Above: An empty chair honors the place Cowboy Doug held in the Sunday night Pickers Circle at Luckenbach, and in the hearts of those who had the good fortune to know him. Long-time playing partner Bill Lewis (right) now leads the Sunday Circle. Photo by Phil Houseal
Below: Cowboy Doug Davis, 1861-2012
by Phil Houseal
Another picker has left the circle.
Doug Davis was 160 years old when he saddled his horse for the last round up last week. I’m convinced he was born in 1851 because of his love for old music and timeless values, plus the fact that he did more things than any normal man could do in one lifetime.
First time I met him, with his long beard, wrinkled Wranglers, and sweat-stained cowboy hat, he looked like he could have walked off the set of a western movie. Indeed, he did. He explained how he had roles in American Outlaws and The Alamo. That would have been enough adventuring for most men. But Cowboy Doug (as he came to be known) had also worked as a jockey, tree surgeon, camp cook, dude wrangler, bartender, cutting horse rider and jumper, cab driver, roughneck, writer, bank teller, professional gunfighter, and door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman. Once he decided to ride a horse from Terlingua to Santa Fe. Why? “It just seemed like the thing to do,” he said with a grin.
He did everything with a grin.
But it was his music that drew people to him.
Over the too few years I came to know him, Cowboy Doug would call me from time to time with an idea for a column or a tip on a musician with a story. Through him, I discovered everything from an international singer who played in a taco restaurant on Tuesdays (Ricardo Silva) to a singing pig (Pig Floyd, who came to Doug’s funeral).
He announced his arrival at the end of the trail in his usual deadpanned manner, stating matter-of-factly that the scourge of disease had invaded his battered body as if he was discussing a toothache. He decided not to fight if it only meant a few more pain-wracked months. He spent his last weeks on this mortal stage doing what he loved best - picking songs with his vast network of friends. Musicians traveled from all over to play one last tune accompanied by Cowboy Doug’s smoky voice, clean guitar work, and gentle cowboy logic.
(At one Picker’s Circle, Cowboy Doug looked at the assembled musicians and asked sincerely, “Hey, can y'all play Down Yonder?” Sure, they nodded. He grinned, pointed across the creek, and said, “All right, then. Y’all go play down yonder.”)
He was booked to play five straight days the week he died. I – along with a packed house – watched him play at Silver Creek with Hot Club violinist Elana James (watch 2-min video). He picked and sang for three solid hours.
It was the last time I heard him.
On Sundays, Cowboy Doug always led the Picker’s Circle at Luckenbach. This past Sunday, under a full moon and surrounded by fireflies, dozens and dozens of pluckers, strummers, fiddlers, and friends showed up to play one last time with him.
And you know Cowboy Doug was there. They set up a chair for him.
May the circle be unbroken.
Cowboy Doug was a cowboy and he could play and sing.
Last night the Lord called Doug over to the other side.
On Earth all he wanted was to be a cowboy and sing.
The Sunday night picking circle will have an empty chair,
I believe that last night when Cowboy Doug died,God said to him, “Cowboy up, it is time to ride.”