Down Here at the Paw’n Shop: Dog Tales From Sublime’s Time in Austin, 25 Years Ago
Memories of Lou Dog and Toby in the studio
By Kevin Curtin,
8:00AM, Thu. May 6, 2021
“Oh yeah, it was a dog session,” confirms engineer Stuart Sullivan, regarding the canine influence of Sublime’s final studio recording, which transpired locally 25 years ago this spring.
In this week’s Austin Chronicle cover story, in which six individuals involved in the creation of the landmark 1996 album share stories and reflections, producer Paul Leary recounts Sublime’s “long, dilapidated” RV getting stuck up the hill upon entry to Willie Nelson’s Pedernales Studio in Spicewood, where the foundation of the album was tracked, before overdubs and mixing took place at Arlyn Studios.
“I went out to meet them and they had all their dogs with them, even though I told them not to bring them,” Leary recalls. “They weren’t going to go anywhere without their dogs.”
Hold on a minute, I interjected during our interview. Didn’t the Butthole Surfers famously have a band dog?
“Yes, Mark Farner,” he replied matter-of-factly. “She was a dog pound pit bull from San Antonio. They gave her to us with a rope leash and we loaded her into the van and she spent the next like three and a half years on the road.
“But we never put her in the studio for a month or anything like that!”
By the way: Leary’s Butthole Surfers pedigree was a huge deal to the members of Sublime, who loved the noisy psychedelic Texas punk act.
“Every night after we’d finish recording we’d sit around and listen to Butthole Surfers stories from Paul,” recalled Sublime bassist Eric Wilson.
Michael "Miguel" Happoldt, Sublime’s de facto fourth member and the session’s production coordinator, says that the band had procured a VHS tape of Bar-B-Que Movie, an Alex Winter-directed short from 1989 – starring the Butthole Surfers – in which the band serves a vacationing family the meat of their son, Jerry Jr.
“Paul would barbecue for us at Willie’s spot,” he remembers. “We’d see him starting the barbecue and be like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding, we’re stupid enough to eat a Butthole barbecue – it’s somebody’s son!”
Happoldt says Sublime would also constantly hassle Leary to go to the Butthole Surfers’ storage unit and get Gibby Haynes’ vocal effect rack – which they called “the Gibby Box” – to use on the album.
“Every day he’d play us something and we’d be like, ‘You know what this track really needs? A trip to the storage to get the Gibby Box,’ but Paul would never take us. He’d say ‘You guys are just determined to ruin the record!’ And we’d say ‘No we’re trying to make it great.’ We never did get that Gibby Box.”
Back to the dogs, Sublime had brought with them Nowell’s Dalmatian Louie – aka “Lou Dog” – and Wilson’s basenji, Toby. The pooches got them kicked out of their initial lodging in Spicewood, which the studio had set up for them.
“It was White Cliff Condos and the person that we worked with called and said, ‘We love working with your bands … but this damn dog,” remembers Lisa Fletcher, who operates both Pedernales and Arlyn Studios. “They found them another place.”
Meanwhile, the two pooches spent most of their time in the studio with the band.
“Brad had a really funny, dry sense of humor,” Leary reveals about the late singer and guitarist. “Almost every night, he’d be sitting on the sofa and I’d be finishing up in the control room and he’d be sitting next to Lou Dog and his favorite thing to do was to grab Lou Dog by the tail and yell my name and when I’d look he’d stick his thumb right up the dog’s butt and look at me like, ‘Tada!’ The last time he did it was the best, he was talking to me and had one arm around Lou Dog and with other hand he was jacking Lou Dog off … while carrying on a conversation. Then he’d say, ‘Well he likes it.’”
“Brad was hilarious,” echoes Sullivan. “And he was a pervert.”
Louie’s time in Texas turned out to be shorter than his owners, a situation that revealed how much the Dalmatian centered its owner.
”When we moved to Arlyn Studio, we didn’t pay attention or something and the hotel wouldn’t let Louie stay, so he had to fly back in a box,” Happoldt confirms. “There was no place to keep the dog. Brad was kind of out it the whole time, but he was maintaining. When the dog went home, it let the air out of Brad’s tires. Afterward, I remember Paul saying, ‘Letting that dog go home was the stupidest thing we ever did.’ And I said, ‘Yep. That’s for damn sure.’ After two weeks, Brad was partying more than recording.
Leary, who coincidentally released a 1991 solo album titled A History of Dogs, remembers a more lighthearted studio scene in which Toby became territorial over his dog bed.
”One night they got drunk and were on the blue valium or whatever and [drummer] Bud [Gaugh] passed out with his head on Toby’s bed and Toby sat there for 45 minutes standing over Bud going ‘Whaaaaaghghghgh!’”
For Sullivan, the multimonth Sublime self-titled session was set to be the highest-paying engineer gig he’d ever had up until that point. Accordingly he was excited for his check, but when it came, it was made out to his dog.
“I took it to the bank and the teller said, ‘Who’s Arkadelphia Sullivan?” He laughs. “I told them, ‘That’s my dog’ and they looked at me for a while and took the check.”