Headneck Bonanza: Doug Sahm live in 1972 with Leon Russell and the Dead

Garcia and Sahm onstage in Austin
Sir Doug and Jerry Garcia, onstage in Austin. Photo: Steve Hopson


Our celebration of recently departed hippie-country music pioneer John “Marmaduke” Dawson of the New Riders of the Purple Sage’s legacy started a conversation about the history of “headneck” music: tunes beloved in equal measure to cowboys, hippies, bikers and all varieties of stoner hicks, country heads and longhaired rednecks.

Beyond the New Riders and the Dead, the consensus seems to be that Commander Cody, Asleep at the Wheel and Doug Sahm (in his many incarnations, from dusty Texas boogie, accordion-flecked Tex-Mex and sun-dappled Mill Valley country) represent some of the pinnacles of this rowdy sound. After a bit of digging around in the Google crates, we found one of the holy grails of headneck history over at The Adios Lounge: a bootleg recording of an impromptu 1972 Doug Sahm, Leon Russell, Jerry Garcia and Friends show at the Armadillo World Headquarters in Austin, Texas.

On Thanksgiving weekend in 1972 the Dead were in Austin, on tour of course, and they joined Sir Doug and country-time piano genius Leon Russell — you know his rollicking keys from session work with The Byrds, The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan, his oft-covered song “Superstar”; and you really should seek out the riches of his 1971 solo album, Leon Russell and the Shelter People, as the psych-out cover art is just the beginning — on stage for a couple hours of once-in-a-lifetime country grooves.

doug sahm with spliff
Genuine Texas groover Sahm with spliff and brew


At our request, Lance — the gracious proprietor of The Adios Lounge — has re-upped the whole two-and-a-half hour jam session full of songs from Merle Haggard, Kris Kristofferson, Robert Johnson, Bob Dylan and Hank Williams, among many others. It’s a soundboard recording (A-/A for the tapers out there) full of Garcia’s lush pedal steel, Phil Lesh’s noodly bass, and fiddle duties handled by Marty Mary Egan and Thirteenth Floor Elevator (!?) Benny Thurman. Vocals are traded between Sahm, Garcia, Russell and what sounds like a room full of rowdy Texan headnecks having the time of their lives. “Holy shit” is right.

This is music for hot afternoons, sitting shirtless in the sun, chasing shots of green dragon with econo-brews and popping off at the empties with your “blaster of choice.” Many thanks to Lance for the re-post. Click here to go download yourself a copy.

Now who’s got the hook up on some vintage Commander Cody bootlegs? And “muchas Garcias” once again to longtime Arthur compadre Michael Simmons for initiating my search for this music.

Also: BONUS HEADNECK JAM after the jump …

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New Riders' Marmaduke, RIP

marmaduke.new.riders-1

New Riders of the Purple Sage, live at Fillmore East, April 29, 1971. Click here for the setlist, or to download the whole thing as MP3s


Dilettantes dabbling in the genre of country music have always had a hard time, from hippies like Gram Parsons to his modern day alt-country hipster inheritors. There’s almost always an inevitable anxiety over class privileges and the fetishization of working class experience by cultural elites. That combines with the classic rural versus urban divide and adds up to an awkward night sitting in a bar in Silver Lake listening to delicate, good-looking dudes in fancy vintage Western shirts singing about CB radios and old pickup trucks. It’s airless tribute at best, unaware cowboy drag at worst.

John “Marmaduke” Dawson was the lead singer and main songwriter for The New Riders of the Purple Sage, the best of the hippie country bands that emerged from the West Coast psychedelic rock and rustic folk scenes, and one of the only bands — along with Commander Cody, Doug Sahm and Asleep At The Wheel [thanks for reminding me, Michael!] — that managed to merge roper with doper without apologies to either camp. He died on Tuesday in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where he’d been teaching English as part of the city’s established community of American expatriates. He was 64, and stomach cancer was the culprit.

Travel to Mexico is the subject of one of the New Riders best-known songs, “Henry.” Marmaduke often dedicated live performances of the song to anyone in the audience who “smuggles dope for a living,” and given that most of the New Riders best shows were during the early ’70s opening for the Grateful Dead, there were no doubt plenty of audience members who appreciated such recognition.

“Henry” is about the titular drug runner on his way down to Acapulco to find out why all the marijuana has stopped flowing to the United States. After navigating a series of twisty mountain roads, he finds his supplier’s farm and proceeds to get thoroughly obliterated on freshly trimmed crops. The song is about the drive back, as told from the perspective of an unnamed passenger, who is continually beseeching the seriously faded Henry to keep the brakes on as they careen through the mountain passes.

It’s a song that, like so many New Riders tunes, conveys a distinctly hippie experience using the language of country music. The band was an outgrowth of Jerry Garcia’s pre-Dead unit, the wacky bluegrass band Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions. The Dead did plenty of country-leaning material, but Garcia still wanted an outlet for his pedal steel licks, and thus the New Riders of the Purple Sage came to be.

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AMERICAN BEAUTIES: Eddie Dean on the downhome country music festival photography of Leon Kagarise (from Arthur Magazine No. 32)

From Arthur Magazine No. 32 (Dec 2008)…

American Beauties

Leon Kagarise was a teetotaling amateur photographer who captured the bucolic vibes of the now-forgotten country music festivals that flourished along the Mason-Dixon line in the ’50s and ’60s. Award-winning journalist Eddie Dean tells Leon’s story and shares some of his extraordinary photographs in this expanded excerpt from the new book, Pure Country

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