Bobby Charles, Doug Sahm and Mark Knopfler : Tennessee Blues

A true message always gets through.

Songs that speak truthfully to the ebbing and flowing tides of our lives take on a life of their own cutting distinctive channels in our hearts.

Such songs as Bob Dylan says ‘get up and walk’ away from their composers and become community treasures.

Treasures cherished by what I still think of as the ‘record buying public’ and perhaps even more so by fellow songwriters who recognise a classic song with such lyrical and melodic grace that it seems to demand new interpretations.

The song taking pride of place on The Immmortal Jukebox today is an absolute Peach – ‘Tennessee Blues’ written and first performed by the late, great, Bobby Charles.

I can imagine brows being furrowed at the name – Bobby Charles?

Now, you may not be a fully paid up, got the T Shirt and the Box Set, fan like me but believe me you know and can croon along to several Bobby Charles songs.

How about, ‘See You Later Alligator’ or ‘Walking To New Orleans’ not to mention ‘Before I Grow Too Old’ or ‘I Don’t Know Why I Love You, But I Do’ for starters.

Bill Haley, Fats Domino and Frogman Henry had the Chart hits but they all came from the pen and piano of Abbeville La native Robert Charles Guidry – Bobby Charles.

Bobby’s own versions of his songs are uniformally lovely with, ‘Tennessee Blues’ from his glowing 1972 album produced by The Band’s Rick Danko winning the garland for the most lovely of all.


From the ‘Trust us, we’ll take our own sweet time with this one’ opening bars you just know Tennessee Blues is gonna be a Keeper!

There’s a free flowing lazy certainty to the way the song proceeds.

Everything feels natural, unhurried, ripe and right.

Listening you feel like you’re gently rocking to and fro, deliciously half asleep, in a summer hammock.

By now, having lived with this song for decades, as soon as the song starts I can feel the tears welling up and my Boot Heels get ready to go wandering once again round the dance floor with my Darling.

And as we twirl, lost in the Music, we find a place where we don’t have to worry.

A place where we feel loose.

A place alive with the sound of running water and the trills of birds in the trees.

A place to forget all those regrets.

A place where we can settle and stay.

A place to be at peace.

To be at peace.

Oh, a place where you lose all those blues.

All those Blues.

Those Tennessee Blues.

Here, Bobby Charles has written and sung a Song that enchants.

A Song that’s balm for the bruised heart, the weary mind and the thirsty soul.

I’m not 100% certain of the musician credits but that’s surely Amos Garrett (of Midnight At The Oasis fame) playing the tender guitar licks and The Band’s instrumental maestro Garth Hudson playing the heartbreaking Accordion.

N. D. Smart on Drums and Jim Colegrove on Bass.

Violin courtesy of Harry Lookofsky (the Father of ‘Walk Away Renee’ writer Michael Brown.

The sense of ancient sway they create together is truly magical.

A magic that was recognised by one of the most good hearted of all musicians San Antonio’s own favourite Son – Doug Sahm.

Doug cuts deep, imbuing Tennessee Blues with tender Texas Soul.



Doug’s vocal takes us up to the Mountain Tops and down to the lapping lake side waters where we might bathe and be born again.

Born again.

Across the wide Atlantic Ocean Mark Knopfler, taking time out from his leadership responsibilities with Dire Straits, found peace and nourishment returning to the Americana sounds that had first inspired him to take up the Guitar and search out the chords for the songs he would write himself.

His companions, collectively The Notting Hillbillies, were Steve Phillips and Brendan Crocker.

In their hands Tennessee Blues takes on the character of aching night prayer – a compline service for lost saloon souls.

We are all searching for that place.

That place of shaded valleys and cool reviving streams.

That place where our regrets and worries dissolve in the warm breeze.

That place of peace.

Bobby Charles’ Tennessee Blues takes us there and gives us the strength to carry that peace within us as we travel on.


