with friends. “He went with a bunch of people and he got separated from them, and the plane was leaving and he wasn't there and so they left,” Tisdale says. “And supposedly they found him in his underwear. And of course over there in Amsterdam or France or wherever he was, you can buy whatever kind of weed you want, or mushrooms.”
White remembers it differently. “He was butt-naked, and he was mumbling something about how he was running from the people who had chopped his wife's head off. Debbie wasn't even on that trip.”
White and Tisdale both say that Supernaw didn't know his own name when he was picked up, so he was taken to a psychiatric ward the so-called “mentally retarded home for terrorists” until he collected himself. Doctors there patched together his identity and sent him home, where there was another surprise in store for him an intervention. White was there.
“He accused his dad of arranging the whole thing,” White says. “And his dad just said, ‘Yeah, Doug, I got you stoned, stripped off all your clothes and pushed you out into the street.'”
According to Tisdale, Supernaw agreed to go to treatment at the intervention and then backed out. Meanwhile, his legal woes continued to mount. 2003 was a fairly quiet year by his standards, but the springtime of 2004 brought a new tide of arrests, dutifully reported by The Eagle. According to Eagle reporter Craig Kapitan, Supernaw was arrested twice in April for possession of marijuana, once each in Austin and Fayette counties. In May, he went to court on a bail-jumping charge.
The next month, Supernaw would add a few more pages to his rap sheet with one of his most bizarre capers yet. According to reports in the Corpus Christi Caller-Times and the Amarillo Globe-News, former Houston Astros outfielder Glenn Wilson, who was then the manager of a Robstown-based, unaffiliated minor league baseball team called the Coastal Bend Aviators, invited his old buddy Supernaw to ride the Aviators bus with the team from Corpus Christi to Amarillo. Later, the Caller-Times reported allegations from several players that Supernaw smoked marijuana in the bus's bathroom. The players would also say in the Globe-News that Supernaw was “just a groupie,” while the singer himself claimed to have been slated to pitch every fourth day in the team's starting rotation. Before the road trip was over, the singer would get arrested in Amarillo three times in one week, on charges of marijuana possession, trespassing and for missing yet another Washington County court date. Despite singing Los Lonely Boys' “Heaven” on the stand in his own defense, he would end up spending two months in Amarillo's Potter County Jail.
Save for a bail-jumping charge and a driving while intoxicated rap in Austin County, all was quiet until March of 2005, when he was arrested in Bryan for the “Gin and Juice” escapade.
According to Kapitan's arrest log in The Eagle, the month after that, free once more, Supernaw traveled north of Texas, where he was arrested in Lawton, Oklahoma, for disturbing the peace. Later that same month, Fayette County authorities issued a warrant for his pot possession case there, while July found Brazos County authorities issuing yet another warrant, this time after a bondsman told a judge that Supernaw had been AWOL for three weeks in the aftermath of the “Gin and Juice” caper.
Last November, the Chronicle reported that Supernaw was arrested and charged with marijuana possession after an incident in an Humble nightclub, and The Eagle reported that he was arrested a month later in Conroe and charged with his second DWI. Then there was another Montgomery County public intoxication charge on April 13.
And then on April 25 he was picked up again for missing a hearing after the Humble pot bust, which is how I finally got to talk to him face to face in Harris County jail.
"...And the brightly painted ponies / They have feelings inside / Like me do they ever want / To get off of this ride”
Tisdale was with Supernaw on the night of his Humble pot bust. There had been a disagreement with some of the other patrons that night, and Supernaw believes they called in a favor with some powerful friends. And just like Supernaw says, she thinks it did look like he was set up. “We did not have one thing on us and when I saw that guy get that out and light it I thought it was a cigarette but then I smelled it and I said, ‘Doug, we need to go. Let's move away from this person. This is not gonna be good.'”
But Tisdale doesn't deny that the charge is legitimate. “I told Doug that ‘Even if it was a setup, well, you fell for it.'”
