Houston Music

Freddy Fender / Doug Sahm

Music Club's sublicensing of Huey Meaux's Crazy Cajun catalog from the UK's Demon/Edsel Records continues with these two releases, which join Sonny Landreth's Prodigal Son and Ronnie Milsap's Wish You Were Here: The Collection and another Sahm package on stateside shelves. Sadly, neither can be considered an essential recording.

Of the two, Exitos en Español is the more interesting. Fender's biggest hits stylistically represented the entire northwestern quadrant of the Gulf of Mexico. Whether sung in Spanish (as are all on this CD) or English, his fusion of Louisiana swamp pop, Texas swing and Tex-Mex respected no borders, state or national. Echoes of every region's music from New Orleans to Veracruz can be heard not just in the CD's solitary ranchera but also in his biggest hits, "Estaré Contigo Cuando Triste Estás" ("Before the Next Teardrop Falls") and "Días y Noches Perdidas" ("Wasted Days and Nights"), and in lesser-known swamp-pop gems like the Jimmy Donley-penned "Mis Sueños" ("Please Mr. Sandman"), and in the Fenderization of the song that made Aaron Neville famous -- "Juegos" -- better known to gringos as "Tell It Like It Is."

Meaux, ever the musical environmentalist, recycled the same tracks used for the English versions for almost all of these Spanish incarnations, so don't expect any extra Tejano flair in the backing of Otis Redding's "Estos Brazos" ("These Arms of Mine") or Barbara Lynn's "Tu Te Vas" ("You'll Lose a Good Thing"). What you get is interesting enough: a Tejano singing African-American soul in Spanish with a mixed-race Texan band (Houston's Oscar Perry recalled playing bass on some of these tunes) produced by a Cajun.

Something that has always frustrated me about Fender's Crazy Cajun material is its near complete lack of snap and crunch. The snare hits sound more like toms, and the guitar solos gum the ears rather than biting them. Fender's smooth tones would have contrasted nicely with a little more snap -- see Los Super Seven and the Texas Tornados for cases in point.

The aforementioned Donley is enjoying something of a renaissance. He was a songwriter of numerous gifts, many of which -- including "Please Mr. Sandman" -- he signed over to Meaux for 30 pieces of silver. Donley thus became Meaux's favorite songwriter (much as Joe Medwick was Don "Deadric Malone" Robey's), and it was a rare artist who passed through Sugar Hill studios without cutting a Donley tune or two.

One such who resisted was Doug Sahm. But then Sahm never had much time for swamp pop. Not that Sahm was completely averse to Louisiana sounds, as his recording of the Cajun Saturday-night anthem "Sugar Bee" attests. But what moved Sahm most were Texan sounds, especially those of San Antonio -- be it the conjunto of the city's westside cantinas, the honky-tonk of the north side's beer joints or the shuffling blues of the eastside juke joints, the stuff that also came blasting in over the X from Del Rio and Laredo. His "T-Bone Shuffle," included here, outstrips the Walker original, though why Music Club saw fit to ax his spoken intro is a mystery.

But in the end, the CD is flawed, almost fatally. At a mere 38 minutes, it is far too short. Adding songs like "Mendocino," "Dallas Alice," "Seguin," "The Son of Bill Baety/Backwoods Girl" and "Nuevo Laredo" would have brought the collection to only about 50 minutes, and those are just the worthy tunes off Sir Douglas Quintet's Together After Five LP. Conversely, songs like "Quarter to Three" and the busy, overly poppish "One Way Out" do little to further the Sahm legend. Sound quality is pretty poor, too; at one point Sahm says to his longtime sidekick, "Play one, Augie!" and a barely audible organ solo follows. And there's precious little in the way of the conjunto-influenced music that Sahm recorded from the late '60s onward.

This CD is recommended only for casual Sahm fans. Fanatics would be better served by seeking out Edsel's The Crazy Cajun Recordings.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.