Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Hard and heavy

As promised, here's Jim C's latest contribution. "Goin' Upstairs" is such a great song, thanks for letting me hear it again::

I was in school at East Texas State University in the fall of ‘81, and over Thanksgiving I was sitting around spinning records with my friend Dimitrius. He played upright bass and, like me, was learning his way through jazz, so he seemed a little baffled by the Elvis vinyl that I kept putting on the stereo. He asked me why I got so much sustenance from old rock ‘n’ roll when I was also into jazz, and I could only shrug and say stuff like “it’s all the same thing”, which I’m sure answered nothing, but I wasn’t sophisticated enough to come up with anything better. As the conversation rolled on, he said “Well, then you might know who my dad is”, and I said, “Why, who is he?”

His dad was Domingo Samudio, aka Sam “The Sham”, of Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs. Dimitrius had been raised by his mom, but stayed in contact with his dad, who had seen his share of adventure even leaving out the fact that he was a drop-dead cool rock ‘n’ roll star from the mid ‘60s. I was unaware of his post-Pharaohs output, and Dimitrius went to his place and brought back an album his dad had cut in 1970 for Atlantic records, called Hard And Heavy. It was produced by Atlantic’s great engineer/producer Tom Dowd, and the Dixie Flyers are the rhythm section, with Duane Allman, the Memphis Horns and the Sweet Inspirations all helping out as well. I was impressed. Cut at Criteria Sound in Miami, this was around the same time Dowd and Allman would have been working on Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs, and while this album shares some superficial characteristics with that album-rock classic, it also seems to come from another planet entirely, one where you wouldn’t be required to check your sense of humor at the door. There are several terrific blues covers here, and the obligatory-at-the-time Randy Newman cover (also first-rate), but the best songs are Sam’s four originals, which show off his Tex-Mex roots (and his wit) at least as well as his Pharaohs hits did. His liner notes on the back cover thank almost everyone he’d ever met and have a manic edge, like he must have known this was his last shot at the commercial big-time and he wanted to make it count. It worked, sort of; he won his only Grammy in 1972 -- for best liner notes!

When I asked Dimitrius what his dad was up to currently, he said he had been working on the soundtrack for a new Jack Nicholson movie that was coming out soon. That movie turned out to be The Border, a great film with one of Ry Cooder’s earlier soundtrack efforts, on which Samudio plays organ. Dixie Flyer Jim Dickinson resurfaces here too, playing piano throughout and even singing lead on one track, but the best tunes are the two Sam sings and the one Freddy Fender sings. This to me is Cooder’s best soundtrack ever.

I always hoped I’d get to meet Dimitrius’ dad, but every time he came to Commerce, Texas, it was when I happened to be out of town. I haven’t seen Demetrius in about a quarter of a century, so if you’re out there Dimitrius, hey man!


Blogger theoldroadhog said...

Awesome story! Downloading the links now...

25/12/08 8:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

26/12/08 9:34 AM  

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