NEW YORK -- Doug Sahm has been known to do some strange things in the 22 years since he first came to national attention as leader of the Sir Douglas Quintet.
Sahm has fronted a number of unusual bands in a wide variety of guises, from the pseudo-British invasion style of 'She's About a Mover' to the psychedelic cowboy persona of 'Mendocino' to the San Antonio border soul of 'The Return of Doug Saldana.'
He's made records with Bob Dylan and the Creedence rhythm section, Doctor John and Flaco Jimenez. He's lived in self-imposed exile in Scandinavia, becoming a huge star in Sweden after recording the hit single 'Meet Me in Stockholm.'
Executives from most of the record companies going have horror stories about Sahm's unpredictable behavior and unorthodox ideas about promoting himself.
But Sahm's most recent gambit, the Texas Mavericks, is his wildest idea ever.
He assembled several close musician friends from Texas -- the legendary Alvin Crowe, top session guitarist John Reed, bassist Speedy Sparks and drummer Mike Buck, who was the original drummer with the Fabulous Thunderbirds.
Sahm's idea was to perform under assumed names wearing wrestling masks, and play the kind of set a young post-new wave rock band might do, mixing little known original songs with covers of classic rockers and driving rockabilly numbers. The front line of three guitarists promised, and delivered, a gutsy, tough-edged sound.
When the band came to New York's Lone Star Cafe recently a crowd of musicians and long-time Sahm afficionados showed up to check out this lineup. Lissa Hattersley, the ex-Greezy Wheels vocalist who now fronts Sweet Liss and the Swells, reacted incredulously to the wrestling masks.
'What are you wearing that mask for,' she kidded Reed before the show, 'when nobody knows what you look like in the first place?'
Reed, who was introduced as Johnny X, left quite an impression before the night was over with some extraordinary electric guitar playing.
Under the pseudonym of Sam Dogg, Sahm directed the group through an impromptu set that ran off cover after cover, from the Creedence hits 'Lodi' and 'Born on the Bayou' to Dylan's 'Mr. Tambourine Man,' Van Morrison's 'Brown Eyed Girl,' Danny O'Keefe's 'Good Time Charlie's Got the Blues' and the perennial raveup 'La Bamba.'
When the crowd called out for Doug Sahm songs, 'Sam Dogg' countered by saying that Sahm had gone into retirement. 'That taco-eatin' fool is coaching a Mexican league baseball team in San Antonio,' he announced.
When the crowd continued to press for Sahm material, the Mavericks did their own versions of 'Mendocino,' 'Texas Tornado' 'Adios Mexico' and 'Is Anybody Going to San Antone?'
Rockin' Leon, Alvin Crowe's alter ego, turned out to be the biggest surprise of the night. Crowe is well known for his virtuosic fiddle playing and country songwriting. He regularly leads his own western swing band in the Southwest.
As Rockin' Leon, though, Crowe reverts to his childhood persona fronting rock bands. During the course of the evening he stamped himself as the greatest contemporary interpreter of Buddy Holly, covering 'Oh Boy,' 'That'll Be the Day,' 'Rave On,' 'Peggy Sue' and a monster version of 'Not Fade Away.'
Crowe also delivered great rockabilly vocals on Ricky Nelson's 'Hello Mary Lou' and the Bobby Fuller Four hit 'I Fought the Law.' He proved brilliant as well on Arthur Crudup's 'That's All Right Mama,' an early Presley vehicle, and his own 'Redneck Rock.'
Crowe also came up with some hilarious zingers in between songs, like 'Sam Dogg says the Lord told him if he doesn't get a record contract by April 30, he'll pass away.'
After the gig, Crowe shed some light on the reasons behind this unusual collaboration. 'Doug and I have been playing together for years,' he explained. 'Doug was a childhood star on steel guitar, and recently did a tour with my western swing band under the name of Wayne Douglas.
'I grew up playing rockabilly for years before I started playing country.
'Since Doug started out country and ended up playing rock, while I started out playing rock and ended up country, it makes sense for us to meet halfway.'