Monday, July 30, 2012

Michoacan part 2 - KIM FOWLEY INTERVIEW!

When I posted about the mysterious Sir Douglas Quintet single "Michoachan" earlier in Doug Sahm month, I didn't realize there was going to be so much back story.  I decided I would go to the source and discuss it with its co-writer, legendary songwriter/singer/producer/A&R man/svengali/pied piper/raconteur/garbage man Kim Fowley. The original blog post can be found here.

Kim Fowley (in the Western shirt) with among others
Del Shannon, Bruce Johnston and Gene Vincent. From his website.

Interviewing Kim Fowley means staying out of Kim Fowley's way, so I just tried not to interrupt him, since every time I did he went skidding on some new fascinating tangent. 

KIM FOWLEY:  Michoacan was written by Atwood Allen and [myself].  Atwood Allen was the Electric Ice Man from San Antonio, and his grass that he cultivated and blended and rolled into joints was apparently legendary. I don’t smoke dope so I have no idea if it’s true, but according to gravevine legend Bob Dylan smoked some of Atwood’s blend and thought it was Doug Sahm’s blend and then liked Doug Sahm’s music more than he normally would, because he thought his abilities as a tobacconist cum blender of psychedelics gave him a different status. And then when he found it it was Atwood Allen’s, possibly he didn’t like Doug Sahm as much. Now, this is just a story that floats around ballrooms in Austin. It is possibly untrue. It’s possibly true. I’m not in an Austin ballroom and I wasn’t there when the rumors started. Have you ever heard that rumour before?
from left: Ernie Durawa, Doug Sahm, Atwood Allen (click here for photo source)
DR. FILTH: I read somewhere that “michoacan” is a codeword for really good marijuana.

FOWLEY: Well, I know that it grows there. In Michoacan itself. Apparently that’s the Carolinas of marijuanadom. I’ve never been there. I remember, I walked into Tom Ayres’ home and this Atwood Allen said, “Hey, buddy – you want a joint?” And I told him I didn’t smoke.  So he said, “Hey Tom, I thought you said this guy wrote lyrics. I want to write a song about Michoacan, and I’ve got the music but this motherfucker doesn’t know shit about dope.”

So I said, “Hey motherfucker, I had a lesbian mother and an opium addict father to contend with so I understand your shit.  I was there when Robert Mitchum got busted for marijuana. My father was trying to score opium in the same house. Don’t fuck with me, motherfucker, I can write the shit!  I wrote shit for the Byrds and I grew up in a criminal household!” Something to that effect.

Tom Ayres bio here
DrF: So he decided that you guys could work together.

KF: Yeah, just to shut me up, probably. So he started smoking dope and I said, “Play your shit” and about ten minutes later it was done. And he said, “My god, this guy’s like a redneck!” And I said, “Look, I produced Gene Vincent. And he was on morphine! And I understood that guy, so I can understand your tiny little drug habit.” So about 10 minutes later the thing was done and Doug Sahm showed up later in the evening when I wasn’t there and Atwood sang it, and he called him “hoss” and “bro” and “dude” and he learned the fucking thing, and there was a movie called Cisco Pike being made - the original title was The Dealer, which would have been a better title than Cisco Pike. Did you ever see the movie?

DrF: Yes.

KF: It’s a really good movie isn’t it? Kris Kristofferson’s first starring role. It was supposed to be the second coming of Easy Rider. And this song was going to be the new “Born to Be Wild”. But it didn’t at all become “Born to Be Wild”. I saw the movie and it sounded like mariachi horns. 

KF: The song was covered four times. I covered it as a producer with Scorpion, on MNW records in Sweden, later purchased by Universal. 

Swedish psych/prog band does a German polka version of Tex-Mex
song with lyrics by a California freak. The mind reels.
KF: And then Atwood Allen had a thing called Atwood Allen the Electric Iceman, Bossier City was the b-side. [I have so far been unable to uncover a copy of this 45 - anybody got one?] And then there was Rocky and the Border Kings, doing "Michoacan". The b-side was "Gulf of Mexico", which I thought was an amazing song. Rocky was Jimmy Stallings, who was also J.J. Light, who also was a member of the Quintet for a minute. Did you know that?

DrF: No.  I mean, I knew that J.J. Light was in the Quintet, but I had no idea that he was Rocky. I love that J.J. Light LP.