Notes :

Tennessee Blues can be found on the Rhino Encore CD ‘Bobby Charles’ – unreservedly recommended!

I also love:

The Bear Family compilation, ‘See You Later Alligator’

‘Last Train To Memphis’ from Rice and Gravy

‘Home Made Songs’ and ‘Wish You Were Here’

Bobby Charles died in 2010

His songs will endure.

Doug Sahm: Bringing It All Back Home (To Texas)

‘I wanna bring up one of my really old buddies, Doug Sahm! Everybody knows Doug and we go back a long way … ‘ (Bob Dylan welcoming Doug to the stage in 1995)

‘You just can’t live in Texas if you don’t have a lot of soul’ (Doug Sahm)

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Doug Sahm was a walking, talking, totally, ‘Texas Texture’ kind of a guy. A Texan’s Texan. Texas is a very, very, big place and is home to a staggering variety of music which is nourished in beery roadhouses, sprung floor dance halls and honky tonks heavy with the aroma of marajuana.

Music there is avidly listened to, played and danced to by a knowledgeable audience who know which songs are the best to two-step to, which are the best to slow dance to and which are the best to get you ready for a first class fist fight.

Doug Sahm growing up in a largely black section of San Antonio in the 1940s and 1950s absorbed the music blasting out from the radio and the clubs and stored it away as the treasury he would draw on, honour and add to for the rest of his life. You name it Doug Sahm knew it, loved it and could play it with the affection of a true devotee.

Doug was your man if you wanted to hear honkytonkin’ country, some gritty R&B, gutbucket or romantic blues, a Cajun two step, a once round the floor again polka, western swing or Tex-Mex border ballads. And, you could hear all these styles in one night and dance till you dropped! Whether you were a redneck or a hippie, a fan of Willie Nelson, The Grateful Dead or T Bone Walker, Doug had just the groove you were looking for.

Doug has been a boy wonder musician playing fiddle, steel guitar and mandolin on radio from the age of 6 – he was never anything other than a working musician until he died at the tragically young age of 58 in 1999.

Though Doug was widely known in Texas where he had played paying gigs before he turned 10 (once sharing the stage with the great Hank Williams) he first came to wider notice in 1965 with a fabulous record, ‘She’s About A Mover’. This was issued under the name The Sir Douglas Quintet as legendary producer Huey Meaux hoped buyers would assume the band were members of the all conquering British Invasion.

The subterfuge couldn’t last long once it was noticed that two of the band were clearly of Mexican heritage and they all had rich Texas accents. No matter, radio play was duly delivered and once heard, ‘Mover’ was an unstoppable hit!

Doug and the boys had managed to blend Ray Charles, The Beatles and a Texas two-step rhythm into an addictive confection which still has the freshness and impact of a classic song (Texas Monthly No 1 Texas tune of all time!). The Quintet lock into the rhythm as the magnificent Augie Meyers adds bite, colour and texture on the Vox Organ.

Front and centre Doug shows what a marvellously soulful, warm and winning singer he was; always true to the spirit of the song he was singing, always connecting with his fellow musicians and his audience. As I might have said in 1965 – it’s a gas! An absolute gas!

Doug was launched into a career which featured national TV spots and tours with James Brown, The Rolling Stones and The Beach Boys. There was never a major hit follow up to, ‘Mover’ but the initial version of the Quintet produced albums with gems a plenty including, ‘Mendocino’ and, ‘Nuevo Laredo’.

The next Doug Sahm record I want to draw your attention to is the Jerry Wexler produced album, ‘Doug Sahm And Band’ on Atlantic from 1973.

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The record is notable for extensively featuring Bob Dylan who at that time was still largely in reclusive mode. More importantly it is one of those records which has such a consistently attractive musical character and personality that it seems to glow in your imagination as you listen to it. And, believe me as someone who has listened to this record hundreds of time its charm never palls.

