Every time I get together with Augie Meyers, I want him to lead with a joke. Yeah, yeah, we’ll talk about your new album, whatever, but make me laugh first.
“I don’t know, man,” he tells me at Garcia’s Mexican Restaurant, his favorite diner for the last 40 years. “My jokes are kind of risqué.”
“No problem,” I reassure him. “This is the Current—everything goes.”
Thus we enter Augie Meyers’ world, one where there’s always time for a silly joke or a crazy story. His eyes open wide, and he relishes the opportunity as if he had been practicing for this precise moment all his life.
“This lady is walking down the street, she faints, she sees the good Lord and says, ‘I’m only 30 years old! I don’t wanna die!’” Meyers begins.
“‘Honey,’ says God. ‘You’re OK. You have another 55 years, 10 days and 11 minutes to live.’”
Meyers is winding up, now.
“‘Thank you,’ she says. So she went to the hospital across the street, had her tummy tucked, veins taken out of her legs, dyed her hair blonde, had her tits fixed, butt moved a little bit… For seven months she was in the hospital, got out, crossed the street… and boom! A truck hit her and killed her.
When she sees the Lord, she says, ‘I thought you said I had 55 years, 10 days and 11 minutes to live!’”
Meyers pauses for effect.
“‘I did, sweetheart, but I’m sorry!’ says God. ‘I didn’t recognize you!’”
OK, granted—it’s old, and much funnier in person but, comic merits aside, the fact that Meyers doesn’t find it hard to joke about death tells you a good deal about the guy. The keyboardist for Sir Douglas Quintet (“She’s About a Mover” wouldn’t be the same without his Vox Continental organ) and the Texas Tornados himself had a brush with death four years ago. A person who heard on the radio about his need for a kidney gave him a second life, and in 2010 he got the much-needed transplant. “I call him my angel,” he said of Jimmy Lucas, the Dallas computer technician who saved his life.
If you thought this would slow down Meyers, you don’t know Augie: this September he came back with his best music in recent memory. Loves Lost and Found is the country album he always wanted to make (he released Country in 2009, but “this one’s better,” he says, and I agree). He’s back on the hustle, having already written what he calls a “mariachi” album (two fiddles, guitarrón and no drums), a handful of blues numbers and a pocket book of “Augiesms” (more on that later), high-profile TV appearances (as part of Tom Waits’ band on Late Show with David Letterman in 2012), and traveling, lots of traveling.
Touring was something hard to predict in 2009, when he started feeling ill while gigging with Little Joe y La Familia in New Mexico, the same state that took our Doug Sahm, Meyers’ Quintet and Tornados buddy, 10 years prior when Sahm died of a heart attack in Taos in 1999. Meyers’ wife Sarah had been urging her husband to see the doctor, but he kept telling her, “I’ll go when I’m back in San Antonio.” When he couldn’t even walk, it was time to go to the hospital for what Meyers thought was a problem with his lungs.
“No, it’s your kidneys,” the doctor told him. “Either you go on dialysis today or we’re going to kiss you goodbye.” Shortly thereafter, the doctor took Sarah aside.
“Look, if [he’s] alive in the morning, we’re going to take care of [him].”
“He didn’t tell me, he told my wife,” repeats Meyers. “If your potassium level is four, you’re sick. If you’re six, you have a heart problem. Eight, you’re dead. Mine was 8.25. It was that bad.”
Meyers was on dialysis for 13 months, nine hours a day, connected to his stomach. But he didn’t stop—he took it on the plane, to Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, anywhere he went. He would write or read, always with Sarah by his side, whether it was at the hospital or home in SA. Twenty-eight potential donors had been tested and discarded. It was April 2010, and in May he would have been taken off the transplant list. But at that particular moment, unbeknownst to him, Jimmy Lucas was driving on a Dallas freeway listening to a radio interview with drummer Clay Meyers, Augie’s son.
When asked about his dad, Clay said, “He needs a kidney.” Lucas felt something.
“I don’t know, I just felt compelled to do it,” Lucas told the Current on the phone from Dallas. “I thought it was the right thing to do, I felt pretty strong emotion.” He laughs nervously when he says, “It must have been a God thing…”
Everyone else thought he might be crazy, including the doctors. So much so that Lucas almost bailed at the last minute.
“[The doctors] took me to a three-hour psychiatric evaluation,” Lucas said. “I told them, ‘I’m just trying to do something nice, and you’re making me feel like I’m crazy.’”
Meyers explained, “He figured if he did something good, it would come back to him, and two weeks [after the transplant], he got the job he always wanted.”
The transplant took place on April 22, 2010. “Am I still here? Am I still here?” Meyers asked Clay upon waking up, according to the Express-News. Meyers and Lucas met in San Antonio three months after the transplant.
“He told me I was his guardian angel,” said Lucas, now a regular at Meyers’ shows in Dallas. Lucas has since married (his new wife coincidentally lost a kidney to disease), and in October, he received Meyers’ new album as a birthday present.
In typical Meyers fashion, he closes this chapter of his story drolly. “I figured heaven wasn’t ready for me and hell was afraid I’d take over,” said Meyers.