KF: He was from Farmington New Mexico. He had a Mexican mom and an Anglican dad and he worked in a laundry there. The Hollywood Argyles found him and brought him back to LA in 1960 or 1961. He became Gene Thomas – he was a funny Gene Thomas. Gene Thomas had “Sometime”, which was another Chicano-kind-of-San-Antonio record, but no one knew what Gene Thomas looked like here, so we passed him off as Gene Thomas.

J.J. Light - lost Chicano psych classic!
Gene Thomas - NOT J.J. Light!
Doug Sahm sings Gene Thomas
KF:  So the fifth version of the song was Kris Kristofferson – he did a live album in Cuba or some weird place. It’s a blue album cover, and it’s the only live Kristofferson album. And so he did it, but he changed the lyrics – naughty naughty shame on you – and so I thought, “well, he’s a great songwriter”. But his words were worse than mine. He didn’t take credit but he still changed them.Is that five versions? Read them back.

I was unable to verify the Cuban live album, but here's
the studio version from  Shake Hands with the Devil
Dr.F: Kristofferson, Rocky and the Border Kings, Atwood Allen, Scorpion, Sir Douglas Quintet.

KF:  And not one of them charted. I think the Kristofferson album charted. Nothing else charted. It’s probably a hit song, and someday someone will do a new version of it, some new Tijuana brass thing . .

Dr.F: Tijuana dubstep.

KF:  Yeah! Why not? They’ll hear it, and people will smoke dope and say, “Shit! Where did this come from?” I mean, there’s something great about it.  It’s like my song “The Trip”. God, that thing has been covered and used and banned just about everywhere.

Joe "King" Carraso and the Crowns

KF: At one point Sahm was going to produce Joe "King" Carrasco and the Crowns, and I met him in the bathroom of the baseball game they always have on Sundays at South by Southwest. They end the conference and everybody goes and plays baseball.  Doug Sahm was the coach.  And so I said, “Here’s Michoacan and some other shit for Joe "King" Carrasco.” And he reluctantly took it, but he probably threw it in the trash, because Doug never understood how I was able, as this West Coast moron, to write authentic shit that he could sing. Because he was a great songwriter and he didn’t cover too many people.

DrF: He did not cover too many contemporaries, no.

KF: No, he wanted to find some toothless black guy from 400 years ago and give him a shot.

This interview expanded to include several other topics, and we will see more of it in the very near future. Kim Fowley would like to let you know that he has just recorded a new release with Snow Mercy called Live in Overdrive. "We did it in an hour. It's one of the dumbest records you've ever heard. It's STUPID. Which is the key word in rock and roll.  It's really stupid, and if you guys are smoking dope, jacking off, or robbing cars, this is the record to do it to. Everything good about Paul and Paula and Dale and Grace, you will find on this piece of trash, on steroids. Be sure and check it out.  It's on iTunes."


Anonymous said...

Louie & the Lovers cover Michoacan on their one & only album, which was produced by Doug Sahm. For what it's worth...

J. Loslo

Mr. Soul Motion said...

Hey J. - actually Michoacan is not on the original LP release of the Louie and the Lovers record. It was included in the first reissue of the album on CD (on the Acadia label), but it's my understanding that the version included on that was the Rocky and the Border Kings version. Augie Meyer did a live version on an 80s album, I believe . . .

Anonymous said...

By golly, you're right. I just listened to the Rocky version & it's the same track I already had, but listed as Louie & the Lovers. I got my Louie & the Lovers from a dubious source (ahem), and it doesn't have much in the way of info. Thanks.

J. Loslo

Greg G said...

Great post! Didn't know about all those versions of Michoacan. Really liked the Kristofferson reading of it and even picked up on some lyrics that I never could quite figure out on Doug's version.

Anonymous said...

Great interview!

Anonymous said... s the first ever photo of ATWOOD ALLEN , beloved back-up singer of DS and Band , ATCO LP 1972 It s gonna be easy......also on the DS nd TT Album 1976, man is he groooovy. Amsterdamm!

Anonymous said...

oh by the way is that a Dutch record cover (picture sleeve) from the Netherlands? The lay-out looks so "Phonogram"( the label's distributor here they also did release groups like the Decca Stones) A'damm!

Anonymous said...

Do you still need a copy of Atwood Allen the Electric Iceman, Michoacan/Bossier City on Uni 45?