It’s one of those records like Van Morrison’s, ‘Moondance’ which alters your mood for the better every time you hear it. One of those records that just as you are about to put it back in the sleeve you decide with a smile that you should play again, just one more time!

Every track has been my favourite at one time or another. Doug, the Cosmic Cowboy, assisted by musicians of the calibre of Dr John, Flaco Jimenez, ‘Fathead’ Newman, David Bromberg and his indispensable musical brother Augie Meyers cooks up a richly flavoured Texas stew which continually whets and satisfies your musical appetite.

There is a glorious sense of relaxed enjoyment in making music, a sense, listening , that we are neighbours of Doug’s dropping in on a house party that will last for days, each song suggesting another, as everyone is having so much damn fun! It’s Texas blues, Texas country, Tex-Mex and 100% the magic of Doug Sahm.

Forced to choose one song to play here I’ve selected his anthem for his hometown, ‘(Is Anybody Going)To San Antone’ which features Dylan on guitar and harmony vocals. This song, like so many on the album and throughout Doug’s career, conjures joy out of thin air – which will do for me as the definition of what music at its best can do in our lives.

Doug was always touring, always making music whether he was in or out of fashion. Mind you, he was always in fashion with fellow Texas musicians and musicians and listeners everywhere who appreciated a man who talked a mile a minute, wore his heart on his sleeve and was always ready to play one more song.

Doug made a lot of records featuring wonderfully productive collaborations because he put the music first not his ego. He brought a lot to any group venture but he knew that it’s the combination of flavours that makes for the tastiest meals.

The ideal example of the above is the glorious series of records he made with his friends, Flaco Jimenez, Freddie Fender and Augie Meyers under the banner of The Texas Tornados. Listening to these albums offers a feast of pleasures as they carry you through a loving history of Texan musical culture. A few days spent with these wonders virtually guarantees you a PhD in Texas Studies!

To give you a sense of the prowess and generosity of Doug as a bandleader here’s a deliriously enjoyable clip of him with the Tornados featuring a properly rowdy version of, ‘Adios Mexico’ followed by a lovely take on Butch Hancock’s exquisite ballad (Number 1 in my Texas pantheon), ‘She Never Spoke Spanish To Me’. If you’re not up and dancing at the first and crying after the second there’s no hope for you.

Doug Sahm lived every day with a smile on his face. All over the world from Stockholm to San Antone, from London to Lubbock his music made him friends and followers. When you dig a groove as wide and deep as Doug did it can never vanish. I usually like to recommend selected records to illustrate an artist’s career. But for Doug Sahm I would simply advise you to buy as many as you can.

Adios compadre. Vaya con Dios.

Breaking News July 2:

Cheryl Sahm has read and approved this post and wants to draw attention to the Kickstarter campaign with regard to an excellent Documentary about Doug. A great cause I am happy to support here on The Jukebox.

CALLING ALL GROOVERS!!! We’ve got MAJOR news! Steve Earle | Lucinda Williams | T Bone Burnett | Boz Scaggs | Marcia Ball Find out WHY these folks want YOU to join them. The filmmakers of Sir Doug and The Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove documentary want the world to know Doug Sahm’s authentic sound, so we’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $75K in only 30 days! Please checkout the link below and see how you can support Doug’s legacy.

We’re raising the funds needed to license over 40 of Doug Sahm’s hits for our film and it’s going to take the help from ALL of DOUG’s FANS and FRIENDS to get there! Without these funds, we can’t pay for music rights to distribute the film. Oh yeah, and while we’re at it, let’s get him the recognition he deserves in the ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME too.

Kickstarter is all or nothing, so please pledge, post, share, and tweet! Regardless of whether you can give, it would mean so much if you could help spread the word

‪#‎KickstartSirDoug‬ ‪#‎RRHOF‬ ‪#‎InductDoug‬ ‪#‎DougSahm‬ ‪#‎SirDoug‬ ‪