She believes that Supernaw has fallen in every trap in his path for years. Two women have gotten pregnant by him out of wedlock, she says, both when he was living high on the hog. He's a famous guy, prone to screwing up. The police all know when he's in the vicinity, and he seldom fails to give them legitimate reasons to haul him in. If his paranoid fantasies were just that in the beginning, his actions have made them real.
And there's just enough truth in his ramblings to make Tisdale wonder about some things. Her own sanity, for one: “He's been living here a long time and there are some times when I think, ‘My God, I am starting to believe this crazy shit,'” Tisdale says. “You start to think you're goin' flippin' nuts yourself.”
And then there's that implanted microphone. Supernaw said the French put it in there in 2002. He has even shown Tisdale where it went in. She doesn't buy his idea of what it is “He says it makes it so everybody always knows where he's at and what he's doing. And I'm like, ‘No Doug, you tell everybody where you are.'” But there it is, anyway, a little bump that gets bigger and smaller.
“I pulled up bipolar disorder on the Internet a while back and I read that sometimes they will put something in your head under your skin that releases chemicals to help the situation,” Tisdale says. Nobody really knows what happened in that French hospital Supernaw was all alone, and all anybody has of his stay there is his account. “I'm starting to think there really is something up there,” she continues. “Maybe it's that chemical thing, or maybe there's something else. Maybe there's something up there that is twisting against part of his brain. Who knows?”
“Somehow through the pain / I'll grab hold of the reins / And all will end up well / When I stop this carousel.”
As of this writing, Supernaw is in jail for failing to appear on the Humble pot charge. After his bond was initially set at $10,000, it was doubled. Tisdale doesn't know how to break the news to Supernaw. “I'm afraid to tell him because he's gonna think they're railroading him,” she says.
Supernaw could walk on this simple marijuana possession charge, if only he would plead guilty, Tisdale says. He would be fined, maybe be sentenced to a few days in jail, perhaps be released for time served. But Tisdale says he would prefer to have another day in court, where he could prove that the arrest was a setup. “To me, he sees it as a fight against the judicial system,” she says. “I think he is just addicted to being a rebel. Is that something? Some people are addicted to sex, so an addiction doesn't have to be a drug. He thinks that he knows what he's doing and that it's what made him big. And I'm like, ‘Negatively big!' For some people that works, but for him it isn't.”
And Tisdale isn't sure she wants him released, at least not on his terms. Tisdale says a mutual friend had offered to pay the $10,000 bond if Supernaw would consent to a psychiatric exam. “I told him that our friend wanted to do it his way,” Tisdale says. “But he said he wanted a friend to come get him out, not a friend that was gonna come get him out and put rules on him.”
And yet, she's not ready to sever ties with him. She can't quite bring herself to put the tough in her love. “He wants to go cut his hair and get cleaned up and go to Nashville,” she says. “We were gonna drive there. All of a sudden it was ‘we.' At least now he is almost acknowledging that I am somebody that's in his life that could actually be his girlfriend.”
“There's any number of things that could happen to Doug right now,” White says. “He could say the wrong thing to somebody in a bar and get the livin' shit beat out of him. Or he might lunge at a cop the wrong way and get plugged, or he might get drunk and drive and run over somebody.”
On good days, Tisdale says, Supernaw is still a good father. “Doug sent his daughter's present to her school on her birthday just the other day,” she says. “He's got the biggest heart, a heart of gold when he's in the right frame of mind. But when he's in that anger mode, he could care less about anything. He doesn't care about being arrested and he tells me that and I go, ‘You need to care! Stop that!'”
And she says his talent is still more or less intact. “He's got this fabulous new song about his no-good buddies called ‘The Company I Keep,'” she says. “It's a slow ballad that will put chills on your arm. It's classic Doug Supernaw. And that's what sucks. That's the talent that he's got. I mean, people will record him all day long, but who is gonna put him on a label and take the chance on him? He's saying all these wacko things.”
“He just wants to be such a rebel,” she says. “He thinks that being a rebel has got him where he is today. And I say, ‘No it didn't, because you weren't a rebel then.' His talent got him where he is, and his rebel-ness became his downfall.”