Now Meyers is back in the saddle, with a vengeance. He’s still looking for a place to show his stand-up comedy, even though his favorite venue no longer exists.
“I wanted to do it at Casbeers [at the Church],” said Meyers. “I was on tour and, when I came back, it was closed. I liked that place. The audience was right there in front of you and the acoustics were really nice, so I’m looking for another place. I got all my jokes written down.”
Written down, and ready to be deployed in any situation. When the topic changes to his new habits (he says he no longer gets high, he hasn’t had a drink in six years and now only drinks coffee, without brandy, when he sits at the piano), he encourages me to quit smoking.
“If you want to quit and you have your mind to it, you quit,” he said. “If you want to quit smoking you use a patch, and if you’re a sex addict you need a patch on your balls.” Then, the punchline: “They call it ‘Dickotine.’”
He plans to continue touring on the strength of Loves Lost and Found, but he’s already actively pursuing the mariachi album (for which he’ll shoot a video in the next few weeks). He’s also written a few blues songs.
“I write in spurts,” he said. “My last two albums were country, but now I’m doing mariachi and blues, and I finally finished a song for Sarah.”
Don’t tell me you finished…
“Yes, I did.”
The song is called “You Used To Be On My Mind But Now You Just Get On My Nerves,” a track he once told me he’d write for his wife. “She heard it and she likes it.”
It goes a little something like this: “You used to be on my mind but now you just get on my nerves/ you used to look so fine/ but now you’re running out of curves.”
Sarah is game, but I told Meyers I strongly disagree: she hasn’t run out of anything, with all due respect.
He smiled. “I just did it for the record.”
Then there’s the book, tentatively titled Augiesms: Thoughts to Think About.
“I’m trying to get it finished before the end of the year,” he said. “One-liners, sometimes two-liners, just things I write.”
He offered a few examples. “One of my mottos in life is, ‘I want the most, I expect the least, I appreciate what I get, and I run like hell with it,’” Meyers recited. “You know … My grandfather used to tell me years ago: ‘If you don’t have time to get it right the first time, when are you going to find time to do it over?’ Stuff like that. ‘How come it always breaks when you’re broke?’”
Someone once said that the problem with the world is that the intelligent (or talented) are full of doubts, while the idiots are full of certainties. This applies to Meyers: he still can’t pinpoint “Augie’s sound.”
“I just played in Louisiana [in October] and some girl and her cousin drove all the way from North Carolina,” he said. “They told me they listen to everything, the Dylan albums, the ones with Doug Sahm, Tom Waits … ‘But we want to see you, in person, play your sound.’”
And what is “your sound”?
“I don’t know!” he said. “We were in Italy last week, this cat tells me ‘I want you to play on my album.’ I said, ‘what do you want to hear?’ He goes, ‘I want you hear you.’ And that’s what I did. I don’t know. It amazes me when people say things like that and talk about ‘my sound.’”
You could explain “the Augie Meyers sound” as that percussive, cutting Vox Continental sound that joins the rhythm section on tracks like “She’s About a Mover,” “Mendocino” and “Love Sick,” the opening track of Time Out of Mind (1997), the first on a string of superb late-career recordings by Bob Dylan. But why try to explain the “Augie sound” when he’s much more than just a sound? And why even try, when The Man himself already did?
“What makes [Augie Meyers] so great is that internally speaking, he’s the master of syncopation and timing,” Dylan once said, “and this is something that cannot be taught. If you need someone to get you through the shipping lanes and there’s no detours, Augie will get you right straight through. Augie’s your man.”
“I never got burned out,” said Meyers. “I love what I do. I thank the good Lord ... for being able to do what I want to do.”
Sometimes you don’t have to get burned out to stop playing. People change. Or maybe they’re not burned out but they just can’t find work. Throw a rock anywhere in SA and you’ll find a legendary conjunto musician who finds it hard to make ends meet. Meyers must’ve done something right, besides good playing. Is it drive? PR? Sarah? Clay? Why can’t other talented musicians of his age find work?
“I don’t wait for the phone to ring,” Meyers said. “I go out there and make it ring. I’m always looking, hustling. I talk to some of my friends and ask them, ‘You’ve been playing?’ ‘No, man… The phone ain’t ringing.’ ‘Then go out there and see what’s going on!’ ‘There’s nothing going on!’ That’s why there’s nothing going on with you. There’s something going on, but you have to look for it. It’s like when a girl comes up to you and says, ‘Hey, I want to go to bed with you,’ and you go, ‘OK,’ and she says, ‘Your place or mine?’ and you go, ‘Well, if you’re going to argue about it, forget it!’”
He closes with another Augiesm.
“I learned a long time ago that if your in-flow is less than your outgo, then your upkeep is going to be your downfall,” he said. “I live by that rule. I travel all over the world and still get up early in the morning, and my friends tell me, ‘Augie, you’re too old to do that, you’re 73,’ and I go, ‘So what? You say I’m too old because you can’t do it, but I’m going to do it for as long as I can.’ And when I can’t do it no more, I’m not going to be sorry. I’ll just say, ‘that’s it.’”