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Don Sanders was a central figure in the early Houston folk scene, playing all the landmark venues -- from Anderson Fair, Sand Mountain, the Old Quarter, and Liberty Hall to Austin's Armadillo World Headquarters and the Kerrville Folk Festival.
He has shared the stage with Lyle Lovett (who considers him an important influence), Nanci Griffith, Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, Lightin' Hopkins, Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, and Janis Joplin. He performed at countless peace rallies, benefits, progressive political events, and street concerts in Houston's Montrose.
He was known for his unique vision and for his quirky and highly personal songs; among the best known are "Third Eye" ("Open my third eye, mama / Free me from my chains tonight"), "Coffee Song," "Head Full of Reds," "Southern Coast of France," and "Heavy Word User," where he admits to being a "greasy, sleazy information abuser."
Some of Don's later work was inspired by Spanish folk tales, by the nueva trova movement that originated in Cuba, and by Latin American social justice issues, and he has written and sung in both Spanish and English.
Don Sanders also worked with Pacifica Radio's KPFT-FM (as "Donnie Jo DJ") and in Houston theater, writing, producing, and performing in a one-man show called Peregrino at Houston's Main Street and Chocolate Bayou theaters and at theaters in Austin and San Antonio. In recent years he has devoted much of his time to performing for school children, singing and spinning yarns as the "Sourdough Cowboy."
Don was featured in For the Sake of the Song, the critically acclaimed documentary film about Anderson Fair, Houston's venerable acoustic venue that served as an incubator for such talent as Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Nanci Griffith, Lucinda Williams, Robert Earl Keen, Steven Fromholz, and Lyle Lovett.
Rolling Stone called Don Sanders Houston's "spritely local folkie," and Lyle Lovett, then a Texas A&M student writing in the school paper, The Batallion, tagged him the "grand old man of Houston folk music." John Wilson wrote on The Rag Blog that, "Over a five year period from 1970 to 1975, Don wrote and performed a suite of songs that pretty much provided the soundtrack for that tumultuous and intensely musical period of Houston’s history."
Many of those historic songs (some of which were mentioned above) have been released on a new CD titled Heavy Word User which came out during the Kerrville Folk Festival. It is available at YourTexasMusic and recently was accepted by Pandora into the Music Genome Project.
Don Sanders dicusses his career and sings several songs on this episode of Rag Radio.
Rag Radio -- hosted and produced by Rag Blog editor Thorne Dreyer -- is broadcast every Friday from 2-3 p.m. (CDT) on KOOP 91.7-FM in Austin, and streamed live on the web. KOOP is a cooperatively-run community radio station in Austin.
Rag Radio, which has been aired since September 2009, features hour-long in-depth interviews and discussion about issues of progressive politics, culture, and history. After broadcast, all episodes are posted as podcasts and can be downloaded at the Internet Archive. Tracey Schulz is the show's engineer and co-producer.
Rag Radio is also rebroadcast on Sundays at 10 a.m. (Eastern) on WFTE, 90.3-FM in Mt. Cobb, PA, and 105.7-FM in Scranton, PA.
- Also see "Houston Folk Legend Don Sanders is 'Heavy Word User'" by John Wilson / The Rag Blog / Sept. 14, 2011
The Rag Blog